On sabbatical…

This is it, I am officially on sabbatical!

The last six years as Associate Dean for Learning Innovation in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences have been an incredible experience. I have learned so much, and I had the privilege to work with exceptional people, both within my own Faculty and outside. I will certainly miss working with them on a regular basis. Above all, I will miss the weekly meetings with my fellow ADs, and the support and friendship that we offered to each other, in good and bad times, as well as my close contact with the Dean, the Associate Dean for Research, the Faculty Manager and all in the Faculty Office during all these years.

But it is time to move on and to learn new things! It is time to catch up with reading and writing, to get stuck in EU projects and other exciting ventures. It is also time to take a bit of “me” time  :).


Taking time off…line

Four more days, four very busy days, and then I am taking some time off for the Christmas break. I am actually taking some time offline. No email, no Twitter, no Facebook for three weeks. At least, this is the plan!

This is something I had wanted to do for a long time but never really managed to achieve it. I am quite good at ignoring messages for a while, filing them in an organised way so that I don’t forget to take any required action when I go back to work. But then, I spend days sorting out the important from the trivial, wishing I never took some leave, and feeling harassed by the sheer volume of messages clogging my inbox, most of them obsolete by the time I read them. When I read danah boyd‘s blog post “I am offline!“, that was it. Her post was the push I needed.

I am not as organised as she is, though. I haven’t given much notice to colleagues and students, but I expect that there won’t be too much traffic over the Christmas period… And I will have hopefully cleared my desk before I take off…line.

So from Monday 20 December until Monday 10 January, I will be offline. All incoming emails will be redirected to a “trash” folder, and I will not read them. I will not try to catch up when I get back to work, so any important message will have to be resent on or after 11 January. On my return to work, I should be fully refreshed and ready to take on whatever lands on my desk.

In the meantime, I wish everybody a peaceful and happy break. Do take one if you can!

The joy and pain of life online… and offline

Flights cancelledWhat a week! As extreme weather conditions brought the country to a standstill, I was forced to cancel my trip to the FLiT 2010 Conference in Nicosia. This is the  second time this year that I find myself stranded at home instead of delivering an invited talk abroad. Last April, the ash cloud closed the airport for a week, and I never made it to Barcelona. Last Wednesday, snow and ice prevented me from leaving Dublin for Heathrow, where I was due to catch a flight to Cyprus the following morning.

Android LogoMy android phone proved to be invaluable during the 8 eight hours I spent trying to leave the country. During the 3 hour  taxi ride to the airport (it usually takes 45 minutes…!!), I was able to keep an eye on the latest updates from Dublin Airport and Aer Lingus. As soon as my initial flight to Heathrow was cancelled, I used my phone to get a later flight that same evening and decided to continue the journey to the airport. Once there, still hopeful that I would be able to get away, I voiced my frustrations and hopes on Twitter, conversed with a friend whom I was hoping to meet later on in London for a drink, checked my email and the Internet for more updates. But it was not to be. One hour after having finally boarded the plane, we were asked to disembark, collect our luggage and make our way back to… wherever! I would never make it to Heathrow, I would never catch the flight to Cyprus, and I would not attend the conference. Instead, I barely made it home.

Webex LogoI did however deliver my plenary. Within 24 hours, and with the amazing support of the Techspectations team, a session was set on Webex, I was expertedly coached on the system functionalities and shown how to make the most of them. We ran a test with the FLiT Conference organisers and technical team, and I slightly revised my presentation to make it easier to deliver online as opposed to face-to-face. At 7.30am on Saturday, I was giving my talk, from my kitchen. During those four days, stranded in my neighbourhood, I remained connected to the very people I was supposed to meet face-to-face, and to many more.

But I also felt disconnected. I was missing a great opportunity to catch up with friends from various parts of the world and to make new ones. During my talk, as no camera had been set up on the Cyprus side, I had absolutely no idea of what was going on out there. Interaction between myself and the audience was mainly one way.  Given the very short time available to convert a face-to-face presentation into an online one, we kept things very simple. In the Webex session, there were only two participants: the conference organiser who was liaising with me and projecting his laptop screen onto the big one, and myself as session host and presenter. Being the host and the presenter at the same time is not something I would recommend, especially if it is your first time using a particular platform! Even though I did not have to manage attendees, I did find the whole experience a bit stressful (to say the least…). So much so that I forgot to record the session, despite all the reminders on post-its surrounding my laptop! I also forgot to watch the time.  With nobody to alert me, I went overtime and deprived my audience and myself of the interaction that makes conferences so valuable. And to make the disconnect feeling even worse, as everybody in Cyprus went for a well deserved coffee break after listening to my blabbering, I was left in my kitchen, still dark outside and freezing cold…


Stop bullying

And then, just as I was getting ready to go to the airport on December 1st, there was Gavin’s blog entry, “Bullied, Blackmailed, Defamed, Threatened…“. This must be the most moving and distressing post I have ever read. I don’t know Gavin very well, but I feel privileged to have met him at the EUROCALL 2009 Conference in Gandia, to have been taught by him about Second Life. His generosity, sense of humour, and above all his professionalism, are second to none and all contribute to making the online life of language educators interesting, fun, exciting and connected. Yet, for over a year, Gavin has been the victim of unacceptable vicious cyber attacks from a person who bullied him, blackmailed him, defamed him, and threatened him. Like the hundreds of people who manifested their support to him, reading his post triggered in me many emotions such as sadness, anger, shock, incredulity, and fear. Old memories came back, I know what bullying can do to you. I know what it did to me, and I know what it did to friends or colleagues of mine. Each story is different, but none of them should have ever happened. Nobody deserves to be bullied, online or offline, Gavin certainly does not.

By the way, December 17th is anti-bullying day. What are we going to do?

A new blog for my research students…

Yesterday Share IT conference really inspired me… I finally did what I have been thinking about for months: creating a group blog for my research students! The team is getting bigger, and students are all dispersed. Between geographical distance, work and family constraints, it is very difficult to organise any face-to-face meetings where everybody can meet and share their experience (as well as their occasional frustration and despair :)). Hopefully, this will compensate the lack of interaction between us as a group.

More importantly, I hope that this new venture will help us to generate new ideas and to make an even greater contribution to knowledge. There is a lot good work coming out of this group! Time it gets aired beyond the conversations in my office, whether face-to-face or via email and Skype!

Share IT 2010 Conference

Today, I had the great privilege to take part in the Share IT 2010 Intergenerational Learning Conference organised by my colleague Trudy Corrigan and her team in DCU. It was absolutely wonderful. Listening to the young and older learners share their enthusiasm and passion for learning together and from each other just brought home to me once more, that this is what learning and education are about, that teaching is first and foremost about learning with and from your students.

The ICT and Social Media workshop, organised by Cathy Fowley (whose PhD I also have the privilege to supervise) in the afternoon was probably the best workshop I have ever attended on this topic. The stories told by the older learners on their journey through twittering and blogging were simply inspirational. I wish I could blog like them, I wish I could tell life stories the way they do. I have learned so much today.

Curriculum 2.0… and AFI?

Pedagogy 2.0, Curriculum 2.0, and School 2.0 are real buzz words these days, all derived from the term Web 2.0 coined by O’Reilly in 2005. Google alone returns 519,000 hits for Pedagogy 2.0, 6,260,000 hits for Curriculum 2.0, and 225,000,000 for School 2.0!  Behind those hits, there is of course a lot of ‘propaganda’ for the integration of new technologies in the curriculum. But there are also countless reports of pedagogical innovation, reflective accounts from innovative practitioners, scholarly articles, and complex research projects seeking to understand what learning has become in the 21st century. Behind those terms, a recognition that we need to rethink education.

I particularly like the video below, 21st Century Skills: How do we get there? (found on YouTube, where else?). The agenda it sets out is not far away from what we are trying to achieve here in DCU through the curriculum reform currently underway under the auspices of the Academic Framework for Innovation project. Or is it? Are we really rethinking higher education for the 21st century?

A home in Second Life for the iMUVE Project

We now have a home on Second Life! The DCU iMUVE Project (a cross-faculty research project between DCU Business School and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) has established its presence on the EduNation III island in Second Life.

The DCU iMUVE Home on SL

The DCU iMUVE Home on SL

Our building is just about ready for informal conversations, meetings and even presentations and seminars. During the last week or so, I have spent some time learning how to create and move objects, how to get the interactive tools provided by our landlord (The consultants-e) to work, where to withdraw and transfer some Linden dollars in order to go shopping, etc. I still have a lot to learn though… Like getting our new YouTube TV to work! And I am still looking for a chair I lost somewhere… But I am getting a lot of help from my neighbours.

We have indeed great neighbours. A number of them work in the area of language learning (such as EUROCALL and CALICO, two of the associations to which I belong…) and have been a constant source of support during the move (a daunting task). The Alsic Journal is also setting home more or less opposite us. It is quite remarkable that these four organisations (including DCU) representing 90% of my professional activities, and whose real life locations and communities are far apart (Dublin, France, Europe, North America and beyond), find themselves located beside each other in Second Life. Mind you, this did not happen totally by chance. As far as I know, my avatar is one of the few (if any) members belonging to the four groups… Our next door neighbour is the University of Strathclyde Business School. But I haven’t met anybody there yet… I probably visit our new home far too late in the evening!

So we now need to move in fully and start using the building and its facilities. Some of us will also join a training course (with parts conducted in Second Life). We will then be able to start the real work!

And by the way, if you look for me in SL, my avatar is Francie Bialyk 🙂