The language of secrets

English is a skill most of my family from my maternal side have on a (near) native level. There are reasons for that, but it is also a very carefully crafted family myth that motivates younger generations to fill those big shoes.

Let me start with the origin story. After World War II and the Indonesian Independence war my grandparents decided to live outside the Netherlands for a while, like many of their contemporaries disappointed with the Dutch government. I’ll talk war stories at some other point in time. For now it is enough to know that my grandfather, previously a radio media man, became an immigration civil servant in Rhodesia in the 50’s, taking his family with him. Rhodesia was an English colony at that time, and my mother and her siblings, most of them in their teenage years, attended an English boarding school that also took in day school students. Very, very English.

So, enter two things into my activist maternal family: an intimate knowledge of the injustices of racism in Africa, and a fluent, very fluent understanding of English and English culture. We can talk about those racial injustices at some other time, but for now, note that all siblings learned English to such a degree that once they returned to the Netherlands they were fluent. It also became the family language, the language in which secrets are spoken that you do not want the young ones to understand. Often it became an instinctive use of English on certain topics that, really, as a young person you want to know about. Plus a family love for all things English. London. Tea. Shakespeare and historical drama’s. Watching The Crown.

So subsequent younger generations have had a very high level of expectations on their level of English, but also an instant motivation: the language of secrets, who doesn’t want to know? Aided by a stay in Houston (Texas, USA) when I was a small child, my English got a further boost, but even my younger siblings and cousins were pretty good at it. No longer perfect, but still pretty remarkable. I’ve used it to my advantage during my career, as have they.

In turn our children ALSO excel in English, for, let’s be honest here, it is still the language of secrets. Plus the proud encouragement from several elder generations. For instance I took all 3 of my children to London once they could order an English breakfast. Honestly, with this positive reinforcement, who wouldn’t learn English?

Right now my eldest son is learning to be an English teacher, while the younger ones and their cousin are scoring pretty high on the scale too, even if that doesn’t match with the rest of their education level. They are very proud to perform too. My mother meanwhile, who is suffering from Dementia, speaks to us in Dutch and English as the mood strikes her. We indulge her. We all speak secrets.

A blog without a questionmark !

Blogging is an interesting medium in an academic setting. It is popular form of scientific communication. You want to be clear and brief, but you also want to stick to the facts. Other academics no doubt have written about it more. I am just exploring it now in a personal capacity.

What I have learned from my first month on this personal site is that it needs more planning, so I can better link in sources and do a bit of research before mouthing off on a topic I am interested in. I am not unfamiliar with the work involved (I do it regularly for my work, and was trained as a student to always source material) but I find that I also need that on my personal site. In a way it has become a way of life.

This is true also for social media. I tend to be cautious in the way I communicate on Twitter, making sure I can link to authorative sources for instance, or formulating something in a more balanced professional way. In addition I try to avoid controversy, unless it is a question of ultimate justice. Just as I use my personal media, I should use my blogging opportunity as a grey zone between personal and professional, because you are never NOT a professional. Are you an academic? Then academic integrity also applies to your personal sphere or it would appear weird, not authentic. That is just my humble opinion.

In the weeks ahead I will be working with many departments in the university about how to handle expectation management in communities and in social media, both in and outside the university. It will be interesting to see if we find a solution for the grey zone that works for everybody.

Online education in highschool & MBO: a growing emergency or easily solved?

Since March I have focused on supporting online education in Higher Ed. That does not mean I have no eyes for other sectors. I follow quite a few educators on Twitter, and I also have the experiences of my children, my friends and their friends. I can see the struggle, and I feel for all professionals in those fields. Times are hard, for all of us.

I think the major take away here is that previously there has been no investment in education innovation in regards to online learning in neither VO (highschool) nor MBO (community college). In part that is because of funding. I have had teachers and directors tell me only Higher Ed has the luxury to invest in studio’s, and, say, a Centre for Innovation. “Free money” from the ministery (vernieuwingsgelden) was thrown at HBO and WO, and the rest was not so lucky. I could argue against the characterization “free”, but I see the point. Other kinds of education were even more underfunded and now that comes back to haunt those in charge. Yes, VO and MBO are one step behind, at the very least.

Another take away however is that material produced by HE is in general Open Access, and generally spread through all kinds of generous training of other sectors. This has for a large part not been taken up by VO & MBO and this in part is on them. The biggest learnings are not applied, and they could so easily, provided they have the infrastructure which most institutes have.

The top five is not that difficult to define. Let me run you through them quickly.

  1. Re-use existing material also called open educational reasources. There is so much out there. Use it and provide your context in guidance to the material.
  2. Blended Learning: provide content (whether that is text, video, podcasts or anything else) asynchronically, and then use your live sessions for more indepth discussions of that material and ways to apply knowledge rather than sending it. You can continue to do this when we are back to face to face instruction….
  3. .. which means an activated classroom where students learn more, though they will have to get used to the system and likely will complain a lot about not getting passive lectures.
  4. Create a community out of your students. Socialize before, during and after class, creating the complete learning experience for your students to ,,,,
  5. collaborate together on higher level skills. Think asking them to meet peridically to work on something, with just the minimum of monitoring. Just a start and end.

It sounds simplified, but the MBO of my daughter actually is applying this and it seems to work, even though Corona has forced them to go fully online. The VO of my other daughter seems to struggle a bit more, but yet Teams are used for emergencies.

So I would like to end with this encouragement: don’t re-invent what is necessary, just copy paste from Higher Ed and translate only the tiniest bit for your students. You can do it.

2020: Annulus Horriblis or Annulus Mirablis?

I always knew that 2020 would be a year of reflection for me. It is one of those anniversaries you can mark on your calendar decades in advance. Born in 1970 I have an easy way for people, including my children to keep track of how old I am, and so there was no avoiding 50 and really, why would I?

Counting in decades is not always a useful way of describing periods in one’s life. There are other markers along the path that may be more useful, such as graduation, the birth of children, new jobs etc. Still, I think 50 deserves special consideration, at the very least because unlike 40, most women I know are willing to acknowledge such a momentous occasion. Meeting Sara. It is when you stop hiding and say, yes, I am older than yesterday and yet here I am, with all that I am.

As 2020 started I was full of optimism. I planned several holidays, and booked them in the university system to be efficient. The first one, a trip down memory lane in London with my son to celebrate his propedeuse for English Teacher, in retrospect was rather ominously predictive. In the last week of February we smiled at some people in the street wearing masks, mostly Asian visitors, and had a lovely high tea in the British Museum, saw a most wonderful Royal Stuarts Exhibition and, of course, some pints in the pub. I think it might be several years before either of us returns to this town close to our hearts.

By the time my second holiday kicked in, to celebrate the 18th birthday of my Freedom girl early May, we were all at home already since mid March. Easter had seen us doing a family pub quiz. This time I had help from some of my innovative co-workers so friends and family could celebrate with us with a nice creative digital project with well wishes and pictures. We were making do. We were, against all hope, still expecting we’d be back to normal soon.

By the time summer came, and we escaped to a small castle tower in the Ardennes for a week, nobody in my family was under any illusion of normality returning and instead we found ourselves a hiding place. We enjoyed the sun, the Belgium beers and a lot, a LOT of card and table top games. Yet, we also knew that my work would extend the staying at home period till somewhere in 2021 and the kids too feared most of their learning would be online for the foreseeable future.

Now it is Autumn and my fourth break, originally to celebrate Leids Ontzet and my birthday, both of which are now virtual and but a pale imitation of what could be, with a grim lining because my household is in self isolation, for the 2nd time. Being in touch with many young people has its drawbacks too, bless ’em.

Yet, is it all doom and gloom? I must admit that my work has never been so exhilarating as this last year, with years of hard work, research and innovation coming to the rescue of my 445 year old Leiden University. We have explored online learning, platforms, trolling, data analytics, virtual meetings & seminars and more in the past 7 years and finally, the campus was ready for it. We have all worked ourselves to death, I’ve written my fingers blue, but it has been very, very satisfying to be of help and getting that work recognized by the university. I even got to attend the Opening of the Academic Year as a panelist as you can see from the glorious pictures on my site.

It helps, I think, if during a crisis you have something worthwhile to do, keeping people first in a digital age. Not to mention the fact that tech developments now allow for online communities to form at our university, opening whole new levels of digital transformation, efficiency and cohesion. We started the Sustainability Network. For somebody working as community manager that is exciting! People are connecting and even collaborating. It will bring us further.

It is a year full of new chances, already apparent or still to be sprung upon us. One upcoming chance at least is clear in my mind: the road back to hope in the USA, my original object of study. I foresee a few days off from work in November just to keep track of history there. I always keep in mind what prof Lammers told class “Always keep close attention on presidential election news, it will save you a lot of work when you have to catch up.” Indeed. The T. wil remain the T. but the end of this presidency can’t come soon enough.

Speaking of history, think of how we will look back on this year decades from now. In 2020 we will have survived a very memorable (if not perhaps wonderful) year that historians will write about for a long time and which you might tell your grandchildren about. I hope for future historians you have all kept diaries, logging your actions and most importantly, your thoughts. Donate them to museums and archives, to prosperity, to historians and your descendants. May the new decade be the dawn of new social movements, the end of neo liberalism and substantial action for climate change.

As I celebrate my last holiday of this year, three months from now, I hope you will raise your glass with me and say goodbye to 2020 with all its horrible lows and wonderful highs. Another decade. Another road full of discoveries.

Starting a blog?

Never easy, especially as I have a ready publishing place at the website of my work. However, there is enough to keep my occupied over the years, so I will in share some thoughts here from time to time, on writing, on gaming and on going green.