Responding to the presidential debate, Zeynep Tufekci draws on the work of William Fielding Ogburn to discuss the mismatch between a past we hope we can return to and the actual reality that has moved on. Debates worked in an era with little choice, however with so many other means of communicating it does not make sense.

We could, instead, have panels of journalists interrogate the candidates in separate hours, where the candidates have time to speak. The panel could consist of journalists chosen by the candidate and his opponent, with questions alternating between the friendly questions and those less friendly. The questions could be negotiated so that some of the same questions are asked of both candidates. They could be a mix of questions submitted in a town hall and questions polled among the public. The follow-ups could also alternate. And so on. Something else. Anything else.

Although different from the debates, this notion of mismatch is something that has been called out by the current crisis.

As students return to classes, there is a lot of discussion about what has changed and the dangers of snapping back into an old sense of normal. For Steven Kolber, the move to offsite learning has highlighted the opportunity for asynchronous learning.

A ‘build back better’ move would be to allow a portion of students’ load to be delivered remotely, giving teachers and students some space for variety in their schedule, and freedom from the byzantine and industrial timetable of schools.

I think that this opportunity is something pertinent both inside and outside of the classroom.

In my work in supporting schools, the move offsite has forced a rethink for how schools and staff are supported. Where in the past, there was a focus on in-person workshops, structured around particular topics. In their place we have been forced to explore other approaches. One of the consequences of this is that it has broken up sessions into support that is done at the point of need.

One of the things I have been doing for a while is following up support calls with a summary of how I saw things. Many take their own notes, but having my own set allows for cross-checking. Associated with words, I have been exploring a number of other ways to communicate and explain various points.

Annotations

The simplest way to supplement a written explanation is with an annotated image. Although it is possible to provide clear descriptions, this presumes we all share the same language. For example, here is my online course associated with Global2 which is regularly broken up with annotated images. Although in the past I used Google Drawings to create such images. These days I use SnagIt to quickly capture and create images, especially when connecting remotely using BOMGAR.

Gifs

I have taken to using GIFs to capture more complex workflows which cannot be presented in a static annotation. This was in part inspired by Jake Miller’s EduGIFs. It involves turning short screen-casts into GIFs. I have found if short enough, they can be sent by email or uploaded into a Google Doc. As with annotations, I have been using SnagIt to create these GIFs. Although I like Miller’s combination of text and image, this is not possible with SnagIt. I therefore still provide these with written instructions.

Video

One of the limitations to both images and GIFs is that often they only capture a particular part of a longer processes. Therefore, I have taken to using Captivate to record video demos this year in something of a flipped model. This has involved:

  1. Recording the video. Although research suggests that showing your face is important, I find it impedes the ability to edit the video unless you keep your face really still. If I make a mistake or am unhappy with a particular instruction, I usually just do it again while recording, knowing I can then just cut this out later.
  2. Fixing up the audio. Opening the narration in Audition, I normalise the volume and silence any unwanted noises, such as coughs, umms and words I inadvertently repeat, like ‘now’. In the past I have used Levelator and Audacity for this, however Captivate has a direct integration with Audition, which makes it easier.
  3. Trimming the video of parts not needed. This includes pauses and moments where I may be completing a task that does not need to be demonstrated. Ideally, it would be good to keep such moments in and speed them up, but I have not found a simple way of doing that with my current setup.
  4. Editing the narrative. Using the Zoom and Highlight Box functions I guide the viewer’s attention to match my instructions. This includes updating the default Highlight Box so that the background is basically blacked out.
  5. Publishing the video. Once complete, I upload the videos into Google Drive to be shared. I have been thinking about whether it would be better to load these into YouTube as unlisted to provide access to transcripts, as Mike Caulfield does with his instructional material. However, for now Google Drive works.

Much of this is captured in this video from Paul Wilson and this guide:

It needs to be noted that another influence in regards to asynchronous videos has been Ben Collins. I have written about presentations before, focusing on the importance of content, delivery and supporting materials. Lately though I have been inspired by Collins’ courses and the way in which he carves out succinct narratives and breaks-up the whole into its parts. I am sure that hours of effort have gone to getting this stage.

The challenge I have with my work is two fold: to build the capacity of users, as well as develop a sustainable support processes. In addition to using images, GIFs and video, I endeavour to use de-identified data in the images that I share, this means that if somebody else has the same request that I can easily just send them the same message and image.


So that is my new normal beyond the classroom. What has it been like for you? As always appreciate any thoughts and feedback.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

A colleague recently said to me, “You just go and do your magic.” It was intended as a compliment, however it left me wondering about what it means for people to think about work as ‘magic’.

Wikipedia defines magical thinking as follows:

Magical thinking, or superstitious thinking. is the belief that unrelated events are causally connected despite the absence of any plausible causal link between them, particularly as a result of supernatural effects.


Growing up, I remember being wowed watching magicians on television. However, what interested me more were the shows that unpacked the various tricks and illusions. More than slight of hand, I was interested in the steps that made such acts possible.

I guess it is often easier to wed yourself with the mystery, rather than do the heavy lifting. This is something Cory Doctorow captures in discussion of Kirby’s film Trump, QAnon and The Return of Magic:

In a world of great crisis – pandemic, climate inequality – it’s not crazy to want to feel better. For all that magical thinkers cloak themselves in “skepticism” their beliefs are grounded in feelings. Evidence is tedious and ambiguous, emotions are quick and satisfying.

For many, technology is full of magic and wonder. However, often such perceptions are produced by our willingness to give ourselves over to the narrative. As Doctorow explains in his response to Shoshana Zuboff’s book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism:

Surveillance capitalists are like stage mentalists who claim that their extraordinary insights into human behavior let them guess the word that you wrote down and folded up in your pocket but who really use shills, hidden cameras, sleight of hand, and brute-force memorization to amaze you.

Rather than handing myself over to a world of magic and mentalists, I am more interested in trying to be more informed. For me this come by asking questions, learning with others and continuing to challenge myself.  As Clive Thompson touches on in regards to coding, this often involves repetitive work done over time.

You should try to do some coding every day—at least, say, a half hour.

Why? Because this is just like learning Spanish or French: Fluency comes from constant use. To code is to speak to a computer, so you should be speaking often. Newbies often try to do big, deep dives on the weekends, but that’s too infrequent.

This repetition is not only about understanding simple processes, but also building on this to join the pieces together to how they maybe interconnected. One way of appreciating this is using the SOLO Taxonomy, a learning model that focuses on quality over quantity. It involves a  progression of understanding from the task at hand to more generalised leanings.

The model consists of five levels of understanding:

  • Pre-structural – The task is not attacked appropriately; the student hasn’t really understood the point and uses too simple a way of going about it.
  • Uni-structural – The student’s response only focuses on one relevant aspect.
  • Multi-structural – The student’s response focuses on several relevant aspects but they are treated independently and additively. Assessment of this level is primarily quantitative.
  • Relational – The different aspects have become integrated into a coherent whole. This level is what is normally meant by an adequate understanding of some topic.
  • Extended abstract – The previous integrated whole may be conceptualised at a higher level of abstraction and generalised to a new topic or area.

Doug Belshaw talks about levels of understanding in regards to moving from competencies to literacies.

In a similar vein to the SOLO taxonomy I believe there’s a continuum from skills through competencies to literacies. As individuals can abstract from specific contexts they become more literate. So, in the digital domain, being able to navigate a menu system when it’s presented to you — even if you haven’t come across that exact example before — is a part of digital literacy.

This is something I tried to get capture in my presentation at K-12 Digital Classroom Practice Conference a few years ago where I explored ways in which different Google Apps can be combined in different way to create a customised ongoing reporting solution. It was not just about Docs or Classroom, but about the activity of curating, creating, distributing and publishing.

John Philpin approaches this problem from a different angle. Responding to the question as to whether we should all learn to code, he suggests that appreciating how technology works is actually an important part of any business. This does not mean you need to have written all the code, but it does mean you have an awareness of how things work.

You wouldn’t think about running a business if you didn’t have the fundamental understanding of law and accounting, why would you assume that it is ok not to understand technology.

This touches on Douglas Rushkoff’s point about programming or being programmed.

Coming back to my work, I feel appreciating these pieces is not only helpful in understanding the ways in which technology is a system, but also the way strategic risks can be taken when approaching something new. In Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about measured risks:

It is much more sound to take risks you can measure than to measure the risks you are taking.


For me this means taking risks based on prior learnings and experience. I may not have all the answers, but I think I am good at capturing particular problems at hand and with that drawing on past practice to come up with possible solutions. I am going to assume this is why people come to me with such diverse questions and quandaries.

I am not saying all this because I feel that I know and understand everything. However, I cannot help but feel that references to ‘magic’ are often attempts to cover up the hard work, sacrifice and opportunity that produce such moments. As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

I have used Google Music for the last few years, however it is going away. This has been on the books for awhile. As the lights are slowly turned off on another Google product, here is my reflection on the options and my choice moving forward.

YouTube Music

The most obvious choice is to simply move over to YouTube Music. As Ron Amadeo shared, the demise of Google Music is about YouTube as anything else.

Google’s decision to kill Google Play Music is mostly about YouTube. For a while, it was negotiating two separate music licenses with the record labels—one for YouTube music videos and another for Google Music radio—so combining them makes some amount of sense. In a Google Play Music versus YouTube fight, the service that pulls in $15 billion a year (YouTube) is going to win. YouTube Music pulls songs from YouTube, and Google can consolidate into a single license.

Therefore, a few months ago, I transferred my data over to YouTube Music to try it out.

The one thing I initially noticed was that there is some confusion between ‘YouTube’ and ‘YouTube Music’. I had some pre-exisiting music related playlists in YouTube. These too were available in YouTube Music, often meaning that I could listen to live performances without also watching them. I think this would sort itself out in the long run as my playlists become a bit more consolidated. However, it was an initial point of confusion.

Another observation was the way in which YouTube Music organises artists. For those without a channel, YouTube automatically generates a channel. This means without an official channel, YouTube Music incidentally mashes together different bands/artists with the same name. Look at the Canadian synthpop band DIANA for example, their collection is combined with other random DIANA’s which I am pretty sure are not the real DIANA band. This is a problem also carried over from Google Music.

Bandcamp

Damon Krukowski recently explored the question as to whether Bandcamp is a streaming platform. The reality is that it is not. Although it provides such features, of being to access music across devices, the focus seems to be on creating a marketplace for people to purchase music, as well as merchandise. Although I have stepped up my purchases on the platform, not every band is on Bandcamp, therefore this is still primarily about supporting artists.

Own Your Own Music

I have read about people setting up their own personal music servers. I imagine I could probably do this with Reclaim Cloud. The other alternative is to go complete old school and scrap streaming altogether and just load purchases to my devices as I used to do. To be honest, it just isn’t a priority for me right now. I guess I have become far too wedded to the cloud, even with all the hidden costs.

Spotify

My last stop was Spotify. In regards to user experience, YouTube Music and Spotify seem very similar.

One point of difference between the two platforms is the ability for children to tune in. Although my daughter was able to create her own account to connect with the family subscription associated with Google Music, this was not possible with YouTube Music. I would assume this relates to the fact that YouTube accounts are restricted to 13+, but am not completely sure. Alternatively, Spotify has created a separate app for children. Although this does not allow access to all artists and songs, it does mean at least allow my daughter to have full control without needing to create an account.

There’s a library of 8,000 tracks, judged by Spotify staff to be age-appropriate to children and teens, with more songs to be added over the app’s lifespan.

In addition to this, there are still some artists and albums available on Spotify that are not necessarily available on YouTube Music.


In the end, I ended up going with Spotify. This included using Tune My Music to bring across some of my playlists from Google Music. Maybe in the future I will resurrect my music files and create my own server? As I am apprehensive about the data mined and the move into DNA. Or maybe I will join the (re)turn to vinyl in a search for an optimal experience. I guess we will see.

As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

I didn't have time actually means, it wasn't important enough. It wasn't a high priority, fun, distracting, profitable or urgent enough to make it to the top of the list. Seth Godin on Time

I remember reading Seth Godin’s post on time a few years ago:

“I didn’t have time” This actually means, “it wasn’t important enough.” It wasn’t a high priority, fun, distracting, profitable or urgent enough to make it to the top of the list.

This is something that really challenged me. It had me rethink my approach to things, especially social media and notifications.

This quandary came up again recently when in response to an invite from Chris Aldrich to participate in a meetup about Domain of One’s Own. Other than the logistical problem that it would be the middle of the night for me, I stated that was was never very good at such attending synchronous sessions. I explained that I much of my time spent on such tasks as IndieWeb and Domain of One’s Own is stolen. In response to this, Nate Angell asked who the time was actually stolen from?

What i meant by my throw-away comment was that time is always a balance. Whether it be work, family or chores, there is always something to chew up the time. The problem is that each aspect would be enough on its own, let alone find time for the personal stuff.’

Therefore, I have learnt to ‘steal time’ for me. This involves making the most of situations to read and respond. This is often done by doubling up when doing more menial tasks. At the moment, this means listening to podcasts or my Pocket feed in the morning as I do the chores, such as getting everyone’s breakfast ready and tidying up the kitchen. I then curate in the odd moments throughout the day. While in the hour or so when I finally stop at the end of the day I try to carve out time for my thoughts or do a bit of tinkering or creating. I have written about this workflow before and although it continues to evolve, it still remains much the same.

I must admit that although I love many aspects to working from home, one aspect I miss is the way in which my commute seemingly gave permission to stop working or doing chores. I have subsequently found myself working more than I would have if I were in an office setting. I am not implying that I am lazy in an office setting, however it provides certain structures and expectations that do not exist at home. For example, with an hour commute, I was always mindful about leaving on time to pickup my children from childcare. This is no longer an issue.

I remember reading Doug Belshaw talk about breaking up the day into different spaces, although I cannot find the reference, only this. Sadly, that is not necessarily possible where I live or in the job I do. However, it is probably something that I need to be a bit more deliberate about.

Another challenge I have being a connected educator and learner is justifying what I do in regards to my work, whether it is writing my newsletter or writing these reflections. The reality is that blogging and Domain of One’s Own is very much a passion project. Although I used blogs when I was in the classroom, sadly my current work involves supporting schools with learning management software. In saying this, I actually apply a lot of my lessons from blogging and actually cracking open the database in the work that I do. However, not everyone sees professional learning like that.

As always, thoughts and comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Adults don’t call what we’re doing “homeworking,” we call it “working from home.” Consider not calling it “homeschooling.” Consider thinking about it as “learning from home.” Austin Kleon

As the cases of the coronavirus in Victoria continue to grow and the possibility of a return to learning at home becomes a possibility, I thought I should really stop and reflect upon my experience as a parent supporting our daughter as she learnt from home. I had intended to submit this to the governments review, but time got away from me.

Structure and Rigidity of Online Learning

The learning was very methodical. In many respects, it followed the same structure of the schools day with a block of literacy, numeracy, integrated and personal/social learning. This was supplemented by weekly activities provided by the specialist teachers. Students were encouraged to submit tasks each day, however the only aspect that seemed to be explicitly required was logging into the daily video conference.

A few weeks in, students were given an additional option to pursue a passion project. For my daughter this became Minecraft. This choice came as a breath of fresh air and became a focus for the rest of the time. Sadly, there was little guidance provided and this often led to hours of tinkering and never actually produced any sort of question or problem. It was a reminder that even passions need to be cultivated.

Communication with School

In regards to communication, the parent portal was used to broadcast information via the news feed. This included links to things like daily learning, weekly assembly and any other updates. For those wanting to contact the school, the platform provides a module for messaging a student’s teachers.

The problem with this is that the expectations associated with communication were unclear. Although solutions were put in place, there were no protocols about what would be appropriate. Was it appropriate to provide updates on the struggles that I was seeing at home or were these actually being picked up in the daily conferences? These were things we may have written in the school diary, however for fear of coming across as a helicopter parent, I often stayed silent.

Play and Social Spaces

Each day there was an hourly class video conference. This session usually had a particular focus, such as writing or numeracy. There was also opportunity to connect with other students. However, this space was managed by the teacher. This was the same with the use of Google Classroom. Although there is a space for writing posts, students were encouraged to use this for questions and conversations about learning task.

Although so many of the structures were carried online, one that was absent was a deliberate social space encapsulated in the yard. A part of me understands why. Some may abuse such an opportunity. There is no means of putting in place clear habits and policies before moving online. Also, it would become another thing for teachers to manage. Maybe such a space is the responsibility of home, I still think that this social side is one of the limitations to moving online, a place for play and experimentation.

As Kathleen Morris touched upon in her post on Facebook Messenger for Kids:

One thing that instantly annoyed me about Messenger Kids is that there are so many distractions from the core features of messaging and video calls. There are filters, stickers, and mini games (like spinning to choose a llama head during a video chat… go figure… kids love it!).

My 6 year old is SO drawn to these features as are her friends. So far, this is their main interest during video calls. They don’t talk very much. They just play.

Initially, I kept prompting in the background, “ask them what they’ve been doing”, “stop playing with the effects and talk!”

Then I took a step back and thought, this is what they want to do. This is play. They’re only 6/7 and if they were playing together in the same room, they probably wouldn’t be sitting chatting about what they’ve been up to. They’d probably be playing in a way that’s sometimes hard for adults to understand.

So my way of thinking now is that it’s okay. Maybe the novelty won’t last. However, when my daughter is talking to her grandparents, for example, I’m insisting that she talks rather than simply playing with the effects. It’s about changing your interactions to suit who you are communicating with; a vital lesson for both online and offline encounters.

The Role of the Parent

I found it hard to know my place within the learning process. Maybe this is because I myself am a teacher, but I actually think this made it even harder. Although information was sent home about the expectations of where, when and how students would learn, it was not clear the place I served as an aide within all of this.

In some ways, I felt more akin to being a relief teacher with little agency. Although I was happy to help my daughter unpack various tasks, she regularly made clear, “but you are not my teacher.” Even with a planner provided each day, this did not necessarily elaborate on the intricacies of the various steps and strategies the school or teacher uses.


If schools are forced to work remotely again, it will be interesting to see what stays the same and whether any lessons are learnt. Simon Breakspeare talks about the importance of recognising the effort put in, my fear is that that for many there has not been enough time for such reflection.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.

Strange events like the coronavirus provide the opportunity to look at the familiar with new perspective and reimagine a new sense of normal.


There is something uncanny about social distancing and staying at home. One oddity is that there is so little to compare it to. A colleague compared it to being trapped on a desert island. This made me think about Wilson and Castaway, however I feel that is a bit extreme and does not completely capture the situation.

The strange thing as to consider various pieces of fiction and how if they were set in the current climate they might be different. Jessie Gaynor reimagined the beginnings of a number of stories, such as Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper.

However, the book that has left me thinking has been How to Make a Movie in 12 Days.

Written by an old friend of mine, Fiona Hardy, the novel tells the story of Hayley Whelan and her journey to create a film over the summer break in memory of her grandmother. It grapples with one calamity after another in an epic quest against time set in suburbia.

After finishing the book, I was left thinking about the world it depicts. Whether it be riding around the streets, sending messages to friends on the family computer or posting on YouTube channels, I wondered how this may date in the future. However, the pandemic has taken these thoughts to a whole new place.

I was left thinking about the impact that the requirement to stay at home would have on the ability to film various scenes, the limitations in regards to socialising, especially not in parks, cafes or libraries, and definitely especially not with the older at risk members within the community. There is also the impact of hygiene practices, such as washing hands, wearing face masks and disinfecting equipment, and the challenges this would create in regards to the movie making process in twelve days.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it was in fact a great novel for capturing the current circumstances. Although there is a longing for face-to-face communication, with pyjama clad late night rendezvous, there is also the reality of asynchronous communication. Associated with this, the novel was built around a personal passion project with an authentic outcome. Something essential during times when formal learning is not occurring. Much of the inspiration stemmed from the long movie binges that Hayley and her father would partake in. This all encapsulated what Ian Bogost suggests when he says that we are all basically already living in quarantine.


Discussing what The current virus is so confusing, Ed Yong suggests that the coronavirus itself does not have a clear narrative.

I cannot read about the losses that never occurred, because they were averted. Prevention may be better than cure, but it is also less visceral.

I would argue that other than dystopian tales there are not many pieces of fiction which help in making sense of the current normal. However, what I have found is that solace and meaning can often be found in strange places.

What about you, what books have helped you during the current crisis? How have they helped you in making sense? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Kath Murdoch on noticing

Reflecting on my year as a failed flânerie, I take on space as a new word and a new approach to my one word.


I am not exactly sure what I thought 2019 would be, but I certainly did not not expect what I got. My one word was flânerie. So many aspects of my life are structured, I therefore felt I need some serendipity. As I stated:

What I liked about [flânerie] was that it was not about merely observing, but also actively producing.

I tried walking. Failed.

I tried reading random books, but that seemed to dry up as well. Although I read them, I would never get around to doing anything with it all.

I think a part of me thought that a focus on being a flânerie was some sort of licence to let go. However as the year meandered on I realised that being a flânerie was probably as much about being structured and deliberate.

It all reminded me of those who claim to be agile or distributed. So often people have the right intent in trying to change, but they do not allow the appropriate resources for such ideas and initiatives to flourish.

A useful heuristic that comes up again and again in my job is the Project Management Triangle. This is where the quality of the finished product is a combination of time, scope and cost. Sacrifice any of these elements and you reduce the quality of the outcome.

Thinking then about my focus on flânerie, one such resource that was a problem was time. With my limited time wedged between family and work, I was often left trying to achieve more than was possible.

As the year ended, a part of me wondered if my year as a failed flâner came back to the expectations that I set for myself at the beginning. I was therefore left considering where to next. I often have my one word sorted out as the new year passes by. As January unfurled, I wondered if the practice had its day?

Inspired by a few reflections, I wondered if maybe I was approaching it all the wrong way? Rather than having something with explicit or implied outcomes, maybe I needed a new approach, one focused on an open-ended concept? Although Kath Murdoch talks about nudging you along a path, maybe the nudge that matters most is an inquiring mind?

Therefore, my one word for 2020 is ‘space’. Unlike past years, this year will be a wondering about everything associated with the idea of ‘space’. Here is my start:

  • Space as a Non-Human Actor: In Ian Guest’s research into Twitter, he talks about non-human actors.
  • Learning Spaces: What is impact of space on learning?
  • Space within the Mind: What would … do? Who are the defaults we fall back on? Theatre of the mind?
  • Space and Place in the World: What is my place within the world? What space do I take up? How do we perceive it? How does this fit with other people? What are the possible spaces?
  • Coalescent Spaces: Where does the physical stop and the virtual start?

So that is me that year. It is fascinating to reflect upon the journey from capacity to communication to intent to flânerie to space. Really appreciate any thoughts or recommendations about resources on the topic.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

A quote about the power of music from Dan Condon

A reflection on the music that represented my soundtrack for 2019.


I enjoy the exercise of looking back at the music that stood out to me across the year. Here then are my thoughts on 2019.

Better in Blak (Thelma Plum)

Produced by Alex Burnett and David Kahne, Better in Blak has the pop hooks and melodies to quickly drag you in. However, once there Plum users this platform to challenges the listener. In songs such as Better in Blak, Homecoming Queen and Woke Blokes, she opens up about race, gender and identity. Although she tells many stories of injustice and heartbreak, the album always manages to remains positive. As Caitlin Walsh explains,

If there’s a connecting thread through the songs, it’s that you don’t need to reject the various people you used to be on your way to loving who you are now; that the ugliness, whether it’s social injustice or trolls or crushing heartbreak, can create beauty and growth if you pick them up and use them as tools, and then moving past them.

Additionally, Cyclone Wehner captures Plum’s style suggesting that,

Regardless, whether her songs are critical or confessional, she conveys, if not levity, then wry humour.

For me, Better in Blak is an example of what Damian Cowell describes as treating the listener to an anchovy. Maybe this is why she abandoned her original album? There were quite a few albums of this ilk that caught my attention in 2019. That is, they hooked in the listener, while also serving up some deep questions.They included Monaigne’s Complex, King Princess’ Cheap Queen and Banks’ III.

Lost Girls (Bat for Lashes)

Lost Girls is a soundtrack that stemmed from a script that Natasha Khan was/is writing telling the story of a vampire girl-gang chasing a mortal protagonist in Los Angeles. It is loosely based on the 80’s film, Lost Boys. Andrew Trendell explained that,

[Khan] wrote a screenplay about a girl called Nikki who becomes obsessed with alien sightings and befriends a local lad whose town is being terrorised by some ghostly girls on bikes. Together, they set out to solve the mystery before finding themselves in the captivity of the spooky cyclists. Sounds like the perfect John Hughes’ script, eh? Well, it started out as something for the big screen before the soundtrack took hold and the album ran away with itself .

With these cultural references, the album’s palette of rich synth sounds is also deeply based upon the past. This can be interpreted as a case of using the past and nostalgia to make comment on the present. As Ryan Leas suggests

The sound of Lost Girls isn’t just exhuming certain synth tones. It’s exhuming a past to try and clarify today, to clarify aging, to clarify how our memories and upbringings shift in and out of focus, eventually rewritten into the kind of filmic adventures we might’ve escaped through when we were actually living through those years.

I think that Joe Goggins summarises the album best when he describes it as, ‘doomy disco for dark times.’

About Us (G Flip)

I remember first hearing (and seeing) G Flip (or Geor Flipiano) as a part of the the ABC’s ‘The Night is Yours Concert‘. She played with so much energy, I was hooked. I was also intrigued when her EP came out a few months later. Although the drums were present, the power and punch was made way for the emotion of the songs. The album continues with this balance. She could easily have gone overboard with the production, but instead holds back, providing what feels like enough of everything. Overall, it carries a certain pop subtlety. As Simone Ziaziaris describes:

Her energetic tunes are packed with electric baselines, catchy synth-pop melodies and of course, vibrant punches from the drum kit. Flipo has mastered the art of pairing vulnerable lyrics about loss and yearning for love with confident (and catchy) multi-layered pop beats.

Similar to how Lorde’s Melodrama captures a particular period of her life, many of the songs document a time in Flipiano’s life when she was falling in and out of love with her girl friend. She also received help from some big names, including Ariel Rechtshaid (‘I Am Not Afraid’), Justin Tranter (‘Stupid’) and Scott Hoffman (‘Two Million’). This reminds me of Missy Higgins talking about her experience of working with different writers on the Inspired podcast. I am going to assume that is how the music industry works?

Norman Fucking Rockwell (Lana Del Rey)

Rather than hooking the listener in with sweet choruses and succinct pop songs, Norman Fucking Rockwell is an album which washes over like waves lapping on a beach. Before long, you are lost within a world. I think Sam Sodomsky sums it up best, saying,

The album weaves love songs for self-destructive poets, psychedelic jam sessions, and even a cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” through arrangements that harken back to the Laurel Canyon pop of the ’60s and ’70s. Throughout, Lana has never sounded more in tune to her own muse—or less interested in appealing to the masses.

In an interview with Joe Coscarelli, Del Rey provides some insights into the choice of Jack Antonoff as producer and why it is time for protest songs. There is something ironic about Antonoff’s inclusion. Some may call out another failure to present anything original, yet Del Rey’s attempt at raw honesty seems prime for collaboration with the ‘superproducer’ (what is a superproducer?) As Antonoff once stated in an interview with Zane Lowe:

I want to work with people because they think that they are geniuses, not because I want make the albums that they have already made

Although Ann Powers questions her reference to noir and where Del Rey sits within the panteon of other female artists, such as Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos, I think the success of the way in which is drags you into a world. As Powers’ describes,

The sensitivity and compassion Del Rey expresses in these songs really resonates not in its straightforwardness, but because of all the pings it sets off in the listener’s brain, each one hitting like a nearly-erased memory. In “Mariners,” she deflects the Elton John comparison its piano part demands (“I ain’t your candle in the wind”), only to build to a chorus that seemingly echoes the Oscar-winning theme from a classic 1970s disaster movie (Maureen McGovern’s magisterial “The Morning After”) and, in its warm but uncanny multi-tracked vocal hook, the synth-kissed love songs that brought Leonard Cohen back from obscurity in the 1980s.

Coming back to Antonoff, it is also interesting to consider that this album was released a week after his other significant production effort for 2019, Taylor Swift’s “evolutionary rather than revolutionaryLover.

Late Night Feelings (Mark Ronson)

Mark Ronson’s Late Night Feelings has the usual polished rhythm and feel that you would expect from Ronson, however gone is the sense of fun present in past tracks such as Bike Song and Uptown Funk. Instead we are left with a collection of ‘sad bangers’. As he explained in an interview with Jordan Bassett,

Ronson and the Parisian actor Joséphine de La Baume divorced in 2018 after five-and-half years of marriage. “The entire period of a year – a year-and-a-half, maybe two years – was kinda like… it was just a bit covered with this grey cloud over it,” he says. “Some days it’s fine, some days it’s better – and there’s still good shit that happens. It’s the first time I ever put my own emotions, or what I’ve been going through, out there in a record. I almost didn’t have a choice not to make a personal album because it was so all-consuming going to the studio and trying to make something fun or groovy. As nice as it might have felt in the moment, the next day I’d listen to it and it would feel completely inauthentic.”

For Ronson, the contrast of the upbeat nature of the music with the melancholy of the lyrics is something that harks back to the blues.

“I think it’s the combination of being able to move to something that’s melancholy,” he explains. “Obviously having a dance beat and a really relentlessly upbeat song is kind of fun, but then you’ve got everything firing in the same direction. I like the rub between the upbeat rhythm section and the longing in the vocal. All American music, really – all soul, American R&B, everything – comes from the blues. And the blues was invented to express dissatisfaction, heartache and lament, so it makes sense that it would work in, like, a disco. There’s a sadness and melancholy in a lot of my favourite dance records.”

Peyton Thomas also places it within the tradition of ‘Sad Girl‘ genre,  where the portrayal of female sadness is actually a strength to be recognised.

Late Night Feelings is not the first recent record to treat the sadness of women as a healthy response to all manner of hurt. It is, however, a worthy entry in this still-developing pop pantheon, authentic and honest in its rendering of many shades of feminine sorrow.

Some critics have questioned the seemingly hit and miss nature of the album, however I feel it is one of those albums where the whole is greater than the parts. It can be easy to get confused at supposed fillers like Knock Knock Knock, but like Fitter Happier on Radiohead’s OK Computer, such tracks serve a wider purpose in creating a particular world.

I think this also touches on the reality that Ronson is first and fore-mostly a DJ. When discussing the making of Covers, Ronson once stated that his intent was to make music to DJ to. This album is a continuation of that. In some ways it can be heard as a set in its own right. Although it isn’t as blended as something like Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor, moments like the bridge in Late Night Feeling or the constant of the bass throughout give it that feel.


I have completed this activity for a few years now. What is interesting is that a theme always seems to present itself. 2017 was Jack Antonoff, 2018 was musical reimaginings. This year it was about the female voice. Each of the album’s was driven by a strong female presence. What is intriguing though is when you dig into each of the album’s, there are still a plethora of men producing? Alex Burnett, Charles Scott IV, Jack Antonoff and Mark Ronson. Other than those who self produce, where are the female producers?


So these are my highlights for 2019, what about you? What were the albums that stuck with you? As always, comments welcome.

 


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Where is the line that determines when “being out of the classroom” makes someone’s work with educators irrelevant? 6 months out? 1 year? 5 years? - Brendan Jones' Tweet

Coming up to three years out of the classroom and not being based in a school, I am often left thinking about what this means for my identify as a teacher. Although I still work within education, my current title of ‘subject matter expert‘ seems a long way from the classroom. This is something that I have been pondering for a while. Here then are some thoughts focused on three questions: legitimacy, context and relevance.

A Question of Legitimacy

A colleague recently put out the request for schools to invite them into their school as the experience of being in the classroom apparently provides ‘legitimacy’. For me, this is always the dilemma with working in a central organisation across a number of schools. Although you may have up-to-date content knowledge, this is not always based on lived experience. As I have contended elsewhere, I am doing ‘real’ work, however the question that remains is whether this work is ‘legitimate’ to be called ‘a teacher’?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘legitimacy’ as “reasonable and acceptable.” Therefore, is the work my colleagues and I do reasonable and acceptable to be called a ‘teacher’? I have heard some use the word ‘transactional’ to derogatorily describe the tasks that we complete. This is based on the observation that many of the processes are seemingly repetitious and methodical. I have lived this label before when I was report report coordinator, timetabler and all-round data guy within a school. The problem I have with this is that simply labelling such actions as transactional is that although the outcome maybe set, there are often variables at play when it comes to the process. This variables demand a sense of perspective and empathy to the lived experience.

A Question of Context

An example of such a transaction is my recent work supporting schools with the loading of literacy data into the central repository. One of my many hats. We had created a guide that walked people through the process. However, as more and more schools made contact it became apparent that there were many assumptions at play. Whether it be user access within the system, expectations based on past habits or working through various data errors, each of these issues needed to be contended with patiently, especially as the problem was not always evident to the user at the other end. Although it is easy to step back now and breakdown some of the difficulties faced, how to improve such transactions in the future is not always clear.

In some ways the recording of data needs to be covered in training. The problem with this though is that currently such workshops are mash together of different focuses and needs. Added to the mix is the reality that every school context is different. In the case of literacy data, for some schools it is the responsibility of someone in administration who enters the results, for others it is the learning and teaching leader, or even the literacy coordinator. This all depends on the school and the outcome desired. However, the training workshops are usually aimed at those working in administration, because they are usually in-charge of ‘transactional’ matters.

In an ideal world, school users would be able to call on their prior knowledge to debug any issues. However, the templated nature of the technology neither allows nor encourages any notion of heutagogy and self-learning. Rather than working things out, people often fall back on guides, only then to scream out in frustration (usually on the phone) when nothing makes sense.

A Question of Relevance

Coming at the question of identify from a different perspective, Brendan Jones reflects on the world of conferences and professional development specialists wondering about the relevance of those outside of the classroom?

I think this is an interesting question. In part, it makes me think about teaching VCE English. I have not taught it for a few years, having worked in a P-9 college for much of my career. However, I feel that I could easily step back into that environment. I assume that there would be changes in the curriculum that I would need to grapple with, but I do not feel that my experience is irrelevant.

In regards to conferences, questioning the relevance of presenters speaks as much to our expectations from such situations. Even if a facilitator is currently practicing within a classroom, they will not be the one to deliver the outcomes within the school so relevancy does not always seem the prime concern. In addition to this, there are some areas where no amount of knowledge and experience is going to achieve anything as the topic or technique in question has never been tackled before.

There are also times when I think classroom experience and content knowledge is itself something of a distraction. I think that this can be the case with coaching, where the focus is on the questions, coachees and a culture of curiousity. I think that Tomaz Lasic captures this in response to Jones’ tweet.


I am not sure if I am still a ‘teacher’? However, one thing that has not changed is that I care. As Dave Cormier suggests:

Once we jointly answer questions like “why would people care about this” and “how does this support people starting to care about this for the first time” and “will this stop people who care now from caring”, we have a place to work from.

This means having empathy for whoever it is that I am working with, being mindful of their context and identifying how I may support. This was how I approached teaching and it does not differ now.

As always, any thoughts and questions are welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

There's always gonna be another mountain I'm always gonna wanna make it move Always gonna be an uphill battle Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose Ain't about how fast I get there Ain't about what's waiting on the other side It's the climb Miley Cyrus ‘The Climb’

A reflection on my mother passing away and the song that will always take me back to that moment in life.


My mother would have been 60 on Saturday if she had not past away in 2014. I knew the moment was coming. She had been told months before that she had cancer. Although there were ‘options’ for treatment, there were no promises. There never is I guess. However, there was a part of me that was somewhat in denial. I was thinking not her, not now. Not only did I have my own young family, but my brother and sister were still at school.

I remember receiving the call that my mother had been moved to the palliative care unit. No longer able to speak or move, she was in her last moments. Nothing prepared me for this, especially not Hollywood. We were told she could pass at any moment. However, hours past by and she was still holding on We were asked if we wanted to stay or come back in the morning. My sister and I decided to stay, while everyone else left.

After spending time brushing our mother’s hair and wetting her lips, we started reminicing. I asked my sister what she thought our mother’s favourite song was. Having left home years earlier, all I really knew was that it wasn’t any of my music. Although I had grown up listening to her Whitney Houston CDs, that seemed like a world away and I could not remember her listening to it since I was child. My sister said that she liked the track ‘The Climb’ from the Hannah Montana film, something they had watched together.

In a world before streaming (or at least I had not gotten into it), I purchased the track on iTunes. We played it on repeat and listened until my mother eventually took her last gasp and left this world.

One day a few months later, I was teaching. For some reason the audio of the iPad I was using with students glitched and started playing. Being prior to when everyone was gifted U2’s Songs of Innocence, it played the only song I had in my library, The Climb. I stood mortified, I nearly lost it. I quickly opened the iPad, stopped the track and composed myself. The issue was that at that time I did not feel like going into any detail with the students. Other than a few odd looks, I managed to avoid any questions and kept on teaching.


When I think about my ‘changing track’, there is a part of me wishes it were something hip and happening. However, like family, we do not always choose our tracks. The Climb will always be that track that takes me back to that moment when my life changed forever.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.