Sunday, October 17, 2010

Last post...

boop oop a doop

betty has style...

and so does my new blog. I've just amalgamated one of my websites (the one I use for my consultancy work) and this blog. I have a major soft spot for this blog as it has taken me through a significant phase of my (and my family's) life. I've been blogging since 2006 when I also discovered flickr and I wanted to bring together my photography with my words.

During that period my son was diagnosed with aspergers syndrome (on the autistic spectrum), both myself and my partner Tim have given up our salaried posts, we have left glasgow and moved to dumfries and galloway. We took our son out of mainstream school, after a fairly horrendous time and we now do home learning...

This journey has all happened on this blog and so I am really pleased that I have been able to transfer it across to my new site at which uses a new wordpress theme.

I hope any regular readers will come along and continue to follow the story...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

immitation of life

Most people are horrified when I tell them that my son does most of his socialising with his peers over the internet. They are worried because he doesn't go to school and 'get' socialised there (we do home learning - see early blog post to find out why)

I think there are a few assumptions underlying these worries. One assumption is that what happens in a school setting counts as positive socialisation and that schools provide a safe place for children to learn how to be 'effective' social citizens. Personally I don't consider forcing children to engage predominantly with 35 or so other people of the same age as a useful model for later life. As an adult I don't have to socialise or work with people only of my own age. Even for 'neurotypical' children I see this as a contrived, and not particularly useful, social grouping. Perhaps people just don't question the model - after all - it didn't do them any harm!!

For children on the autistic spectrum - being forced into a school environment is at best a daily challenge:
  • to understand the teacher enough to learn
  • to cope with the unwritten rules that children live by
  • to cope with a sensoryoverload nightmare
and at worst a place to feel ostracised and be bullied.

Well yes you could say that that was preparation for life in our society (another assumption) because that kind of behaviour does happen to adults too, but having to undergo that on a daily basis doesn't teach the child with autism much at all - coping strategies for dealing with bullies? It certainly gets in the way of academic learning.

I find it quite incredible that people think this is likely to be a positive experience.

Even outside the school setting, being in groups of children is just not something that offers any attraction for my son. More than one person at a time is just too hard to deal with at the moment. Forcing him to do so will not change his sensory or communication issues and difficulties.

So during this phase in his life (early teens) he gets his social interaction with peers through the internet and actually has a wide network of pals of all ages. This interaction is not a poor second to 'face to face' contact. It is a rich source of learning, playing and testing out his communication skills using a medium that he is very comfortable with. He, and his pals try out a range of genders and ways of 'virtual being' that are hugely educational - for example seeing how people respond differently to him when presenting as a woman or as someone very small or large. he can choose to reveal his autism or not. He can find friends because they have something in common not because they are the same age group.

I have no doubt as to the value of this experience for him - these relationships are real. These are real people on their computers all over the world. They share experiences, content, music and information - they support and help each other. However I find the most common response to this kind of interaction is that is less real than face to face interaction, that it doesn't count as real socialising.

Some people get even more worried when I reveal that my son's current internet place of choice is World of Warcraft (WoW) - an online roleplaying game. Despite a range of very strong arguments for the value of gaming in education - this Wired' article talks about 'learning to be' rather than 'learning about', some of my family and friends don't get it. 'Learning to be' is the most crucial thing a young aspie needs to crack. Recently he met an older person with a communication disorder who has shared his experiences and how he managed to cope and establish his own business. He has handed over some coping strategies to my son. This is a hugely authentic learning experience for my son - in fact that's what I call 'learning to be'.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

how to be an e-learning expert

It's never been easier to reinvent yourself as an e-learning expert.

Just by following the few simple steps below you too could be an expert within weeks. The only proviso I would give is that in order to achieve this you must be SHAMELESS.

1. Don't worry if you have no experience of teaching - we're all learners after all.

2. Get used to using the word 'pedagogy' - it can make you feel like an imposter at first but with practice it soon trips off the tongue.

3. It is essential to have a blog, but do try to use wordpress rather than blogger - it's more complicated to use.

4. To develop your blog readership refer a lot to other peoples blog posts - other budding experts will be on the lookout for the competition but may realise the benefit of mutual promotion.

5. Don't be tempted to use flash - it will be heavily frowned upon by the other experts.

6. Use twitter to self promote at every opportunity and don't be afraid to tweet about the same blog post more than 10 times in one day - you don't want to miss any potential readers. Luckily other elearning experts will be keeping an eye out for tweets like this so that they can go and comment on other expert's blogs.

7. Remember to regularly retweet other experts - some people may even think you said it.

8. Comment on other expert's blogs. This can be a bit dangerous if that person is actually an expert, so if unsure you could just refer to their post from your blog and this can be displayed at the bottom of their post, if they are expert enough to organise that.

9. It can be useful to focus on one particular aspect of e-learning - there are many you could choose from including, mobile learning, digital literacy, OERS, etc. It is better to focus on these broader issues rather than a particular technology as the latter go in and out of fashion. However you should always keep your eye out for the latest craze and be an early user. This is vital to your chances of success. You just need to persuade your boss that playing with these all day is important to your role.

10. It can be helpful to identify one technology or service that you dislike - facebook, prezi and VLEs are good examples. You will always have blog fodder and there will always be people who agree with you. Those that disagree can post lots of comments about that and so something like this really feeds the e-learning expert movement.

11. Make sure you find out what the current in-jokes are - these can be tricky to join in with in the early stages of your 'expert' status but it helps to know them. It is better to try joining in with these through twitter - you can always delete your tweet if everyone ignores you.

12. If playing with new technologies, blogging and tweeting all day gets in the way of your contracted work then you always have the opportunity to set yourself up as an expert consultant. It is best to do this when a few other people have recognised that you are an expert - some manage without this but it is harder.

13. Don't be tempted to describe yourself as an expert. There will always be someone who will do it for you. An easy way to get such a statement is to arrange to do a testimonial for someone else on LinkedIn in exchange for them doing one for you.

14. It is important to get a band of regular blog and twitter followers. The best way to do this is always answer their comments and messages, even if what they say is meaningless. You are going to have to get used to this so get some practice in early on. These early relationships can develop into hero worship if you manage them well.

15 I think this one may be the most important - don't be afraid to state the bleeding obvious, because if you don't do it someone else will, and they'll steal your kudos. There will always be someone who thinks what you have said is an original thought. The ones that know it's not original will be clever enough to point people to their own blog posts about the same thing. If this happens alot on one blog post you can always resort to distracting your followers by talking about philiosophy or politics. It is very helpful if you can use very abstract academic language at this point cause everyone forgets that you have made a tit of yourself.

16 It helps to have a beard; )

Please don't come back to me if this doesn't work for you. It's a tried and tested formula.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

moving on...

I can't believe I haven't written since feb!

Alot has gone on since then. We moved from Glasgow to Dumfries and Galloway. Found a run down old house with a fab ironmongers shop incorporated. We are keeping the shop going and it is called 'Life's Little Ironies - The Whithorn Ironmonger'. I have set up a blog for it but been so busy not many posts yet. Click on our logo to go and see it.

The house needs loads of work so we are living in turmoil at the moment - not the best thing for a kid with Aspergers. His room is being done as a priority and he is coping well. We are still doing the home learning - and about to investigate some local support agencies to see if we can connect to some activities. He was happy to leave Glasgow though and he can see the sea from his bedroom window. His favourite spot is the Isle of Whithorn - what a magical place and 5 mins away.

The other great thing about our move is that we now have a garden. We rushed to get our veggies planted (have a greenhouse too) and are now enjoying the fruits of our labour.

Hope to get a polytunnel soon too. We also hatched some chickens and the first three chicks hatched are now living in the garden. More chicken coops are being made for the next phase - afraid we have got the bug. This blog will probably end up as a chicken blog!

This is a very tiny amrock chicken (born the day before my birthday) called Jimi little wing as it was born when jimi hendrix was playing

Here is is at 9 weeks old! still not sure if it's a girl or a boy but suspect it's a boy..

I'm still working as a consultant and have just finished some big jobs - will post soon about them. Now have even more challenging juggling to do but hope to keep the blog going with more frequent posts.

Friday, February 26, 2010

scapegoats and scaremongers

I've been away for a while - trying to focus only on what I have to. Lots happening and will do a catch up post soon...

However I am moved to write today following the ridiculous media and government response to the court case about the awful death of 7 year old Khyra Ishaq. A large section of the home learning community have been waiting for this to happen - but it still doesn't stop you feeling extremely angry and upset. Why?

Well blatant lies usually make me get upset... as do attempts to take away freedoms and rights that are important to me and my family. I have not blogged about the whole Badman report fiasco, the worse than useless research methods, the outrageous disregard of the huge response from home educators, the resultant draconian measures proposed in the Child, Schools and Familys Bill, the rushing of this through parliament without adequate debate and the threats to our freedoms that all this affects.

That is because there are many eleoquent people doing it on our behalf. I will try to list them below but apologies if I miss anyone:
Educating out of the box
Sometimes it's peaceful
Renegade Parent
Dare to know this offers a great set of links to the documents and a history of the whole horrible mess.

Some of the British media (notably the BBC and the Times) have responded as expected to the news of Khyra and have focussed on the home education issue. Badman and Balls have been rolled out to say that this case prompted their concern and has led to them proposing new measures to monitor home educating families. They rarely highlight just how intrusive their proposals are.

They also rarely point out how the current legislation for England would be adequate if Local Authorities understood and followed the guidleines appropriately.

Judge's comments
The Judge himself said the following about the case

"K's death was caused by and is the responsibility of her mother and the Intervenor, but on the evidence before the court I can only conclude that in all probability had there been an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance, K would not have died. Merely looking at the photographs of the house and the conditions in which the children were living confirms in my mind that had social services even seen the bedroom in which the children lived or the Mer in which they were fed, they would undoubtedly have intervened."

so all I'm asking today is this.....

why are you going to invest huge amounts of money creating a new system that is going to stretch services even more when you could put energy into sorting out the perfectly adequate system which just needs to be supported by enough well trained staff and improving cross agency communication?

Your actions are highly likely to cause even more cases like this as services are overstretched.

Your actions are highly likely to end up forcing some children back into school (because local authority staff rarely understand that home learning can not be measured by your school system)

Your actions could make those children go back to being suicidal and self harming as schools continue to fail children with different educational needs

I am glad I live in Scotland (which has a much better system) but we must all support the UK wide Home Learning community. We must do this because we will be next - by we I mean all of us. Surely you do realise that your children are "hidden" during the school holidays and before they start school... Hope you wont mind them coming into your home, possibly talking to your children alone, and making judgements about your way of life. Hope you are ready too...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

dear family...

I've been meaning to write this one for so long that I almost can't write it anymore. I lie awake at night going over and over what I want to say. I think my recent reading of the new book 'Children and teenagers with aspergers:the journey of parenting from birth to teens' has really made me re-focus on my need to do this.

It presents real experiences of a range of families, all who recount the immense struggle of being a parent to a child or young person with a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. Why is it important to read this book?

Well I think it is very easy to fall into the trap of only presenting the best of our children to the world. I am guilty of this because I want people to see his gifts and his strengths, his beauty and his unusual window on the world. I want people to love him enough to help protect him from the harsh cruelties that exist in our society for anyone who presents in a non-neurotypical way. If you don't know what I mean then go back a couple of years in this blog - you'll soon get the picture.

In fact the stories in this book also present a catalogue of failures from the various professional systems that are meant to support our children's wellbeing, health and education. But these stories also recount some of the huge difficulties that present a parent of someone on the autistic spectrum. Of course no one person with a diagnosis of AS will present in the same way as another. What is really evident from the stories are the number of times people deny that there could be anything 'wrong' with these young people other than bad parenting, lack of discipline and the old favourite 'not enough boundaries'. Anyone who has had to engage at any level with any of the support services that are supposed to help us will have had these accusations many times.

Many of us don't have to look further than our own families and friends to experience these accusations. At least three people in our very immediate families do not believe that our son has AS. They find it difficult to see how such a very bright child could not be anything other than manipulative and oppositional.

What is really distressing about this is the absolute denial of our whole life (because having AS in the family does affect your whole life). So these people have no concept of what our daily lives are really like. They only see us when we have made significant planning efforts and taken damage limitation actions to reduce situations that will trigger autistic meltdowns. If they do witness one due to uncontrollable circumstances such as sensory overload, verbal ambiguity or a myriad of other triggers they label it as a tantrum.

I remember my son cowering in the corner of a corridoor surrounded by family members talking really loudly. He was very distressed and covering his head due to sensory overload but couldn't get away because none of the would move. When I tried to explain and asked them to move a close family member said ' oh he's just having another tantrum'. This enraged me. Why can't you bring yourself to believe me/us. I have reached the point now where I feel like saying 'OK - well you take your small and narrow minds elsewhere - we haven't got the energy to deal with you'

I'll go away and focus on the things that really need my energy, such as when my son can't sleep because he thinks about death all the time, or when he is self harming because he hates himself and what he does so much, or when he can't control the meltdowns and becomes abusive or violent. You don't see all this and you don't help...

And that hurts quite alot.

To go back to the reason for this post - it is not easy to say those things about my wonderful son. I do sometimes feel incredibly lonely, tired and helpless. But if I spend my life hiding them then I am denying our lives in a similar way that you do. Well excuse me - but this is our life...

Get used to it or clear off...

A recent BBC documentary also highlights these issues and include a couple of families with children with autism who display violent responses - available to watch for a limited time only 'When a mother's love is not enough'. It looks at how easy it is to lose control and harm the child you love, through exhaustion, sheer loneliness and frustration. It also highlights the ridiculous and failing support system that the state offers to parents of disabled children.

Monday, November 02, 2009

do educational institutions have a future?

This is a post about one of the sessions in the JISC Innovating Learning 2009 Online Conference.

We wanted to have a session which stimulated discussion around some of the technological, social and organisational issues that are likely to affect the future learner, teacher and institutions. So we found three people to help us with this task. Martin Weller, Graham Attwell and Rob Howe have each taken on the task of producing a short video to offer us a selection of possible futures. do educational institutions have a future?

Martin has looked at this from the angle of the academic/scholar and engaged in a conversation with some of his future selves. I wont spoil the pleasure of watching it by describing any more but the beardyness seems to have caught a few people's imagination. Some people have also responded to his blog post and video by making their own 'conversation with a future self'. This could be catching - I will try to list these at the foot of this blog post in an attempt to pull them together.

Rob Howe has offered us a range of futures through the eyes of four learners and more beards... Personally I really love the last one with the TRIPE invention which involves tingling brains and Tesco's. He also links us to the JISC funded Learner Experience work too...

Graham Attwell offers two starkly contrasting visions of how institutions will cope with the various economic, polictical and technological drivers. From the abolition of JISC and courses costing 20k a year to a federated open innovation approach. Personally I love the 'aesthetics of bots sport' course.

John Traxler Director of the Learning Lab and Professor of Mobile Learning at the University of Wolverhamptonfrom will be facilitating the discussion during the conference who brings a wealth of experience as both an online and face to face facilitator.

I look forward to the discussion around this session and would encourage people to register with the conference to ensure that you don't miss it.

In fact we will be offering free spaces to the best three responses tagged with jiscel09 so get your beards ready and show us your future vision...

Inspired by the videos Grainne Conole has set up a very popular cloud on the OU Cloudworks site.

See also
Alan Cann, Leicester University
Very apt Halloween special vision of the future

Gill Clough, Open University
Interview with future self envisions a pink future; )

Short film for CLT's 2009 away-day. Asked to imagine the state of e-learning in the year 2020... Devised by and starring Jane Secker, Steve Bond & Athina Chatzigavriil

Innovating e-Learning 2009

Innovating e-Learning 2009 - Thriving, not just surviving

Innovating e-Learning 2009, the fourth JISC online conference, takes place on 24-27 November 2009.

Now a major event in the calendar of conferences on learning, teaching and technology, Innovating e-Learning focuses this year on the theme of Thriving, not just Surviving. The programme reflects the challenges facing further and higher education institutions in the 21st century and features leading thinkers, broadcasters and academics, such as Charles Leadbeater, Nigel Paine, Helen Beetham, Rhona Sharpe (Oxford Brookes University), Peter Bradwell, (Demos).

The 2009 conference has two themes:
Finding the way, which focuses on focuses on exploring guiding principles for technology-enhanced learning and teaching, and
Meeting the challenge, which explores the integration of technology-mediated practice under specific agendas such as meeting the needs of employers, developing sustainable and external-facing strategies for curriculum development and engaging stakeholders in the design of learning spaces.

Delegates from the UK meet in the asynchronous conference environment with colleagues from overseas, making this a particularly vibrant and accessible way to attend a conference. Last year’s delegate list topped 400 and included representatives from 14 countries.

New this year is the Have-a- Go area, where delegates can try out innovative new technologies demonstrated by JISC services, projects and other agencies. Representatives from the JISC RSCs are set to provide guided tours in Second Life, and James Clay (Gloucestershire College) returns by popular demand to take up the role of conference blogger.

Innovating e-Learning 2009 takes place in an asynchronous virtual environment which can be accessed at a time and place that suits you. The keynotes, however, are delivered live in Elluminate, a collaborative web conferencing platform.

For booking and further information, visit

Delegate fee: £50 per delegate

word press madness

I've been having a go with wordpress as an alternative blogging mechanism and have transferred the wedding photography blog to one which uses a photo blogging template.

I'm also working on some other sites as I've just bought a few domain names. I'll post these soon. Most exciting too is a new portrait photography website as we've decided to move into that area of work too. It's in devenlopment - haven't even got the price list in yet...

Here is one of my current favourites of the boy...