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Friday, August 15, 2008

CELTA: nearly half-way there

A poster I created to help get students in the mood for learning the second conditional: "If I won a million pounds I'd..." (the building featured houses about 5 classrooms that we teach in).


Wah. Shatterficated. That's what I be.

We're now almost half way through CELTA. The pace hasn't let up at all, really is intense.

I've found that I need to get in to uni for about 8am most days, after doing my Willyaki deliveries. Lunchtimes are pretty much taken up by lesson planning, so it's basically non-stop input and output all day; we are finishing by about 6pm most days now though which is nice.

For the first week, we were basically spoon-fed our lesson material. We'd write our plans with our tutors. This week however, we're just told what subject to teach, and pointed in the direction of what we might find useful. Next week it'll all just be left to us.

Last night, after four hours planning for today's one-hour lesson, I was thinking about how much longer it's taking me to prepare for lessons here than it did in Japan. The main reason for this is that if we are not careful to meet all the criteria, our lessons (which are observed by three other trainees and our tutor) will be failed (and quite a few people have been failed. I had a near-miss in today's grammar class teaching the second conditional, but thankfully just managed to pull it off). Fails can be made up for in future classes.

In class, I find it really challenging to maintain awareness of everything going on around me whilst at the same time focusing upon my lesson aims and objectives, and providing clear grammatical explanations (my weak area). I feel I need a clone.

This afternoon whilst explaining the difference between would and could to an individual student who was struggling to create example sentences, I noticed that two students on another table had finished and were looking around with bored expressions.. not good (and of course picked up by my assessor). I find in those situations my brain actually splits in half through necessity - one half continuing to deal with the student in need of an explanation, and the other figuring out what mini-activity to distract the advanced types with (should be on the plan though if I've done it properly).

Overall however, classes are going well. My strong point is rapport with the students (at the end of today's lesson a student announced to the class, 'You will make a great teacher Joseph!"). My weak points: board work, keeping the pace going, grammar explanations.

Back in the classroom where we are the students, there's been a lot to take in. Today we were looking at lesson sequencing (devising a plan that covers a series of lessons), and then later, integrating the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing). That was a lot of fun as we were set a 'running dictation' - a competitive race done in pairs - with one person writing, and the other running back and forth to a text stuck on the wall at the end of the hallway remembering and dictating the passage sentence by sentence. Very funny :-) We also learned more about the problems that learners face with English verbs, notably when 'present' and 'past' tense verbs are put to other uses.

Yesterday, we studied phonemes and were taught the phonetic alphabet. That was absolutely fascinating (I'm not kidding!). We also looked at how we physically create these sounds (what parts of the vocal gear we employ) - you know I never realised that the sound 'd' is an unvoiced 't', that 'j' is an unvoiced 'sh'.

Time and time again I'm staggered by the amount of stuff we know without even knowing it! The way I move all those muscles in order to produce the word 'hello' - and I can do that at the same time as walking up a flight of stairs, skillfully (and unconsciously) maintaining my balance through thousands of computations telling my body to move this way or that in response to input from my balance sensors. Just incredible how it all work. 

Also yesterday, we looked at study spaces (our group offered the IC's CILASS Collab 2 as a model study space, adapting it to suit a deprived African village), and the use of technology / realia (that's real 'things').

Other sessions this week have included 'teacher talk', materials development. assessing, and questioning - with such a variety (and at such a pace) I don't find myself tuning out at all, no matter how shattered I am.

Oh, we received our first (grammar focused) written assignments back today, the ones we were warned that we probably wouldn't pass first time. They were right - out of 16 of us, 13 failed! That's ok though, it's written into the plan. We now have the weekend to go through the incredibly detailed feedback and submit them a second time next week.

Anyway , almost halfway through the intensive course, I'd have no hesitation in recommending CELTA to anyone thinking of teaching English as a foreign / second language. And whilst I haven't done the one-year version, I feel that this intense course is possibly more effective (maybe? Maybe not. OK, so they are different things really. Perhaps). 

I dunno, it's just that with teaching practice two to three times a week, and immediate feedback on virtually everything we do, we have a chance to rectify our mistakes and focus upon our shortcomings whilst they are still fresh in our minds. Rapid and effective change. Faults dealt with before they have a chance to become patterns.

I think it's also a lot more fun - it's like being locked in a submarine with a bunch of strangers for a month. Allows for friendship development to occur at ultra-high speed; such a pleasure to experience (especially with such a nice group of people).

Anyway, I need some shut-eye. Today's Teaching Practice has left me pooped. Need to rest as much as possible in prep for the weekend which I think is scheduled to be filled with re-writing assignment 1, and writing assignment 2!

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

CELTA: 25% down, 75% to go

We made it. First week of CELTA complete. 25% down, 75% to go!

The Wikiepdia description is turning out to be spot-on:
The full-time four-week course is very intensive, and students taking it must be prepared to dedicate all their waking hours to it for the duration. Even the part-time version of the course can take up more time than a full-time job for many students, especially those with no teaching background.
The first three days were the toughest. Studying intensively for over 8 hours a day is not something I've ever done before, and my brain felt like it was under siege. So much so that I had to think of a way to give it some relaxation therapy on the way home - if I just did nothing when sitting on the bus it would just be buzzing with the days learning, and aching. First off, I tried the audio book I've been making my way through over the past month (Colin Thurbron - Shadow of the Silk Road), but after two days of that I realised I just kept on tuning out, my brain was complaining about having to process even more data; it was hard work to listen.

Music Therapy

I think it was Wednesday that I remembered the power of music. A few weeks back I'd bought the new Coldplay album, sort-of listened to it once or twice, and then forgotten about it.

Why not revive that? - if it was suitable, I could even turn it into one of those key soundtracks to a distinct period in my life (a technique mentioned halfway through this mumble).

It's turned out to be ideal. With my big headphones on I'm not bothered by the sound of the chatter on the bus, the stress of the shock absorbers when we hit the speed bumps, the squealing of the brakes. The music does not demand my attention, but rather just offers itself as a place that I can relax in. I can drift in and out of it without feeling that I've missed anything.

Just 30 minutes of music therapy after a long day in the classroom sets me up for further study when I get home.

CELTA course classes

We've covered a huge variety of topics during our first week of classes, including: learner styles and levels; needs analysis; lesson planning; many different teaching methods; grammar; ELT resources; error correction; classroom management ...and much much more.

The thing that really strikes me about this course is that we are deliberately being taught how to teach through loop input. That is, our tutors are using the teaching methods on us that we will be using in the classroom (so, in effect, we're kind of getting 80 hours of teaching in a forty hour week!).

Simple example: We might be put into pairs to do a timed brainstorming exercise on aspects of classroom management, followed by a feedback session in which all students are asked to contribute an idea to a table on the whiteboard - in that lesson then we will not only have learnt classroom management techniques, but will also have picked up more ideas on ways in which to elicit information from students / check understanding of meaning.

Sometimes, our tutors will stop at the end of a mini-exercise and ask us things like, "did you notice that I gave you the instructions before handing out the question sheet...?" (students [myself included] often tune out when given a piece of paper - they just have to read it!). In this way, we are being fed a wealth of little tips that will help us make small improvements to our teaching.

Teaching Practice

The hardest aspect so far has been preparing for our teaching practice. It's not that it's been a particularly difficult activity in itself - being week one, we have basically been told what to teach it, and to a large extent, how to teach it. The issue has been time - or a lack of it. Whilst ideally we would be writing lesson plans in the evenings, the exhaustion has left me feeling unable to do much except read sections of my 'How to Teach English' text book, and thus yesterday's (for example) was created between 8am and 9.30am, and then finished off at lunchtime (I think lunchtime for everyone yesterday turned into "Teaching Practice Planning"!). It's a good lesson in the importance of time management for teachers!

This will of course change the more that we do it. At the moment everything is new, and takes a lot longer than usual.

We've now had three Teaching Practice sessions, attended by students from all over the world who are happy to act as guinea pigs in what are for them free English lessons.

The first one was pretty nerve-wracking. It went Ok though, although I did a very poor job of introducing the vocab, and found myself telling a joke which no-one understood (I'm learning though trial-and-error about the extent to which humour can be used - it's always a bit of a gamble. Keep it simple, or avoid it altogether!).

My second class went a lot better, and I actually enjoyed it; I started to find my confidence. The third class (yesterday) was even more fun, despite a section of my lesson plan inadvertently being made redundant by a colleague who, when teaching the session immediately prior to mine, adjusted their plan so that they ended up doing an exercise that I was going to do! I decided that this was an opportunity to learn about the importance of having a plan B, and it seemed to pay off.


Following our final class last night, we popped off down the pub for a celebratory drink - we'd completed our first week! Looking back on it all now, it's great to see the progress we've made. I've not taken an intensive course before, but I'm impressed by just how much can be covered with a well-designed course and dedicated students (who have no life outside of it). It seems to me to be a pretty effective way to learn, and I feel sure now that CELTA is worth every penny of the not-insignificant sum of money invested in it.

Anyway, this weekend I've got an awful lot of homework to do. Reading, lesson planning, oh, and I have my first written assignment too... best get on.

joseph

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Merhaba! Nasılsın?

In this morning's first class we were treated to the most extraordinary experience. It was absolutely captivating, and made me forget all about the scary half-naked man at the bus stop 30 minutes earlier who had thrown bricks at a carpet-delivery van containing three men, one of whom had briefly emerged with a long iron bar and said some rather rude words to the half-naked man.

We arrived in class, only to be greeted by a woman we'd never met before who immediately started to talk to us in a made-up language. It was complete nonsense, a few of us couldn't help but laugh.

Then someone remembered - we were time-tabled to have an 'unknown language lesson', to give us a sense of what it might be like if we go to teach English in a foreign country where the students have absolutely no prior knowledge of English.

And we had none whatsoever of this 'language'. During our interviews we had been asked to list all the languages that we spoke - even if it was just a tiny bit. Our course directors then found a teacher of a language that appeared on none of the resulting 16 lists.

Having gathered from her gestures that she wanted us to go into a different classroom, we moved next door and sat in the chairs that had been arranged in a semicircle. She then started repeating strange-sounding phrases to us. We gathered that this was a drilling exercise, and so played along.

She'd say a sentence several times, we'd repeat several times. This went on for some time, gradually building up to about 7 phrases. Nothing was written on the board, and we were banned from writing anything down ourselves. It was all just these sounds in our ears that we copied, not knowing what they meant.

We were then shown a short video of two people saying these phrases. At certain points the people indicated towards a picture of a shop, then a house.

Slowly, the sounds started to mean something. "Merhaba!" must be 'Hello' in whatever this language was." Sen" appeared to mean "you". Ah... and "Nasılsın" must be "How are you?"

After thirty minutes of watching, listening and repeating (and nothing else), the meaning started to become clear.
Hello!
Hello!
How are you?
I'm fine, how are you?
Fine thank you. Where are you going?
I'm going to the shop (or was it an office?!) Where are you going?
I'm going home.
Good bye!
Good Bye!

We were paired off, and practised this new strange language.

(We later found out that it was Turkish that we were speaking).

This exercise struck me as being absolutely remarkable, and afterwards I felt positively elated.

Why?

It had given us the chance to do something we could never normally do. We were allowed to return to babyhood and experience the first year or two of language development within the space of one hour!

It really felt like that. We had no other 'language' that we could fall back on, all there was was these new strange sounds that we tried to emulate with no concrete idea of what we were saying. It was only through use over time that we figured out the meaning - although not all of us did, with some only finding out in the feedback session afterwards.

It was so exciting to be learning to communicate all over again, from scratch.

A brilliant exercise. Thank you ELTC.




We had our second teaching practice today. I really enjoyed it. After I'd finished my bit, one of the the students passed me a note "You're going to become a great teacher" - this was was very encouraging, and much appreciated. Still a long long way to go though.

Of course I'm absolutely shattered again. I've made my packed lunch for tomorrow and will go to bed shortly. I know I really should do my teaching plan for tomorrow's course - I'l start it, and see how far I get before falling alseep!

night night

p.s. coursemates really are bloomin wonderful.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

a brief hello

The way things are shaping up I think there will be very little in terms of blog activity from me this month. Or any other kind of activity, other than working towards gaining my CELTA certificate.

It's incredibly intense. from 9.30am to 6.30pm (7pm yesterday) the 16 of us are either in our classroom being taught how to teach, or, just up the road in another classroom, teaching.

When we get home, we have a considerable amount of homework to do, including lesson planning for the following day's class, and the study of English grammar.

My brain doesn't know what's hit it! Eight hours+ of constant input is very draining, and leaves me feeling pretty out of it when I do get home. The weekend is only 2 days away - but then we have the first of four assignments to complete (for the Monday).

Not that I'm complaining - It's a fantastic course, and we must be learning an awful lot. I'll appreciate it when it's overm I know :-)

There's the camaraderie too, couldn't have wished for a nicer bunch of CELTA classmates. It's only day three - but we've already spent a whole 24 hours working together in a group, and thus know each other pretty well.

Our students are nice too. They're our guinea pigs, getting their lessons free (I guess I'm actually paying to teach them!).

I'm glad I have a comfortable home I can collapse in. I'm staying at my friends' house whilst they're in China (nice bit of synchronisity there). Part of the deal though is that I deliver sushi to 5 outlets four times a week for their catering company in return - thus it's up at 6am on those days.

I think i'll need a holiday when I get to japan!

xxx

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Graduation photos

Live from the Little Chef on the M6 heading south from Sheffield... some shots from today's graduation ceremony.

Well done all of us. Thanks Sheffield!

seas on the steps_9125

joseph graduation ceremony_9102

joseph and twinkle graduation_9119

joseph anne peter twinkle_9148

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Results are out (again)

Here we go then, final results, officially published today on the university portal.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

CILASS for Students website (private launch)



This mumble features a fair bit of bathing in my own glory (so no change there then).

I'm delighted to say that the CILASS for Students website is complete. It won't be officially launched until the next academic year, but I won't be around then, so I thought I'd quietly launch it to my friends now ...as I made it :-)

http://cilass-students.group.shef.ac.uk/

The aim of the student-targeted site is to promote an understanding of and engagement in Inquiry-based Learning, raise
awareness of the work that CILASS does, and provide an opportunity for the amazing Student Ambassadors to tell the world about the incredible things that they do.

It's based upon an original site created last autumn by all of the CILASS Student Ambassadors, with further input from the CILASS core team. Being an 'official' university site, last year's attempt to communicate with students was severely limited by the uni's CMS (Content Management System) which basically guarantees that even the most exciting of ideas end up looking about as interesting as a pile of rotting onion skins. Here's the most exciting page on the university website :-p

I think it was around March when I proposed that we do our own thing. Take it out of the university template. Create our own site from scratch. I wasn't really imagining that I'd end up creating a 50-page site. Bloomin' crazy idea if you ask me, end of my final year and all. But it was something I really wanted to do, so it just sort of happened. I was able to use the material supplied by the SAN for the first site, and benefited from lots of feedback from them during the development process - special thanks to Emmy and Ali.

I must say, I'm really pleased with the result, and I'm delighted by the response it's received. The CILASS core team have been very complimentary; seeing the site for the first time the director told me it had made her day. The university's Pro-vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning also emailed to say how good he thought it was, whilst central support staff were also very impressed by how comprehensive it was - yet studenty in appearance.

I should add that it is still in need of a lot of padding. My goal was to create the basic structure and core content - the plan now is for the SAN to fill in the holes and make it into a great resource.

I'd like to thank Sabine and Nicola for allowing me to do this, for giving me the freedom to pursue the project in google 20% time style.

I'm now in the process of creating support materials for the site (using the gorgeous Screenflow - OS X 10.5 only). One fear of mine (and of the core team) is that without me there to supervise the site might fall into dissaray (look what happened to the beautiful site I created for Milky House 5 years ago! Talk about cannabalisation). Thus, support material is vital.

I'd like to be able to use the site as a part of my portfolio. I don't see myself going into website design for a living, but nonetheless, I think it's a good demonstration of versatility (and I don't want to be pointing employers at TGW now do i?!).

Thanks to everyone who contributed, a great team effort! I look forward to seeing it being developed further over the next year.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Degree result

information commons exterior_8500
Google Alert: Information Commons, Sheffield (tee hee)

I worked out what I got for my degree the other day. Whilst grades aren't officially published until the 14th July, with the results for all but one of modules (language) having been announced, it's not hard to tot it up. I've guessed my mark for the language module based on my previous results and my feelings about how it went (it went very well!)

I got a 2:1, approximately 66~68%. That's what I was aiming for, so I'm happy with that. Well done me. 5 years of study have paid off.

I remember Earl Nightingale talking about how we react to reaching our goals. Reaching goals doesn't give us half the sense of satisfaction / happiness as working towards them does, and I'd say that that's certainly the case here. I have this idea that I ought to 'feel more' about this result, but the truth is that the real achievement was in doing it. For me, the happiest days were those when we were in class, doing stuff. Those were the days of real accomplishment.

After all, what do we do when we reach a goal? Set a new goal! I find that knowing that now helps me deal with the unexpected a little better than I did in the past. With no goal ever being 'ultimate', if plans do go eschew, I know that that's ok, that the goal was just a guide, and really it's all about the journey.

That was certainly the case with my degree. It's all been about the journey.

inverse vapour trail_8512

Inverse vapour trail - I've never seen one of these before

Today was my last day working at CILASS. The morning was spent with a group of staff from Hong Kong who are on a study-space research trip. That was good - the vegetable samosas were particularly tasty, and I'm always a sucker for those cheese and tomato stick things. :-p

This afternoon I created a few screencasts for next year's webgroup (is Screenflow the sexiest Leopard app in the world or what?!), and spent some time with Emmy. I like hanging out with her (I mean, how could I not - she has the same Macbook as me!). After that it was off to the pub, drinks on the house. I did enjoy that. Such a groovy bunch those CILASS folks. I will miss them.

Leaving the University Arms I was well and truly lost. It was the first time since arriving at Sheffield in 2004 that I've had no 'place' at uni. Two pints of beer had to be factored in as well: they'd made me feel desperately lonely and in need of *Twinkle* - confirmation that not drinking has possibly been the cleverest thing I've done this year.

Ho hum. I'm off to London tomorrow, staying in a capsule. Best get some kip.

xxx

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Generosity, and packing for Japan

Been a funny old day today. Everything's been out of context. Started with being woken by my mobile. I get an average of one phone call a week, so it startles me even if when I'm already awake. My friend had a puncture, meeting might be delayed. I can sleep in a bit. Tired after last night's coaching call, finished that at 1.30am. It's almost the end of the course, more change there. Good change. Change is good.

But hang on, it didn't start with that phone call. No, it started with what happened the night before. It was about 11pm, and I was unpacking my bag. Earlier in the day a friend of mine (another student) who I'm probably not going to see for a long long time after this week handed me an envelope: "Look after it, and open it when you get home".

When I did open it, I gasped. Inside was a beautiful handmade card with a lovely message, and inside that, a number of bank notes. I was stunned, and tears came to my eyes. This was an act of supreme generosity, utterly unexpected. I was completely thrown by it, and spent some time feeling lost in the kitchen talking to myself.

I contacted them, communicating my feelings. They reassured me. Boy am I grateful. Thank you so much.

This act of generosity made me think a lot about giving and receiving, and reinforced for me the importance of giving in my life.




This afternoon I was on Three Seeds business, Three Seeds being our online publishing company. Met up with our marketing adviser, who, in a nice way, pointed out all of the flaws in our plans. I was very grateful for that - better to hear it from him than someone whose business we are looking for (or the judges at next week's competition final). We need to do some serious thinking about where we want this business to go. It would be a shame to bring it so far (we're now in testing) and not see it to the launch. It's a shame we lost two months to the first company we approached, but no doubt the reason for that will come to light in due course.

Tonight I've been starting to pack for Japan. I move out of here next Tuesday, but will be heading down to London on Friday for a rather special meeting with a high-profile businessman from Japan (I hope I can still speak Japanese!), so basically I need to prepare for the move now. I'm taking a lot of stuff to the charity shops: stationary, kitchen ware, small bits of 'furniture', books, women's clothing.

Whilst I've moved every year since about 1999, this is the most important move yet. I won't be coming back to live in the UK for a long time, so decisions need to be made about stuff that means a lot to me, but has little practical use, or can be bought in Japan for less than the cost of postage to Japan.

I'm down to about ten books. Ten books that have changed my life in various ways. All the rest have gone to Oxfam. I have quite a few things that have been given to me as gifts by friends over the past 15 years, but serve no purpose other than to look pretty and remind me of them. It's tough parting with these things, but I know that my relationships with these people are not ultimately contained within these objects. It's time for someone else to provide a temporary home for them.

I'm so glad that the vast majority of my photos are digitised. If my collection of 20,000+ were in the form of prints and negatives I really don't think I could justify shipping them over. As it is, they just occupy an eighth of my Macbook's (320GB) hard drive. Handy that. Hurrah for technology.

*Twinkle*s getting closer. 15 days. Can't quite come to terms with that. Kind of scary. It means we're getting married soon.

This morning I did a bit more wedding organisation. Booking rent-a-cars, and a hotel for *Twinkle* and I in Windsor, where we'll stay the night before she returns to Japan. It's all going to happen so soon. In a month she'll be back in Japan, and I'll be back here at Sheffield, learning how to teach.

Ho hum.

Well, best be off. I need to sleep - tomorrow is my last day working for CILASS (probably!). A group of people from Hong Kong have come to the UK to tour learning environments - I'm one of the Sheffield Students providing the student p.o.v. on the IC.

Nighty night.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

LTEA Conference 2008: Long Live Inquiry-based Learning!

It’s now the day after the closing of the LTEA (Learning Through Enquiry Alliance) conference 2008, and my head is beginning to clear. I attempted to write about my experience of this event last night, but I was “all conferenced out” as fellow student ambassador Barbara put it - my mind was just a sea of tags:
conference tag cloud
It was an intense week. In the days leading up to the event’s opening on Wednesday, I worked with the CILASS core team to help prepare the conference Wiki, a virtual space in which delegates could share, discuss and reflect upon their experiences of Inquiry-based learning. Aside from passive use of Wikipedia, I had no prior experience of working with Wikis, and thus found myself engaging in an intense IBL activity on my computer. Once I’d familiarised myself with the basic structure, I was surprised by how easy it was to manipulate; this has encouraged me to contemplate how I might include a wiki within my own website (another project to add to the IBL-inspired list!).

In addition to co-ordinating the wiki, my duties (most of which were of course shared with my amazing friends in the Student Ambassador Network) included: taking photos (that was a self-assigned role! Thanks for indulging me, CILASS), processing and uploading them to Flickr throughout the conference; ensuring that the technology was working for those presenting; uploading powerpoints to Slideshare (still a lot to do there); facilitating sessions; being available for delegates should they have any problems; watching over the luggage, drinking coffee, and eating chocolate.

Thinking about it all now, a few episodes come to mind. I’d like to share those with you.

It’s Wednesday morning, 9am. As the other Student Ambassadors arrive there’s a feeling of great excitement and happiness in the office: the months of preparation are over, and it’s too late to worry about anything. We’re blowing up balloons to tie to lamp-posts in order that delegates don’t get lost on their way to the Keynote in Firth Hall. Turns out that Jamie is a Balloon-mungster, and prior to joining the CILASS team was at the forefront of a new movement which campaigned to promote the simultaneous blowing up of multiple balloons. Jamie’s love of balloons spreads across the office, and before long the balloon bath is the hottest attraction in Sheffield.

jamie sabine natalie and the balloons

natalie balloons balloons_8061

11am, and the delegates are now arriving. They are greeted by the blue T-shirts and big smiles of the Student Ambassadors - a welcome sign of the kind of atmosphere that will embody the entire three-day conference.

Photo: James Gould

It’s now Wednesday afternoon and I’m facilitating a presentation by four members of Sheffield Hallam University’s CETL. They’ve all been using Inquiry-based technologies to help enhance the learning and teaching experience. As I sit there hearing about their successes I find myself getting tremendously excited and inspired - the work that these tutors are putting in to help students become autonomous learners really is something to be shouted about. When bringing the session to a close, I think it might be appropriate to offer a quick bit of feedback as the only student in the room:
“I’m very happy to have just completed a four-year degree, and am looking forward to moving on into the workplace. But I tell you, hearing what you’re doing with IBL inspires me to such an extent that I’m thinking I’d like to start another undergraduate degree!”
And I meant it. I am so impressed by the effort that is being put in by IBL-orientated staff to help students engage with their subjects, and by the positive results they are achieving. People must be told about IBL! It should become a norm for prospective graduates attending university open days to ask, “Could you tell me what inquiry-based learning techniques are employed within the department?”

We’re now between sessions, the busiest time for me and my USB stick. Myself, Pam from the CILASS core team and Pepe the penguin have to make sure that the presenters in all five of the simultaneous sessions hosted in various spaces around the IC have their presentations/videos lined up and are ready to roll. Remarkably, there’s not a single problem with the technology at any point during the conference - it all goes like clockwork.

pepe and the conference flash drive_8470

The next parallel session has begun, and I’m back in the office processing photos and slides. We’re all buzzing - things are going really well. I’m starting to think about what a great team we make, students working with the core CILASS staff. I reckon we could be hired out (at great expense, of course) to dazzle and amaze conference delegates around the world!

Conference GCHQ:

Conference GCHQ

Tom, Barbara and Nat point delegates in the right direction:

the road to the keynote_8356

It’s nearing 7pm - time for the conference dinner at Whirlebrook Hall. Myself, Nat and Sabine have a true Inquiry-based learning journey to the venue as we don’t know where it is: we stop at two pubs and a private house to Inquire as to where we might find it. Finally we locate it, and we’re actually almost the first to arrive (further proof of the effectiveness of IBL)! Champagne in hand we move out to the terrace, where I soon whip out my camera once again to try and capture the atmosphere. Dinner is then served: a melon slice creation, soup and then a main dish of goats cheese wotsit on rice. Delicious. Finished off with a dessert, and more wine. I must come to these conferences more often… I’m really happy to have the chance to talk with Pam and Sabine. I learn about giving birth, and breastfeeding, things I feel I ought to know about in preparation for the birth of our children in 2010 / 2011.

Nat, the new CILASS Student Co-ordinator for the Student Ambassador Network

conference dinner_8267

Tom, and Laura: Clearly the stress of being the outgoing SAN co-ordinator is getting to her

they weren't always that way

Day two of the conference, and we’re on the coffee. It’s going to be a long one, but with a timetable in my pocket detailing what needs doing when, it’s actually pretty relaxing. It offers reassurance that things are going to happen as planned anyway, just do your bit: the power of teamwork.

Now and then someone will come into the office raving about this AMAZING session that they’d just been to - onto the award winning CILASS student blog it goes.

The delegates are happy. The keynote address, given by the President of the University of Miami, is both relevant and thought-provoking. As the day moves on so notifications of changes to the Wiki increase in number - it’s being used as hoped!

Thursday evening sees us take a coach from the IC to The Edge, the new student village where the delegates are staying. I’m happy, relaxing with friends, eating olives and parsnip crisps, chatting with a member of Sheffield Hallam’s CETL. We’re then ushered through to a large room adjoining the bar: time for a bit of entertainment and reflection with Playback Theatre (York).

conference playback theatre_8387

Playback Theatre are quite remarkable. Consisting of teachers, counsellors and actors, they literally play back to the audience thoughts and feelings that have arisen from the conference. An academic might express her feeling of fear that arises from embarking upon new adventures in IBL, and the joy of then seeing students come into their own through the new module. The actors listen to the story, and then spontaneously create a short performance that sums it up. There’s little in the way of ‘lines’ as such,rather, movement and sounds take centre stage. I was delighted, amused and entertained by their production. Others in the audience were deeply touched; tears were shed. For me, it highlighted just how much passion the delegates had for what they were doing, how, at the end of the day it’s about doing the best one can to make a difference, and finding satisfaction though helping others.

The closing plenary saw us once again in Firth Hall, summing up the questions and ideas that had arisen through the conference. Thanks were then given, with special mention made of the CILASS core team, and the Student Ambassadors. My mind flicked back through the previous few days, and indeed us SA’s really had had a positive impact upon the entire conference. By participating to the extent that we did, we were able to not only paint the place with bright happy blue t-shirts, but also to provide the student point-of-view in many of the discussions - this of course is vital as students are half of the equation when it comes to Learning and Teaching.

I feel that this conference was a model for what a conference should be, and I hope that everyone who attended from other universities goes home and sets up their own Student Network!

Me, demonstrating the brand new CILASS student website - made BY students, FOR students

san skills session_8408
Photo: Sabine Little

The overall feeling I have looking back on the LTEA Conference 2008 is one of gratitude. Gratitude for having been able to take part in such a fantastic event. Gratitude for having been a part of such an amazing team made up of such genuinely lovely people.


Photo: James Gould

There was very much a feeling of partnership between students, staff and visiting delegates throughout, with little sign of hierarchy. I felt very much valued and appreciated as a student: this makes me feel incredibly positive about the future of higher education in the UK, and I won’t hesitate in moving back to the UK from Japan 10 or 15 years down the line in order that my own (as yet to be conceived!) children are able to benefit from it.

Long Live IBL!

This post is cross-posted on the CILASS Student Blog

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Post-student life begins

Sheffield Panorama 1

So yes, the change from student to non-student is going well. Having got rid of much of my coursework last night (I would have kept it had I been staying in the UK), I then advertised my last few books on Amazon - they were sold within hours and are in the post to their new student-owners. I've trawled through the backlog of emails, and moved all my uni work to the archives. It feels good. There's now space for something new.

The dark clouds have parted, and *Twinkle* and I are stronger for the storm. That's the thing, after really dark times, the sun shines extra bright. I'm loving organising the wedding, and having a lot of fun with the website (Apple's iWeb and .mac do have their uses after all).

This evening I was able to attend a free life-coaching session courtesy of the university's White Rose Enterprise Zone. That was good. It helped me shift my focus from what has passed, to what is now, and what has to come. And I was reminded once again of the importance of listening.

26 hours later

I was up at 5am today, for a jog to the top of the hill I've been meaning to climb for 4 years. It's opposite my house and has great views of Sheffield. I had such a great time. Two hours of walking in peace in that huge park, taking photos, listening to the Radiant Vista's Craig Tanner. I was so surprised to discover a woodland in Sheffield, and a huge green open space with a helicopter landing pad in the middle, bigger than a full-size football pitch.

I uploaded the original 6-photo panorama to Flickr which shows up the detail of the uni and all in the middle, including of course the beloved arts tower and ic. I uploaded this shot too - it's a structure that stands on the top of the hill overlooking the city - I wonder what it was?

sheffield viewpoint_7341

I'm loving this space. I have a tonne of things to do, but I'm able to work on them without feeling guilty. I even have time to read the books I was given at Christmas, and I've started my latest Murakami audio book again.

Oh, and I started studying Japanese again! I really like the "learn Japanese through newspapers" book I won at the speech contest, and so am doing one of those short lessons every day. The learning never stops!

I watched a film tonight too, Pay it Forward. This was given as an assignment for my coaching course (I'm in week four now, and really feeling the benefits). The film had me in tears though. But what a great idea. I'm sold on it and will work to become more aware of opportunities pay it forward myself. I have a lot to pay forward, having been the recipient of so much goodwill in various guises.

Spot the Arts Tower
flower-framed sheffield_7297

Anyway, bed time for me. I have a lot to do this weekend, and then of course Monday is the event we're all waiting for - Steve Jobs' keynote from WWDC. We are VERY excited!

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Into the recycle bin



Busy bee, spotted on the way back from the exam.

13 hours into freedom

So, I spent much of the afternoon feeling somewhat lost, before deciding that what was called for was assertiveness. I need to move on. No point in lingering in some in-between state. It's too easy to comfort oneself with the idea that change takes a long time. It doesn't. It takes a split second. The time it takes to make the decision.

Thus, I've spent the last few hours sorting through four years of handouts, reams of notes, kanji tests, pink essays, green essays and blue essays, and selecting a few choice morsels to keep. Included in my archive for posterity are select examples of all types of homework from the language course over all years, some classic examples of the handouts we were given, and the results of all the essays I handed in for non-language modules. This means that thousands of pages have been reduced to one folder's worth.

Here's just some of the work that will be going in the recycle skip in a minute.

my degree

You know what though, I am absolutely staggered how much work we've done. The amount of effort that went in to some of those modules (especially in the second year) beggars belief. How did they get me to sign up for all this?!

I'm glad we covered so much though. Not just in terms of language, but history, politics, social issues. I remember when I first went to Japan I didn't have a clue about any of this stuff. It helps, to know one's context. Still a lot to learn though, stuff that can only really be picked up by spending several years living there.

It would be nice to be there now really. Having completed the course it kind of feels natural that I go back to Japan and be reunited with *Twinkle*. No such luck though - 3 more months till that (very) happy day!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The end is nigh (in a good way)

Well, this is it then folks. In 12 hours and 29 minutes I'll have finished my final exam on this four year degree course. That will be a big relief. And probably a little surreal - the venue is Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (I hope the pitch isn't too waterlogged, or the papers will get really muddy).

I'm not in the least bit nervous about the exam. More, just wanting to get it over and done with. This is not due to some mad feeling of excessive confidence, but rather because I know that all I have to do is pass. I've done a fair bit of revision and feel comfortable with the thought of completing two of the three sections - the third section I'll tackle as best I can.

The exam starts at 9am, finishes at 12pm. I think I might even give myself the afternoon off. 'Stuff' can wait until Thursday (maybe. I know how much I want to get this 'stuff' done).

It's going to be a big change.

I'm looking forward to embracing it.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Above the architecture section

Today, like yesterday, and no doubt tomorrow too, was a good day. I feel some important memories were made.

It was also a very happy day, as last night my brother's partner's daughter gave birth to a very cute little boy - really great news - congratulations to all involved!

Congratulations also to dear Michael (from the Waldorf years) and his wife on the birth of their baby. Another real cutey!

Somewhat less exciting than the birth of some babies was the selling, this morning, of my Claud Butler bike of 17 years. As a child I saved up for it for a long long time, and finally, when I was about 13 years old, it was delivered to school in a big brown box. I was so excited, as were my classmates. I remember having to attach the pedals, and rotate the handlebars 90 degrees. I still have the instruction manual.

I really loved that bike, but it can't come with me to Japan. It's the beginning of the big clear out. Soon, I'll be giving away the ultimate student kit, including a whole kitchen (rice cooker, food mixer, pans, plates, cutlery, sieves etc), stationary, hanging clothes things, and 4 big springy clip things that have a myriad of uses).

Any takers? Sheffield or Hereford area OK. £10 donation to wedding fund appreciated.




This afternoon I had a 90-minute interview for the CELTA English language teaching course. I enjoyed that, and learnt a little about English grammar, something I've never really understood despite using it on a daily basis. I'll hear tomorrow whether I've been accepted.

It sounds incredibly hardcore; prospective trainees are required to sign a declaration stating that they understand that they will have no life for the duration of the course.

As one of the instructors told me, "It's incredibly demanding, and not everyone will make it to the end ...but it's fun too". I could tell from her voice that the type of 'fun' that she was referring to was that that can be had by taking part in a team event that sees one walking 100km non-stop over 7 mountains in 31 hours. One of those experiences that at the time is pretty damn painful, but when you do complete it you feel a special bond with the group without whom you would have never made it to the end.




Following my interview it was back to Western Bank library which is now open until midnight. It's funny, we've not studied in there this year, but just this last week myself and my classmate Jason have migrated back to the exact same spot that a group of us used to study in in our first year, on the mezzanine floor above the architecture section. It feels natural to complete the cycle, to end where we began. We even had Matthew join us from Japan (he left in our second year) - at least by email anyway.

I really enjoyed 'studying' today - although there was much laughter as I basically spent the first 8 hours re-enacting this video. I finally started to get my 'stuff done' at 7pm - this was made possible by my taking my Macbook home, and returning to the library without it (I was actually very productive during those 8 hours, it's just that none of my activities related to my exam).

Jason had just received notice from the Embassy that he will be working in Osaka next year (on the JET scheme as an ALT), so in-between revising and talking about Apple's OS 10.5.3 (released today) we chatted about this good news. I'm delighted that he'll be somewhere that's easy to visit, and I reckon he'll love Osaka (he's not been there before, and is happy with his placement). It has two Leica dealerships and an Apple store - what more could one ask for?!

It was during these conversations that I felt that this was a situation to be truly grateful for, one worth remembering. Sharing stuff with a friend, in a comfortable environment that carried with it a great sense of achievement. University really has been a blessing.

We finished our revision at about 10.30pm, joking that I was going to then rush home and download the new update for my Macbook, then spend half the night exploring the new features. Thankfully, it's rather a dull update, so I should be able to get a full night's sleep.

Night night nice world. Thank you for today.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mish-mash

Seems like the Internet doesn't like wet weather. It;s been gradually dying as the mist has set in tonight. It happens in Wales too. After a heavy rain shower, one has to disconnect the router from the mains and put it in the tumble drier for a while.

Skype has been fun. I'd call someone and say 'hello' as soon as they answered, but due to the 10 second delay they'd hang up before they heard my voice.

It's not the best of timing as I've got my weekly coaching call tonight. Looks like I'll have to skunk off down the road to our rival, Sheffield Hallam University, and see if their connection is any better.

Condolences to Sophie on not making it through ...but wasn't she fantastic?! I think that with the exposure she's had and the talent she has she'll go a long way.

It's now 7 days until the exam. I've started off revising the easiest of the three sections (newspapers). I'm happy with my progress, but am aware that I need to face my fear of the writing section. Tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow; as well as selling my bike in the morning, I have an interview tomorrow for the 4-week intensiveCELTA (Tefl) course after lunch. I tell you, it looks blooming tough. 9.30am to 6.30pm daily, plus a minimum of 20 hours preparation / homework per week. Five assignments too.

Things are slowly progressing on the job front. I'll be sent a pre-interview assignment to complete for a Tokyo-based English school next week - but I've also been put in touch with someone who teaches in a university where apparently there may be an opening. If I were to get that job I'd be living in Kansai (3 hours west of Tokyo on the bullet train), and thus *Twinkle* and I would spend about ten days a month apart when she goes to Tokyo on business. Not ideal. If I wasn't needing a visa I wouldn't be having these problems. I need to call the Japanese embassy about the spouse visa option again. It's finance that's the problem there (need to show a regular income, not ideal if self-employed as *Twinkle* is).

The British Embassy in Tokyo called *Twinkle* today. She's applied for a 'visitors visa (marriage)' - they want proof of our relationship. My response has been to post about 60 photos dating back to 2005 of us being a couple in a special web album. I've suggested *Twinkle* send them the link and the username / login I provided. They may say they want to see printed copies (because printed photos are more real than digital copies of the same photos?!)

I'm enjoying working in the library these days, but it is all a bit surreal. Kind of no-mans land, with routine gone, and the course over, but not over. It feels pretty weird.

Anyway, I'd best get down to the office.

xxx

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Friday, May 23, 2008

We Did It! Graduation Ceremony (No.1)

Our teachers will not be able to come to our graduation ceremony at the end of July as they will be in Japan. Not wanting to miss out on such an important occasion, they decided that in our last ever lesson with them, they put on a special Japanese graduation ceremony for us.

This act of kindness really sums up just how caring these teachers are.

Highslide JS
We are the Champions! Out of over 45 people who started this course 4 years ago, we are the 16 that made it to the end. WE ROCK! (Check out my teeth-grin. I'm not sure what I was thinking...)


It was lovely. We sang, we gave mini-speeches, we received graduation certificates. We received words of advice for our future lives. There was laughter, and tears.

Highslide JS
Receiving my graduation certificate


What made it even more memorable was a special guest ...live via streaming webcam from Japan- TANAKA SENSEI! Tanaka sensei was much loved by all of us in our first two years, but had to return to Japan a couple of years ago. He'd not used Skype before, but we managed to get through just at the start of class. It was so exciting, such a great surprise!

Highslide JS
Skyping with Tanaka Sensei


Seeing him, and his wife (who also taught us for a time) was a real treat. I think our teachers were just as excited to have the opportunity to see and speak with him, having not seen him since last year.

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Our teachers having enormous fun talking with their ex-colleague Tanaka sensei, much missed by both students and staff


There's more photos of our ceremony on Facebook.

We have one more class left on this course, tomorrow afternoon. Then that's it. Just the exam.

I can't quite get my head round the idea that we've finished, and that we're all going our separate ways. I've not really thought about it. Until now. I'm not so sad about leaving the teachers, because I know that I'll continue to keep in touch with them, and see them when they come to Japan or I visit Sheffield. I'll probably spend much of my summer in Sheffield in any case, so it really is a while until that goodbye.

But with my classmates, it's different. The chances are that I won't see some of them again, and that really upsets me; I can't help but shed a few tears thinking about that. They've been such a huge support over the past few years. Whilst I don't often socialise with them, they mean an awful lot to me. It's been so difficult at times, but together we got there.

In our little graduation speeches, quite a few of us mentioned the importance of our friendships. Another recurring theme was that of persevering, of battling on through the tough times. By doing so, you can conquer the most difficult of challenges.

The photo above of all (but one) of us carries with it enormous meaning, and is one that I shall really treasure.

We've really done something incredible here. Well done us.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SeeChange Residential Event: Day 1

It's been a fascinating day today.

Following that early morning jog, I slowly got my stuff together and headed over to the Computing Centre, where I was to met a couple of university 'colleagues' for the 50-minute drive down here, the Derbyshire Hotel, from where I'm now staying for a couple of nights (all expenses paid. Thank you Sheffield!).

This three day residential event is the product of the university's investment in change. The idea was spawned at a national "change" event attended by a couple of senior members of staff, who then thought "Wow! What a great idea! Let's have our own 'Change' process at Sheffield ...and let's call it SeeChange!" The call then went out for project proposals, one of which was drawn up by Patrice of Learning and Teaching Support, and Mark of CiCS/CILASS fame.

The goal of our project is to formulate a strategy that will see students utilising Web 2.0 tools to positively impact upon their learning process. This might include tools such as Facebook, RSS feeds & newsreaders, Flickr, YouTube and social bookmarking. It's not going to be easy. The use of Facebook by university staff is the topic of some debate and has cropped up several in CILASS debates; the current consensus seems to be something along the lines of 'stay away'.

What is key to our project is that it is student driven. If the university was to 'hijack' these popular services, the response would most likely be students choosing to go elsewhere. It's a difficult situation: A university driven initiative that cannot be university driven!

I'll describe some of the tools we've been given to aid us in our change process tomorrow.




I feel very fortunate to be involved in what really is an exciting project. And it's not just the project itself, it's the way it's being launched. The four teams that are here (making up a total of about 30 people) were selected following a competitive tendering process - thus we already feel quite special, it's like winning a holiday (although the hotel's not all that nice, and the Internet access deal is the biggest rip-off in the history of the galaxy. Having said that, I love staying in hotels and am very grateful for what we have been provided with. I'll be going for a Sauna when I wake up tomorrow...). The reason it's a three day residential held outside of Sheffield is, according to one of the organisers, to stop people nipping back to the office at lunchtime - we have to be fully focused. And I think it does help the creative process.

I'm also very appreciative to be able to partake in the training sessions that are being provided as a part of the package, the kind of things you'd pay good money to take part in privately. I'll talk more tomorrow about the Team Management Profile, a 'test' that leads to a personalised 25-page report on your contribution to a team. They are scarily accurate and offer invaluable insights into one's own character.

It's fascinating attending this event in the role of 'student', surrounded by staff. Whilst I may be 30 years old, I often feel more like I'm a teenager, and am prone to elevate staff above myself in the university environment. But seeing them work together here, it strikes me just how much they resemble my classmates and I as we carry out some group project. This leads me to think on how difficult I find it to take on the mantle of 'adult', and I wonder if this is a consequence of being labelled as a 'student'. How will my sense of identity change when I begin work?

I digress.

I'd better get to bed really, it's late. We have a full schedule tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday 5am

Highslide JS
Signs of Spring

Yesterday at 4am myself, and 34 others who live in my block at Broad Lane Court, were rudely awoken by the ringing of bells. Doorbells.

It was a little alarming, as our doorbells are quite loud; we can hear the neighbours' bells almost as clearly as our own. All of them were going off together. After a few moments of lying there feeling semi-consciously confused, I managed to rouse myself - someone might be in trouble, desperate for attention. I stumbled down the stairs to the main door, and was soon joined by several flatmates in similarly dazed states. The bells had stopped ringing by now.

I looked out through the glass panels of the door, but all I saw a man strolling nonchalantly out of the courtyard. He did have the gait of a drunkard - it just seemed that he'd had a sudden urge to wake lots of people up. Which he successfully did.

Things like that don't really annoy me. I tend to just put them to one side and know that I'll understand that I'll probably appreciate why it happened at some later date. As it was, I was asleep again within seconds of returning to bed, so wasn't really inconvenienced.

Thinking over this later in the day, it struck me how light it had been at 4am.

Living in a thick-walled block of flats with only a small double-glazed window out onto the world, it's only too easy to become insulated from the natural cycle of the seasons. This, I feel, is a great shame. We've lived according to the rhythm of the seasons for millions of years. It's a fundamental cycle that I'm sure affects us as it affects the animals and plants.

Thinking about this, I realised that perhaps I had something to learn from the 4am bell-ringer. And that's why I could be found in the part at 5am today, doing my exercises.

I tell you, that 7am-Sunday-in-the-park thing - you can experience it weekdays too, at 5am! It was just beautiful. So peaceful. The sun was a fair way above the horizon, its lovely golden rays reflecting off a million little mirrors created by frost-coated blades of grass. Hitting the trees that surround the football pitch it made them seem like huge huggable cushions of green (although I admit they would probably not feel like cushions if fallen on from a considerable height).

So, a big thank you to the man who rang all of our doorbells at 4am, for re-connecting me with the rhythm of the world the other side of my double glazing.




Today promises to be an exciting day. At 8.30am I'll be meeting a few staff from various university departments, and we'll be heading off to a 3-day residential event near Nottingham, the aim of which is to get an exciting new project off the ground that seeks to utilise Web 2.0 tools in the enhancement of learning and teaching. I'll not be able to stay for the whole day today as what with this being week 12 (the final week of taught lectures) I have my last ever class with Nagai sensei (sniff). There's also a little awards ceremony to attend for the photo competition.

Anyway, best get on and eat my porridge. Lots to do before the rest of the world wakes up!

xxx

p.s. for someone who is a lot more in touch with natural cycles (pun intended), check out Bastish.net. I've mentioned this blog before. It tells the story of a couple who left the pressures of Tokyo city, to start life anew in the countryside. 

It's not just beautiful photography. I found the recent post "Lost in the countryside" very interesting. For me, it's a reminder that whilst the grass may be greener on the other side, it does require a lot of care.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Going for it

Highslide JS
About to press the magic lever (Starring Susie, and featuring my arm)


Here we are then: the moment when I reached out and pushed the magic leaver that saw the my dissertation bound. Job done!

Looking back on these past few days of hardcore writing I'm inspired. I got so much done - now how about if I turn that energy and single-mindedness to my language revision, just for two weeks? I feel pretty unconfident about the exam at the moment, but having seen what I've just done, I appreciate that I could turn the situation around.

I think it's definitely worth a go.

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Dissertation Done and Dusted

Yay! I am Happy. Very happy (and very tired!).

It's been a 14 hour day in the library, but we got there. I'm pretty pleased with it as I've been able to keep my 3000 word history - well, at least for the version that I'll have bound for myself. The department will get the 8,200 word abridged version!

Caw blimey it's over. Only one translation and a three hour exam between me and graduation.

Thanks so much to mum and dad who have put in a lot of time to proofread it over the past few days. Much appreciated.And thanks to my supervisors too, couldn't have done it without you :-)

Bed time for me now. I actually have a DAY OFF tomorrow!

:-)

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dissertation: The benefits of procrastination

I was in the library just after 9am this morning; it's now 1.45am, and I got home 15 minutes ago. A 16.5 hour day, not bad. It was punctuated by an hour spent with my classmates, first year and second students on our course, in a meeting about the Year Abroad. That was fun. It was also really nice to see so many of us Japanese studies students together, you know, like one big family. Even making it through the first year is quite an accomplishment - so in a way we were all survivors.

I think Angela (joint head of Japanese language) does a fantastic job in co-ordinating our year abroad placements. It's one of those things you take for granted, but she must put in an awful lot of work to make it all happen. Thanks Angela.

...But anyway, apart from that interlude I was in the library, or the basement of the Arts Tower, working on my dissertation. It's nearly done. I just have to check over my referencing and insert a Table of Contents, then that's it.

Unfortunately there isn't really all that much of a sense of achievement. The reason for this is that originally, it was what I felt was a pretty good study of Japan's NGO sector. That was when it was 13,000 words long. But the limit, imposed on the department by the powers that be (who require uniformity across the faculty), is 7,700 (that's including the 10% leeway), which means I have basically had to hack it to bits. What I'm left with is a footnote-heavy scribble, jam-packed with only the essential information, and lacking in context - I feel it's rather a dull read.

I tried to get it down to the prescribed length, but it won't go. Thus, I'll have 2% knocked off my final mark for exceeding the word count, but I'd lose more if I tried to cut anything else out, and in a way I think its important to lose the marks - a vain attempt to make a point - you can't really write a 'dissertation' with multiple chapters etc in 7,700 words. Extended essay yes, dissertation no. How about we are told "Between 7,000 and 10,000". That would make more sense.

Perhaps I should just treat it as an exercise in being Concise.

But anyway, it's not really about the final mark, it's about the process, right? No, seriously, it is, and despite the stress and writer's block, it's been a really good module, and I'm glad that we're required to do it. I'm also very grateful for the support I've received from my tutors, who saved me from a couple of nervous breakdowns.

And yeah, this procrastination thing: In a bid to avoid this dissertation, I have been very busy over the past few months getting all sorts of things done that would otherwise have gone undone. And now, with so much work to do on the piece and so little time to do it in, I'm forced to be highly productive for hours on end (like today). So, the overall effect is high productivity, high productivity. Win Win.

Must do this productive procrastination thing more often.

Anyway, best get off to bed. I have a team bonding session at 10am for an exciting new project I'm involved with at uni aiming to bring Web 2.0 tools into the learning process. I'm guessing it will mainly involve hugging and things, which is nice for a Thursday morning.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Awards!

Yipppeeeee! I just won a university photo competition, my prize being a £200 digital camera! I've missed having a small point-and-shoot as I gave mine to mum and dad at New Year so they could play with digital photos with their new Macbook. Unfortunately though, the one I gave them was a Japanese language model. You can imagine how they have struggled, technology not being their strong points as it is! Thus, I can give them this brand new English camera, and they can take great photos of the family to send to me when I'm in Japan - Hurrah!



I also won £30 in music vouchers for another couple of photos which won different categories - one of a rainbow over Sheffield, taken from the Arts Tower, and another of the Japan Soc Soran Bushi dancers performing in front of the Union.




I'm also honoured and humbled to have have been nominated twice for the Chancellor's Medal. I'm not sure what to say about that, but thank you so much to the people who nominated me. I couldn't have done what I've done without your inspiration and enthusiasm. Thank you.




To top it off, I've just had word from the library that the two library books I desperately need for my dissertation have come in. Yippeeeee!

OH OH OH and Bjork just emailed! She's coming back to play for us on the 2nd July! Yippppppppeeee (again)!

Off to the Society Awards now - Japan soc entered for 'Best National Society' - and we've been shortlisted!

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The shouting lady


I spent much of today in the library, hammering my dissertation into shape. We're getting there. All but the conclusion written.

This week, the weather has been just beautiful. Real warm sunny days, no need for jumpers or jackets. This brings me such enormous pleasure. It's been a very long winter, and I was getting to be truly tired of cold mornings.

Pondersa Park on a Sunday at 7am is a beautiful place to be. Arriving there this morning I was struck by the peace. Here I was in the centre of Sheffield, but close my eyes and I could easily have been deep in a Siberian forest. All I could hear was birdsong (and beautiful birdsong at that). I stood there for a while and soaked it up - country bumpkin that I am it was like having my batteries recharged.

Just as I was about to fall into a trance, I was suddenly dragged back into reality by the sound of shouting. I opened my eyes. At the other side of the field I could make out a woman in bright white trousers and a black top. She was walking briskly towards me. Shouting. At first I couldn't catch what she was saying, then I realised that there was a good reason for that - she was shouting in Chinese. She continued to shout in Chinese as she crossed the field heading in my direction ...then walked straight past me. She showed no acknowledgement of my being there. Just carried on looking straight ahead, shouting.

She seemed quite happy in her shouting though.




I got a little upset with *Twinkle* this afternoon. I'm not sure where it came from. She hadn't said anything that might have provoked me. I think it came about as a result of pressure that's been building up, anxiety over our post-wedding plans, or more precisely, the lack of plans. With finances extremely tight and my being unable to work immidiately following my return to Japan (it will take a little while to exchange the tourist visa I'll be flying on for a spouse visa), I've been wondering whether I shouldn't stay in the UK for a little while after our wedding in order that I can save some money. But that doesn't really seem right. It goes against the spirit of a new marriage.

Thinking on our brief email conversation, I realised that the time had come to make a decision. I'd been waiting for some kind of sign, and this was it.

I called the magic number, and 20 minutes later has a small loan arranged, to be paid back once I start work. This means that I can fly the same day as *Twinkle* - Sunday July 27th 2008, and thus I should be able to start work sometime in late August / early September. I'll call the embassy in the morning to check the details.
I am extremely grateful to the people who are helping me out here, thank you.




Tomorrow sees the start of my penultimate week of classes. The end isn't in sight yet though. Lots to do between now and my final exam. (All this endingness has had me looking back at beginnings. I can't believe I was in women's clothing only a month after my arrival in Sheffield).

ttfn

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Beware the Jubjub bird


Seven pretty strong earthquakes 100 miles from Tokyo today. I tend to worry when that happens. makes me wonder if *twinkle* is OK, as her parents' house is pretty old. If she's OK, it's likely my other friends are too (and she's fine, texted me news updates as they struck!) (although of course if it was a really big one, not like the '4' it was in Tokyo today, then I'd make sure I contacted all of my friends too [don't want them feeling unloved]).


I took a trip back in time tonight, by participating in the university's Mature Student's Open Evening. Sitting there listening to the finance chap explaining about FundaFinder, student support talking about the mature student's committee - wow, it was like 2004 all over again.

And the questions, exactly the same questions I'd asked 4 years ago. Except this time I was one of the people at the front of the lecture theatre helping to reassure everyone.

I find it interesting trying to read audiences. Initially, I was a bit concerned that they weren't having fun. I'd tried beforehand to amuse them when giving a tour of the IC, but they hadn't really responded. I think a lot of them were quite nervous: as one lady said to me afterwards, she felt like an impostor, that she shouldn't really be in a uni full of students. That reminded me of how I'd felt. For a moment I was able to forget that everything was familiar to me and see it as that big scary university that 'students' went to. After only 4 years I feel like a part of the brickwork.

Anyhow, back in the auditorium it was my turn to introduce myself.

What is it about public speaking that excites me? I don't know. I just love it. It's like a drug. I told them a couple of stories of some rather stupid things I did when I started uni - that got them laughing (at me, not with me).

It's a shame I don't have anything interesting to say that I could turn into some kind of show :-p

I got paid for tonight's efforts too, money that will go towards the wedding fund. Not only that, but I was able to bring two huge left-over platters of dips, wraps and desserts home from the new and improved uni catering service. Should stop me buying chocolate for a while.

Oh, and this morning I got paid for writing a short article about my uni experiences for a newsletter, perhaps the first time I've ever been paid to write anything (outside of CILASS). It felt good.



I had a consultation with a CV expert this mornin', armed with a document that hasn't been updated in 12 years. Sure, it's had stuff added to it, but no change in format. I was surprised by how much CV standards have changed - it seems these days it's ok to do away with a work timeline, and instead use wig wiggy stylee web two point woah woah wigness to portray your experiences. I shall endeavour to make it as exciting as possible. I was also thinking, perhaps I could record a mini-self intro and post it to YouTube - that might make an impression upon employers ("bloody hell, he really is as much of an idiot as suggested by his personal statement"). I'd just have to be careful that I didn't show my profile, or I would instantly be cast aside for having an oversize nose.



Tomorrow then is Thursday. This means two classes, the first of which is a newspaper class, hosted by Hugo (he who has a Facebook group devoted to him, titled "I have a crush on Hugo Dobson". Incidentally, I'm not a member, although as it will probably be him marking my dissertation I might have to start a new group called "Buy this book or this book or this book or this book or this book or this book or this book coz they're great".

Ok, enough jabberwocky. Best get on with dealing with this frumious Bandersnatch.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Spring, Surveillance and coaching course call one

It's been a great day today. First off, it was the beginning of Warm Spring. You could feel it brewing over the weekend with the muggy rain. It's been an astonishing 72 hours, with a complete transformation of the trees in the churchyard opposite my house - just like that! Like a switch being flicked! This really makes me happy. 

After a late start following a late night studying I had a couple of classes in which I did pretty appallingly, due to not putting enough work in recently. It's ok though, I know what I need to do, and I'll do it, and everything will turn out great.

I'm about 10,000 words into my 7000 word dissertation. Actually enjoying writing that now! I think about half of what I write will end up as appendixes. Only two chapters to go.



Tonight I popped over to the university drama studio to take some publicity shots for a new play being performed by Theatre Two Point Oh, Surveillance (a CILASS funded project). It's being produced (directed? What's the difference?!) by a fellow CILASS Student Ambassador (Tom), and stars Laura whose photo I posted a few days back with that great smile of hers (and again, below, without the smile). What an amazing thing they are doing... talk about team building. After the performance I lurked backstage to edit the photos, a process that took about 45 minutes. It was fascinating, as whilst I clicked away in Lightroom I couldn't help but listen to the stage intercom, thus overhearing the team meeting. It reminded me of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, following the fortunes of a group of dedicated individuals who come together to do something incredible. There's drama and tension along the way, but the ultimate result is a great show and a wealth of character-building  experience.


Once home tonight I attended my first ever group coaching session, as run by TSI, the coaching company that I mumbled about a few weeks back (It took the form of a small group conference call). It was good. Obviously, I'm not going to (and never will) divulge any personal information about my coursemates, but just to say it's a very diverse group with some incredible people who have gone through very tough times, but are determined to change their lives for the better. It's a really positive environment, and the timing is just perfect. The coming weeks will see huge changes for me, with several important decisions needed. Having this resource to call upon will help a lot.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes for me once we get started properly next week.

I'd like to thank those of you who have contacted me with post-grad ideas. You've been tremendously helpful. Every day has seen me feeling increasingly grateful that I was not given the job I wanted. I'm not saying that that job (as CIR on the JET scheme) would not have been  a good thing - such a position offers incredible opportunities and I believe I would have been a fool to say no had I been accepted - but thinking about who I really am, and where my heart lies, well, it just doesn't fit.   

It's scary though - I'm really feeling challenged to think hard about where my passions lie, and being dared to invest in turning them into a tangible opportunity. I'm looking at taking a part-time position, enabling me to pay the rent whilst devoting a significant amount of time in starting my own business, and supporting *Twinkle* in hers. 

We'll see. The domain name is registered at least! 

Best get to bed anyway. Long day of writing tomorrow. I need to get this dissertation finished asap as I still have a tonne of stuff to conclude before my student status expires!

xxx

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

IBL Staff-Student Symposium



Full day of work today, from 8.30am to 4.30pm. I say 'work', but it was more like hanging out with friends. CILASS friends.

Today was the 2nd CILASS Inquiry Based Learning Staff-Student Symposium. Some people may remember me talking about giving a presentation via Skype from Tokyo at last year's event - well, this time around I was able to eat the free lunch as well.

I won't go into details here as I'll be blogging about it on the CILASS blog and will link to it. But I would like to share a few photos of the day.

Student Ambassadors modelling sexy CILASS T-Shirts


Got to the IC at 8.30am to blow up helium balloons with Barbara - that was FUN!



Laura, student ambassador co-ordinator and all-round wonderwoman was also on the scene to wake us with that smile of hers



Next, I moved to my station in CILASS 3, armed with Macbook and a VAIO to co-ordinate live blogging (limited success, I wasn't forthright enough) and the uploading of photos taken at the event - the idea was to see how quickly I could get photos from the symposium sessions onto flickr & tagged in order that they automatically display on all the screens in the place (its things like this that give me insane amounts of pleasure). Got about 250 photos up by the end of the day.

It was whilst sorting out the tags and things that Barbara and I came up with a stunning idea, inspired by thinking of those tourist spots where you stick your head through the holes in the big wooden signboards and have your photo taken so it's your face with some famous person's body. Well take that concept, and cross it with Disneyland, and throw in some tools for Inquiry Based Learning, thus creating an 'IBL Land' - albeit a bit smaller (i.e. as small as the glass-walled CILASS 1, which is about 2 metres by 3 metres in size).

Yes, this was a fantastic idea! We kitted out the room with an assortment of Sony VAIOs, Toshiba Tablet PCs, a white board and a big collection of impressive-looking books from the nearby shelves, all promoting the theme of Inquiry Based Learning.

Then, we put a sign up outside: "Come and get your IBL Photo taken here today!"

Students, "Doing IBL"



At one point I was dared to ask the Pro-Vice Chancellor (who was visiting for prize-giving) to come and have his photo taken in our IBL land - I did - and got the shot (although not realising how silly I am he was a little bemused at first).

Speaking of the Pro-Vice Chancellor and prize giving: I mentioned the other day that myself and my classmates had successfully nominated our tutor for a £2000 prize in recognition of all her amazing work in promoting IBL - today was the day that she was to accept the award. However, at the last minute, I realised that she wasn't there ...I gave her a call, and was told that she couldn't make it because she was in class - would I accept it on her behalf?



Later on, I presented her with the big bunch of flowers and award certificate: no doubt receiving them from me was almost as exciting for her as receiving them from the Pro-Vice Chancellor!

I'm so happy that she won. She really deserves it. In a way, I like to think of it as a thank you from all of us in our final year for all the work she's put in these last few years to teach us Japanese. (She's so modest though. When I took the flowers to her office it turned out that two of her closet colleagues didn't even know about it!).




I'm comforted though in knowing that it isn't really the 'end' of any relationships. If I Look back over the past 12 years at the various places I've lived and the stages I've been through, all of those places and stages are still very much a part of my life, In this era of email, Skype & online social networks, it's not easy to lose contact. Classmates, CILASS colleagues, tutors & other friends - all these people won't suddenly dissapear from my life the moment I leave uni.

In a way, with regards to my language teachers this could be thought of as just the beginning. As my language develops during my time in Japan, so I'll be more inclined to contact them. That was one thing I enjoyed towards the end of last year, 'calling home' to Sheffield from Tokyo several times to catch up on the latest departmental news.

Ho hum.

I have about 13 days to finish my dissertation. I'll spend much of this weekend offline writing that. If you've sent me an email recently, thank you, I'll be in touch. Have a bit of a backlog at the mo.

night night xxx

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Japanese stage debut

I've never been one for over-dramatisation...



(an extract from a mini-drama staged in our Japanese speaking class today. Sorry about the poor camerawork. That's the problem when one is on the wrong side of the camera - unless one has a psychic link with the camera and tripod it's difficult to get it to zoom in etc.)

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Final assignment received

Things are happening.

We were given our final assignment today. A translation piece. Thus, all I have to do now is that story (by the end of May), finish my dissertation (by mid-May), perform a drama (Thursday), take an exam (4th June).

I feel pretty motivated and will work hard to get these done as soon as possible.

I emailed the embassy this morning enquiring about my application. They tell me that notification was sent two weeks ago, to my home address and to my flat here in Sheffield. Hmm, that's strange. I wonder what the reason for that happening is...

Anyway, this means that I should get a second notification tomorrow.

It's funny, I've long thought that things happen for a reason ...but reading Murakami novels does make you see huge life-changing consequences lurking beneath every little thing that happens!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Up in smoke

Caw blimey gov it's been one hell of a day. Just got back form the library (2am) where I've spent the last 7 hours trying to finish off this website for my employer. I'm always astonished by how long it takes. It was all working fine in Safari and Firefox, but then I made the mistake of testing it for compatibility with Microsoft Internet Explorer, and it all went horribly wrong...

Still, glad I got it done. Eventually.

It was a funny old day. Started with a chap coming to see my darling 17-year-old Claud Butler mountain bike which I'm selling to hope pay for the move to Japan - every penny counts. He said he'd let me know... Then it was off to uni for a Japanese class. Crikey, my speaking ability really has dived this year. This is through no fault of my course, I don't see my coursemates experiencing the same thing. If I chose to make the time to speak japanese outside class, and if I chose to put the effort into my course that I know i should, then I'd be improving, but I don't, and thus I probably only talk japanese for about 30 minutes a week. I feel a little bad about this as I don't want to let my teacher down, but she knows me well, and I think understands my situation.

My listening is Ok though, and my writing not too hopeless, when I use a keyboard!

It's reached the stage now where I know that I'll be back in Japan soon, so I'm not too concerned about this brief interlude of crapness. In the long term I will be fluent. Now though, it's a matter of just trying to scrape by.

I was delighted yesterday to be presented with three Third Prizes and one First Prize at the Photo Soc Awards ceremony. It almost seemed like one of those Bafta situations where the film of the moment sweeps everything up ... which made me feel a little uncomfortable, as it would have been nicer if the prizes had been spread around a bit. Hmm, I left quite quickly after I'd spoken to the judges about my photos (taken in Mongolia last summer).

i received an email today to let me know that one or some of my photos have gone though to the final or another university photo competition. The awards ceremony is Thursday, but unfortunately I'll be in class at that time.

My Macbook power adapter went up in smoke today, literally! Prolonged wear and tear and over-zealous winding of the cord caused the outer insulation to break, and the thing short-circuited. I didn't realise though until I actually saw this whiff of smoke cross my screen - I thought it was a feather and tried to grab hold of it!

Off to the Apple Store I went, and was shocked by the cost of the replacement - £60! Just as I was about to pay, one of the staff asked me if my Macbook was under warranty. Yes, it was ...and 20 minutes later I was given a new adapter for free. I asked if the battery would have been harmed by the incident - no it should be fine. But how old is the battery? 21 months - Ancient! Did I know that Apple have a free replacement policy for that model? No, i didn't ...but moments later I was delighted to be presented with a brand new battery, which retails at £100!

Oh, then I mentioned the loose screws on the side of my macbook. That prompted the ordering of a new bottom case for it, to be delivered soon.

With this latest incident, in 6 months I would have had the hard drive, optical drive, keyboard, screen, power adapter, battery, bottom case and fan replaced- all 'free of charge'. I say free, but in fact I paid £50 for a 3-year warranty, which I would strongly recommend to anyone buying an Apple product. That's not because they break down more often than any other hardware, it's that the service you get for your money is so superb. Outside of Tokyo, I know of no place where you can just walk in with your computer and get it fixed on the spot, and I've never heard of a warranty covering a battery or power adapter before (both of which were victims of wear-and-tear, although apparently my battery was especially crap, not that I ever noticed, thus the new one).

Anyway, I've got a meeting with a local web design company tomorrow, er, today, in 6 hours time, to discuss getting our publishing site made (again). Best get some sleep!

xxx

p.s. Liking Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. The 24 hour audiobook is about £50 from Amazon - only £7.99 on subscription from Audible!

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Whizz Boing Pop day


I find it astonishing (and at times disturbing!) how much detail my camera lens can pick up. My hand doesn't look so wrinkly to the naked eye, but an adjustment of the levels in the raw file shows the prints and lines in all their glory. I guess this is where photography is going now, especially with the advent of Nikon's incredible D3.

Got back into the daily exercise thing today. Up at 6.30am, out to the park to jog (and, er, take photos of the blossom. and my hand. that was a spur of the moment thing).



Then, at nine I took part in presenting for a CILASS IBL cafe (IBL = Inquiry based learning), a weekly event open to staff and students in which we present / discuss IBL related topics. Today we focused upon 'Being a CILASS Student Ambassador and Employability'. I won't say more about it here as I'll be blogging about it on the SA Network blog ...and I get paid to blog there! (I'll link to it when it's up). Really enjoyed that though. Lovely people I work with, wonderful start to the day.

Following that I popped along to the SEAS office having been summoned by email - they had a bottle of wine for me (and a timesheet!) to fill in following this year's open days, bless them. They are so kind. Only two weeks until a core member of the family leaves - I wonder how that will effect things?

Next it was on to a writing class, then translating literature from the 1950s. I am absolutely terrible at this, and for my last piece of coursework got my first ever 2:2 - with some of the categories seeing me down as far as a third. Whilst I enjoy reading the stories, when it comes to precise translation I am hopeless. The thing is, whist we have always had precise translation classes (at which I have always done pretty poorly) the general rule in everyday life is to go for the general meaning - and that's what I do. I think that's what we all do as humans really when we are unable to catch it all: we listen for familiarities and then fill in the blanks with our context-based knowledge. But you can't do that with precise translation. Whilst I was shocked when I got my feedback, I'm not upset about it at all. I just accept that this is not my strong point, appreciate that I have to try better next time, and move on (and not get a job which requires precise translations of 1950s Japanese novels).

Following that I went up to the healthfood shop Beanies to pick up my organic vegee box. I was in for a bit of a surprise there too as when I told the lady behind the counter my name so she could tick my box off, she said,
Oh, I know your name! My daughter was doing some research for something and found your blog. She told me about it as you'd mentioned us - and when I had a look I saw it was you!"


Back down the road and I discovered I'd accidentally kept hold of a key for some of the classrooms in the IC. I was a little bemused by this, why I had I done that? It all became clear when I got back to CILASS though, as Dr. N who runs the Case Studies project I participated in had just finished a meeting, and there was a fair bit of lovely italian food left over. Well, it would have been a shame to let it go to waste..!

Plate loaded down with the finest cheeses, pasta and pizza, I returned to a room in the bowels of the Octagon Centre where Japan soc was to meet a couple of hours later. No sooner had I sat down than *Twinkle* skyped me, and we talked, and talked.

It is such a treat to talk with her, makes me so happy. What I especially like is the way in which many conversations (like today's) become learning experiences. We really are pushing one another, each using our personal strengths to challenge one another's thinking. Makes it all so real, engaging, fun ...and makes me feel that I can't wait to be back together with her! 17th July is the day. Heathrow the place. She's so good for me; good job she's not seen through me yet...

Anyway, I've just realised that I've not written those two mini-japanese essays that are due in last week. I was going to write them this evening, but got carried away preparing the budget and other documents for Japan society - we hand over next week, and that will be it - my three years with them over :-(

It's been great though, what a fantastic learning experience. Thank you Japan soc.

so, er, yes, must sleep.

night night xxx

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spanners, deadlines, and night-time inspiration

Email from the parents:
"No post for you from the embassy today either. They must be sorting out necessary changes in law for you to be made emperor"


Having had a very long day, it was a great relief to get home last night. Managed to finalise the business plan and actually submit it 6 hours before the competition deadline. It was just a shame that only thirty minutes later we had a meeting with the company responsible for developing our website in which we were informed that they had suffered a major breakdown in internal communication, and thus were unable to proceed with development under the current contract, the quote having been based upon a hopelessly optimistic timescale.

That was quite a shock, as we'd previously been informed that the coding was proceeding smoothly; this puts us two months behind schedule, two months we don't really 'have'. Still, ultimately this is a good thing as the project has now been transferred to another somewhat more professional team within the organisation, thus meaning we are more likely to get a robust, good-looking site (provided we can afford it!).

It's good that we learn this lesson now with a business that we are not relying upon to put bread on the table in the immediate future. Whilst of course we very much want it to be up and running and successful as soon as possible, were that not to happen it would not put our 'families' under duress as we each have other income streams. A couple of years down the line the story might be different, with a delay of several months in the commencement of trading for whatever other businesses we may be running then having a huge impact our daily lives.

It reminds me once again of what a great learning experience this is: I'd urge any university student who is considering setting up their own business in the future to do so whilst at uni - there is so much support available, and ultimately if things don't work out you can write it off as good lesson that could not have been attended in a classroom. And remember, as only one in ten businesses is 'successful', it's a good idea to start up at least ten businesses in your lifetime!




I also met the deadline for applications for further CILASS funding - although I later realised that the CD that I had meticulously prepared the night before (used pretty blue pen to write the label, found a case for it in cupboard) actually contained no data! I'd postponed burning it until I'd had the OK from my department on the wording of the application. Silly boy! The judges meet next Friday - Fingers crossed.

I then submitted 12 photos to the International Office for a competition being run to help them increase their stock of publicity shots. I like the idea of contributing to this campaign, not just because I might win a digital photo frame, but also because it's nice to give back to the uni, and especially this department as they were instrumental in bringing *Twinkle* into my life!

I submitted another 5 photos to the Photosoc (photo) competition, the deadline of which was Thursday. I'd wanted to be a lot more involved with Photosoc this year, but ultimately, it had to take a back seat due to things like CILASS (although I don't regret that). I doubt I'll win that as I had few striking images that could be bent to fit the available categories, and decided not to make time to shoot some specifically for the competition.

In the afternoon myself, Tom and Mark went about recording our 'Unlocking IBL Technology session" (IBL = Inquiry Based Learning, as promoted by CILASS) . That was fun, a good chance to practice talking to the camera. It once again highlighted my tendency to sway back and forth when giving a talk, something I'll continue to work on as I'm sure that public speaking will be one of my things in the future. ...if i can just find something to talk about. (I recommend Presentation Zen for anyone else interested in how to deliver effective presentations. And no, I don't subscribe to his blog just because he gives regular presentations at Japan's Apple Stores!).

When I got home at 6pm it hit me. The exhaustion. I was done in. I just managed to prepare a big organic salad, before collapsing onto my bed. I could do nothing but lie their dazed, staring at the ceiling, half-listening to the latest episode of TWiP. After an hour or so I felt I wanted to do some sewing, and so got my patchwork trousers out and worked on some recent holes. For background noise I'd put on the trashy yet mildly entertaining Azumi, one of those films that requires no attention whatsoever and that you forget seconds after it's finished.




Fast forward to 2am, and I'm now awake and alert. Been thinking about what I'm going to do after I graduate. I've been encouraged recently to seriously think about where my passions lie, and thus where I would be best directing my energy for maximum results. I can sense a path opening up. Hmm, there could be a future here. I get out of bed, turn my mac on, and buy 5 new domain names.

Today, I wake up and for a change, the domain names bought in the middle of the night (and the idea that they represent) still seem to hold genuine potential. This is a good sign. Usually, I check the emails from the domain registrar and wonder what on earth I was thinking.

But anyway, more on that in the future. For now, I need to get this dissertation out of the way.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Time for an all-nighter?

caw blimey gov it's gonna be one of those loooooong nights.

It's ten to one, but I've still got a tonne of stuff to do for tomorrow. What's best: late night, or up early? The danger with going to bed now is that I won't have time tomorrow morning to prepare for the afternoon. Hmmm.

Tomorrow sees the deadline for the CILASS IBL Awards Scheme. Myself and a classmate decided to put in an entry in recognition of the work that our tutor has put in to creating our Virtual Language Lab, and embracing technology. It's pretty amazing: 4 years ago the most hi-tech we got was a cassette tape of basic Japanese conversations - this year we've had classes where everyone has been equipped with brand new Sony laptops to carry out live in-class research. Quite a change.

Anyway, quite a few of my classmates have kindly submitted 'evidence' saying how they have benefited, and I've also got some photos, a video and some other documents to back up our case. Fingers crossed!

The other deadline tomorrow is for round two of the Business Creation Competition, which has a first prize of £5000. We feel pretty positive about this, having put an awful lot of work into what is now a decent 20-page business plan (even if we do say so ourselves). After classes today I had a meeting with our business advisor who absolutely loved it. Just needs a bit of tweeking...

We also finally submitted our application for Arts Council funding. We seem to fit exactly into one of their specified categories, so feel pretty good about this as well (turns out we have a connection with the person who oversees the fund too!).

When waiting in the line at the post office to send the big package that was the application form and supporting evidence, a lady walked in and started telling everyone her happy story of how she had been saved. She blessed us all, and then proceeded to tell us that God had taught her to sing and play the guitar in 15 minutes.

It was soon pretty clear why God had only spent 15 minutes trying to teach her to sing and play the guitar. Clearly, he'd given up trying, knowing a lost cause when he saw one. Her 'singing' and 'playing' were pretty atrocious, I mean, comically so. I was half expecting there to be hidden cameras recording our reaction to the 'noise'. As it was, she caused a few chuckles, and the lady behind the counter started to sing along. When she finished, we all clapped, grinning at one another.

She thanked us, blessed us once more and left.

Walking back to the office, an unshaven man in his 60s asked if my friend James would marry him.

I also attended a Student Ambassador meeting this morning. That was fun, if somewhat surreal with a baby googling around and my carrying next year's SEAS ambassador Ryan around in my hands. He was on Skype, so I thought I'd try and introduce him to everyone. Unfortunately neither his mic nor webcam were working, so it was a surreal one-way conversation. He said (typed) that he felt like a baby, unable to communicate (and in fact he was happiest when my macbook was just pointing at the baby in the room!)

Japan soc election is also underway, with the votes pouring in. Last time I'll ever have to do this (although I do enjoy it!). It will soon be time to say bye bye to that baby.

Oh, sign the contract for the website tomorrow morning as well, crumbs, I'd forgotten about that. We'll also be negotiating a contract for future upgrades to the site - although I don't think we'll be accepting the offer made this morning - consultation at £1250 a DAY! (that's the business I need to be in).

Oh crap, I forgot, we're filming that tech presentation tomorrow too and I've not prepared yet. Maybe I scrap the sleep thing and just work through. Not good though.

Ho hum. It's been a good day overall. I even had time to go to the park and photograph the beautiful cherry blossom. Oh, and listened to some of CS Lewis' Prince Caspian - the original BBC audiobook featuring those fantastic actors that we all know and love for their inability to act convincingly. (It wouldn't be the same if they could). I still remember when Aslan visited the Blue Peter studios and pooed all over the floor - or was that an elephant?

Ok, on with the business plan.

I'll be mightily relived when tomorrow is over. Then it'll just be a case of writing an entire dissertation in a week.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Heading North, one last time

So this is it. I’m on the train for my last trip back to Sheffield. In seven weeks, it’ll all be over (that is, apart from one exam and my graduation).

Just seven weeks. It’ll fly by. That’s kind of comforting, because I know that no matter how many things I have on my to do list for this final stint, in seven weeks, they won’t be on it any more.

The challenge is to stay motivated. It’s harder now than ever before as these past few weeks my mind has steadily marched ahead of me. It’s now looking towards the wedding, starting a new life with Twinkle, leaving the UK, working. What makes it a little more difficult is that no matter what my results this semester, my final degree classification is unlikely to change. If my calculations are correct, it’s either a 2:1, or a fail (I’m not prepared to bust a gut for an unlikely first).

I should hear next week one way or another whether I got the local government job in Japan. I know three of my friends have received job offers (congrats!), but I’m yet to hear a thing. The embassy tell me that they send them out over a period of a month, so it could be anytime. Whilst the interview went well, I was very honest about my feelings re. Twinkle and thus am not going to be the most desirable of candidates: fancy putting a relationship before a job!

[an hour or so later…]

It’s been a difficult last few days as I have battled with myself over this dissertation. With my interest in the topic (NGOs in Japan) having peaked about 2 months too soon it is now a real slog to get the words out. In fact, I gave up writing anything half-decent and resorted to just typing up what I knew, almost in spoken form. I know I’ll need to rewrite it all, but if I don’t get something down they’ll be no progress at all.

With this frustration has come late nights, tiredness, and a short temper. I’ve been snapping at my parents, which I’m sorry about. I feel very hypocritical, but at the same time appreciate that I wouldn’t be human if I was always able to live in harmony with my core beliefs. It’s just a shame I chose them as my victims.

On a slightly more upbeat note, I had a lovely evening last night. Went over to see some old school friends who I’ve remained pretty close to since leaving. We sat around, talked, ate a delicious supper, talked some more. I felt so happy. They are one of the nicest families I know. So kind, so easy to be with, so welcoming. It's spending time with people like that really reinforce what a precious gift friendship is. What would we do without it?

Anyway, bus motion is making me feel a bit sick, so I’ll toddle along. Must get to sleep as soon as I get home, we have a meeting at 8am for our publishing business!

Tarra.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Real World Awards

I finally submitted my video entry for the Real World Awards today. This annual competition sees students recognised for their extra-curricular activities: I've chosen to focus upon those things I've done that fall into the "Socially Responsible" category.

It was very difficult to edit this video down to 3 minutes - the original was over three times that. Thus, it's a bit jumpy and I have to miss stuff out, but nevermind, I'm still me.  I quite enjoyed filming it, despite the fact that our office door was being painted at the time and thus the room stank of solvents. Come to think of it, that might be why I enjoyed it so much...

It's a blatant bit of self-promotion, but that's what they want!

I think the idea now is to ask people to vote for me. The prize is £5000, a portion of which I'll donate to charity, and the remainder of which I'll put in a fund for our two baby girls (yet to be conceived). 
The only snag is, you have to be a UK university student to vote! The company running the awards is a graduate recruitment company, and they require you to register using a UK university email address.

If you have one of those, please do vote for me! Think of it as a wedding present for myself and *Twinkle* if you like...!

Thank you!

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Euthanasia: The debate begins

In a couple of weeks we'll be asked to create a drama for our Japanese speaking class. The theme is Euthanasia.

I've not given euthanasia much thought before now. But over the past couple of weeks I've come across a few programs on Radio 4  that have touched on the subject, including this morning's Saturday Live (listen again, interview is about 10 minutes in) which had an interview with the sister of John Close (see the 47 minute video about his life and death here).

Unfortunately I missed last week's interview with Alison Davis, who had wanted to kill herself for over 10 years as a result of suffering from severe spina bifida, but was prevented from doing so by UK law. She subsequently came to value her life once again following a trip to India to meet two children that she had sponsored, and now campaigns against euthanasia.

It's a really difficult subject, and I just don't know how I feel about it.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Family of East Asian Studies and the Opinion of Others

About a week ago, my case study "Making Students Matter: The Family of East Asian Studies" was published on a new section of the University web site.



Case Studies Project overview

The Case Studies project aims to create a library of examples of good practice in teaching, highlighting success stories in order that academic staff across all departments can benefit and learn from one another. In such a large organisation several departments might be faced with the same challenge (such as, 'how can we effectively teach statistics?"), with each department struggling on its own to find suitable solution. If one of those departments did then come up with some new whizzbanging wopaloobop technique, the chances are they would not be aware that other departments might also benefit from this, or, they may be hesitant to approach others and say "We've found the answer! You should do what we're doing!".

This is where the Case Studies project comes in. It seeks out examples of excellence, and actively promotes them to the wider community in order that all can benefit from the experience.

Whilst individual case studies may initially seem to be subject-specific, they often have the potential to contain valuable lessons for a wide variety of departments. As is the case, with the SEAS case!

In my study I basically discuss something that I think has played a major part in making my experience at the School of East Asian Studies such a good one. I quote:
Joseph Tame, a final-year student reading for a BA in Japanese Studies at the School of East Asian Studies, found his learning experience greatly enhanced by the department’s familial atmosphere. From first contact with the dedicated, friendly office staff, through to his final semester six years later, he was made to feel that students genuinely mattered thanks to a culture of care and respect promoted on a daily basis through the attitudes and actions of all staff and lecturers.

My article then goes on to describe in detail the little things that staff do to help promote this community atmosphere, which plays a big part in making my learning experience the fantastic thing it is.

Brown-noser

On reading that article, one of my classmates emailed me: "You know, you could be accused of being a complete sycophant". (I looked the word up in the dictionary (!) and found it to mean a yes-man, bootlicker, brown-noser, toady, lickspittle, flatterer, flunky, lackey, spaniel, doormat, stooge, cringer,suck, suck-up).

Well, yes, they are right. I could. In fact, some people already probably think of me as such. But I would say that if giving someone positive feedback for something amazing that they have done requires that one be labelled a sycophant, I would rather be labelled as such than not give that feedback.

I asked my friend, "Can you imagine what it would be like if we never received anything but negative feedback from our tutors when our homework was returned to us? Imagine how demoralising that would be!"

And yet, in a way, that's exactly the situation that many staff are in. I don't know about SEAS itself, but I do know from personal experience that in some departments there is so little positive feedback received by staff that even the slightest compliment regarding their efforts results in astonishing gushes of gratitude, with comments like "That really made my day!" "All we ever get usually is complaints!" "I just can't stop smiling!" "I'll pass it on to all staff in the department!".

So whether it's an individual, a department, or an entire organisation that has been striving to do something good for you, I feel its really important to express your gratitude. Gratitude is a motivating force, leading to a desire to continue to do well (or even better). Whilst criticism may reap short-term results, long term it can have devastating effects. I am sure that if our teachers had decided to just focus on when we got things wrong, there would be far fewer than 17 of us remaining on our course.

Finally, in response to the idea that I may be ridiculed or looked down upon in some way for highlighting the wonderful attitude of SEAS staff, I recalled the quote

"Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of the things that matter least" (Goethe)

...And in this case (as in many cases) what others think of me matters far less than the staff being recognised for their work. 

...And in any case, if someone was to be so cynical as to believe me to be a sycophant (or lickspittle for that matter), I think I would be something of a fool to attach any importance to their opinion.

Righty ho, on with the show.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Results Day

Just remembered, it's results day!



So, overall I got 67%. Add that to my previous results and I'm on 68%, so I think it's fairly safe to say that I'm heading for a high 2:1, as in order to get a first (70%) I'd have to be get something in the mid-70s this semester, and whilst I am prepared to work very hard on my studies, I am not prepared to make the sacrifices that would be necessary to get such a result. The benefits of those things I would have to give up would be sorely missed.

Well done me. And well done course-mates too! We made it through our penultimate semester with no casualties!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another reason to study Japanese at the School of East Asian Studies

No, Sheffield University's School of East Asian Studies isn't paying my bandwidth bill, nor are my examiners reading the Daily Mumble (that wig and false nose suit you pretty well actually).

However, the department has played a huge part in giving me the best possible uni experience ever - an experience which will shortly be coming to an end. Thus, it's only right that I try and give a little back, by encouraging anyone thinking of studying Japanese in the UK to choose Sheffield.

It's not just me that thinks it's great by the way. Check out this table, taken from the new UCAS web site www.unistats.co.uk. It details overall satisfaction levels in Asian Studies departments at UK universities.

(Click image for a bigger image)

Keywords: Japanese, Japan, language, university, UK, Sheffield, SEAS, School of East Asian Studies, study, BA, Japanese studies, degree, HE.

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