Issue #68 - The Spaces in Between

Paddle Pool

I told you we’d make it.

The summer is here, almost, at least this week it was warm and sunny, humid at times but tolerable. Yesterday when the boys got home from school we inflated a small paddling pool and dipped our feet into the water while catching the red juice from some delicious strawberry lollies.

On Tuesday heading home from campus, I swung into the parking lot at the Page Dairy Mart and ordered a quart of Birthday Cake flavored ice cream and a banana smoothie. It was a treat just as the semester was ending…oh who am I kidding? I probably would have stopped by anytime.

What we call Graduation in the UK is Commencement here, at least that’s my understanding, it may be something that is a tradition at our university, this year taking place remotely via zoom, on Sunday morning. I’ve experienced commencement in person just once at the end of my first year, you can take a look at last week’s issue for a little video I took before the ceremony.

There will be some sadness that students won’t be there in person, in black garb and mortarboard, clutching certificates and taking their parents and loved ones on tours of the campus. We’re almost so used to all this now that when I commended my students on having coped so well in the past year, that for a moment they weren’t quite sure what I was on about.

In other news, Pittsburgh has almost certainly elected its first Black Mayor after Ed Gainey beat Bill Peduto to the democratic nomination. Mayors are much more than ceremonial in the US, although cities in the UK such as Liverpool, Manchester, and London have well-establish politically elected Mayoral positions. It is significant that Gainey stood on a progressive approach to policing, which Peduto was seen to have badly mishandled during the Black Lives Matter protests.

This week jumps around a bit - I’m looking forward to taking my time writing when the mist finally clears. Thank you for your support as always.


Teaching & Learning

I attended a few more final presentations and worked through my grading, scanning rubrics, and constructing comments. I enjoyed the process, and I am reminded that I am very lucky to have outcomes that are on the most part digital stories and portfolios; that contain as much personal reflection as analysis and investigation.

This was something that I mentioned to Dr. Scott Border, the host of The Teaching & Scholarship Podcast when I was his guest for this month’s episode. I thought that I might have missed my opportunity to appear when I left the UK.

It was great to catch up with Scott, a brilliant educator with a sharp mind and ear for conversation. This might be the most open and relaxed I’ve been in a podcast that I can remember, it was lovely to talk to him about teaching, technology, and some of the reasons for moving to the US. I had a listen in the car on the way back from a soccer game, just to check what I said and pray that I didn’t ramble too much. Scott’s talent is in drawing out the questions that you should be asking yourself, that keep you grounded in why your practice looks like it does, I’ve heard him do this with other guests and it was amazing to find myself talking about things that I haven’t really explored as much as I should have this year.

Please have a listen, If you’ve been reading this newsletter, and you are interested in the topics that we’ve shared, then I am sure you will enjoy it. It may be a little long, because we had a great deal to talk about, so you might have to break it into chunks, I would say two cups of tea and several biscuits in duration.

The conversation is still rattling around my brain a week later, which is apt as Scott is a pioneer of teaching in neuro-anatomy and the person who introduced me to my first human cadaver in the calmest, most sensitive, and fascinating way you could imagine (apparently I was a bit quiet and lost color only slightly). His teaching is essential, important and the best part is that he is keen to share his practice and help you think about your pedagogy no matter what discipline you serve.

…and judge for yourself, I don’t think I brought Scott entirely round to the promise of virtual reality, precisely because to a certain extent it is still a promise and the applications have yet to be fully realized. The work continues though, I’m proud of projects such as Kaleidoscope and I think that content creators working for Contrast VR from Al Jazeera, or developers for games such as Wolves in the Walls point us to experiences that are unique and different from other media.

I’ll pin the podcast episode to my profile on Twitter, so feel free to have a listen when you have a moment over the summer and let me know if you want to follow up on any part of what we talked about.


Life Lessons

Couldn’t believe the news coming out of UNC Chapel-Hill that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and academic Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure by the board of trustees, despite approval from faculty and tenure committee. This stinks of a dirty revenge plot, taking her to task for her work with the 1619 Project. Where is the integrity of the board?

It has been a week where some on the right have worked to circumvent truths, opposing the creation of a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 riot. Prospective senator, Tim Ryan’s appeal is striking. America needs two political parties to tackle the big challenges of our time, but they both need to be living in the same reality.

As I mentioned last week, it is scary to see voter suppression creep into British politics. “The best electoral systems are inclusive…” reads the byline of this article in The Guardian. All parties need to campaign on issues, there has to be some substance to support ideology, otherwise, it is just the pursuit of power for the benefit of personal enrichment.

Democracy is facing its toughest challenges, there are so many countries now ruled by autocrats and dictators. Equality doesn’t just mean anyone can vote, but also that anyone can stand for election. This is becoming increasingly difficult as party and campaign funding continues to soar, with $14 billion spent on the US 2020 races, with around $6.6 billion on presidential elections alone. Something has to give, grassroots campaigns need a chance, and I mean that no matter what political party stands, I would rather take my chances in the hustings than the advertising channels.


Just a reminder, even if you’re vaccinated that so many small businesses (even some big ones) are requiring masks because they can’t tell from looking at you whether you’ve had the jab or not.


Lost and Found

As the semester closes and I start working through my summer tasks, I’ve decided to take a leap and change a few things in the way I’m set up. Firstly, I’ve ordered a new iMac, finally going back to a desktop after years of working with a laptop. The hope is that I can create a little more separation, I also need a bigger and better screen, both for my eyesight and for moving between applications. I’ve picked out a green iMac which is a throwback to the lime green G3 that I purchased back in 1999 with my first paycheck as a filmmaker for The British Council. I tried looking for a photo of it, but couldn’t find any, but I did find a few files that contained EXIF info that meant I worked on them in those early versions of photoshop, on that shiny new machine, with its distinctive hockey puck mouse.

As part of this rethink, I’m going to try Notion, which I was reminded of in this article by tech journalist Casey Newton in his Platformer newsletter. It is early days, but already enjoy the way it syncs between devices, and that you can publish anything that you write instantly as a webpage. For example here are my plans for the summer and I might have even updated them by the time you take a look.

Casey in his article has been using Notion, and even after a year, he feels he’s only just figuring out full adoption. As with all these tools, it takes a leap and at first, you only compare with what you had, before you can unshackle the past and start doing things you couldn’t do previously. I am still talking about software applications at this point.

Apologies for the lack of language learning technology, to make up for this, I wanted to share Radio.Garden which is an incredible site that takes you to radio stations throughout the world, just search the globe and click the green spot to have a listen. Just think about the resource for language teachers! It is available on mobile and through the browser, and there’s a guide for you here.


Thank you

Okay, nice and cool in here but I’ve been sitting down for too long and I’m off to dip my feet in the paddling pool.

I’m flirting with the idea of a short summer hiatus, so let me know in the comments if you’re cool with this and also what you’d like more of (or less of) when I return. I’m hoping to use the time that I would be writing, to do a bit more drawing and painting. I have some ambitions to try some more abstract forms, inspired by the book If you can doodle, you can paint by Diane Culhane which is a thoughtful read, full of Diane’s images and packed with ideas.

Have a good week, I’ll keep you up to date and maybe even provide that audio piece that I’ve been promising. I thought if I announced that I might record then it would force me to actually do it… *sigh.

Take care, bye for now.