Well the first week of a shiny new year has flown by and I thought I’d reflect on my last year’s goals. I didn’t do too badly considering…
My plan to get back into my archery unfortunately didn’t materialise which also meant my plans for a more work/life balance wasn’t quite achieved. However, considering my blogging and professional development are all done in my own time, I’m fairly happy with my achievement. OK’ I didn’t always make my plan of a weekly post but I’ve averaged 3.5 posts a month which isn’t bad.
The last three months of 2011 saw me completely drop off the social media planet. I really can’t put my finger on why. I think I just burnt myself out with the social media scene. My official professional work became more hectic than usual and seeped into my own time (probably a familiar story to others out there) that I found myself abandoning my extra curricular investigations in the world of online learning and learning technologies.
My iPhone became a tool for making calls, checking e-mails and taking photos of my beautiful new niece. My iPad started to gather dust on the coffee table. Its only outing a trip to Thailand where it was as invaluable as a Swiss army knife (but that’s another story entirely).
I start 2012 with renewed motivation. I’ve made a promise to myself to get back on track and continue with those resolutions I made last year. But in addition I’ve made a promise to myself to make time just for me. After all, as the saying goes, ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. And that’s exactly how I felt when I saw out 2011.
With a new year it’s time for a new and more positive outlook professionally too . What changes would I like to see in the year ahead in my profession? I’d like to see more emphasis on how people really learn and less about counting those bums on seats – virtual or otherwise.
I’d like to see more acceptance of social tools for learning and working. I’d like to see more effort being put into what makes effective learning online. I’d like to see more asynchronous learning being the norm.
I’d like to see more use of learning and collaborating in live online environments when live discussion is considered valuable.
I’d like to see face to face interaction used efficiently and when most appropriate and I’d like to see more L&D professionals grab the virtual bull by the horns and start adding to their skills to ensure learning online is as effective as learning in well designed classroom events. Am I expecting too much? It might be easier than you think.
Recently I curled up on the sofa with my other half, settled down with a mellow glass of red to enjoy an episode or two of Dexter. Now Dexter is one of my favourite US series. For those of you who don’t know anything about this series, you may think I need therapy for being so compelled to watch it. It’s about a serial killer who works for the police as a blood-spatter analyst. Yes… he’s the lead character and despite his unhealthy hobby, he’s the hero (or should it be anti-hero?).
Those fans of the programme actually like him and hope he never gets caught. From watching the previous series and having to wait for a whole week to go by before catching up with the next episode, we decided to record them to watch in bulk. After some mishap with the recordings, I just had to buy the boxed set (Stay with me here…. )
The up-shot is that the two episode evening lasted all weekend. It’s a good job there was nothing more pressing to get done (the ironing could wait!).
We’ve recently started to watch 24. Well, you can imagine what happened although this time we had to be very strict with ourselves.
So what’s the point of all this? Well I started to wonder why we found it so compelling – to sit there and watch episode after episode until our eyes became square (or rather 42 inch wide-screen).
For the love of story
From an early age we love stories. I’ve spoken to many a parent who can almost recite Thomas the Tank Engine word for word from memory or that video of The Little Mermaid is almost unrecognisable after the trillionth time of watching. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child in November and I suspect they’ll be no different. Her Auntie Laura will likely also be caught up in the magical world of story-telling too.
It doesn’t stop though does it? The love of stories? We may grow out of the wide-eyed excitement of being read bed-time stories but the magic doesn’t stop when we grow up. It just grows with us. From Disney films to Dr. Who. From romantic comedies to dark Gothic vampire tales. From the trashy, steamy novel to the complicated thrillers or classical period tales of yester-year. What keeps us so enthralled?
Telling stories began thousands of year in the past. We can see evidence of it from ancient drawings on cave walls. We can imagine travellers recounting tales of their journeys round campfires and then progress meant those words could then be recorded for generations.
I have my own theories by analysing my own love of a good story and would like to share what I like them here.
immediate connection with characters
emotional connection – empathising with the characters feelings and situations
a compelling story line
mystery that keeps you guessing what might happen next
challenges that put you in the character’s shoes
sparking imagination through written words
visually stimulating through clever direction and cinematography
In short – I need to believe I could be there. I need to live it and be totally immersed even if it might be the most fantastic tale of hobgoblins and superheroes.
What is it about stories?
In order to satisfy my own curiosity, I set about doing a little (and I mean a little) research into why storytelling has such an impact on us. What I found was fascinating – and it’s only the tip of the storytelling iceberg.
In a New Scientist article by Richard Fisher, entitled ‘the evolving art of storytelling’ he explored the effect an immersive experience of a good book or movie has on our brains. He found that according to neuroscientists and psychologists, areas of our brains react to the emotions the characters are feeling as if we were ‘in their shoes’.
Our brains behave in such a way as if we were experiencing the fiction as if it were our real-world experiences. The reason stories have such a powerful effect is the release of chemicals serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine such compelling stories trigger in our brains. Fisher goes on to review ‘The Art of Immersion’ (available on Kindle) by Frank Rose, which investigates storytelling and how it’s evolved with technology and something those of us who are looking to design experiences in our e-learning and engage our learners might find worth a look (note to self – order this book).
In another article ‘Mind Reading: the science of storytelling’ which referenced the same research reports further that our brains will react the same way regardless whether we are reading the story or watching an action video but the most potent of all is that of the ’emotionally charged story’.
What I found reassuring was the chemical triggers in the brain “explains why we can be lured into watching back-to-back episodes of series” and that “we are empathetically engaged. We are treating this as if it is our real family. We can’t help but care for these people”. So, there you have it. Proof that I’m not really that sad. I may have an addictive personality but the only drugs I may be addicted to are serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine! Although I’m not sure whether I’d like to think a serial killer blood-spatter analyst as family.
Previously I set the scene for my repressed paranoia about keeping hard copies of everything and filing them away just in case. I admit I’m a horder and take after my father who, no matter what you might need in a crisis, seems to be able to lay his hands on it. Well, here I carry on with the tale of how the iPad saved the day in a (mini) crisis.
Where we live, we get the occasional power blip. They’re never usually more than a blip and if the power goes off it is usually only for 30 minutes at the most. We this time it’s been over two hours and could be longer. This has brought home to me how reliant we have all become on electricity in our everyday lives. So much so that I’ve made a plan to go through all my contacts on my mobile phone and write them up in a little black book. [actually its a very large book with a dog on it.]
What use is backing up these contacts to iTunes when there’s no power? Not only had the power cut prevented me searching for images to add to slides for an online session I’m currently planning but I had no cellular connection neither. No-one could contact me and I could contact no-one. I felt terribly isolated. Can you imagine it. Me – someone who looks for caravan sites with wifi and gets the jitters if she’s left her mobile phone in the house while she pops to the shops. This was truely a nightmare of huge proportions. The panic was short-lived.
I soon found the isolation quite liberating. It meant that no one interrupted me with e-mails, I was able to concentrate on the main points of my new session without becoming side-tracked by searching for that ‘perfect’ image and the ‘that looks interesting too, I’ll have a quick look’ seduction of the WWW.
I had no telephone or skype interruptions or little e-mail alerts popping up. I really did more work in that two hours than usual just purely without the usual interruptions. I felt strangely able to breathe instead of drowining in a sea of information and connectivity.
So how did the iPad save the day?
Well, as I mentioned before, it’s my husband who has the iPad and whereas I have a supersized battery for my laptop, his laptop battery isn’t too hot these days. Not only that, the work he does means that the processor takes quite a hit and the battery is sucked dry in no time so it wasn’t long before it became impossible to work.
Enter the iPad.
With a longer battery life and a good selection of apps to allow him to work on spreadsheets, create outlines and write notes it meant Dean could continue to work without resorting to pen and paper only to have to type it up again later. It is unusual that the cell coverage crashed at the same time on this occasion but with our trusty smart phones and tablets it would have been feasible to carry on communicating too.
I was never in the girl guides but my inner administrator’s ‘be prepared’ strategies kicked into action. Here are some tips from me should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
1. Try and make sure you laptop has extra long battery life
2. Always work with laptop plugged into mains
3. Back your files up everyday
4. Keep your mobile phones regularly charged and synchronised with your contacts
5. Keep a basic telephone handy so you can at least make emergency calls
6. Keep a traditional telephone book up to date
7. Keep your iPad or Android tablet charged
8. Invest in some office applications for your mobile device (they only need to be basic)
9. If you work over a VPN to access files on a remote server, work locally and regularly synchronise
10.Take the opportunity to work the old-fashioned way – with pen, paper and good old peace and quiet.