catching up with the ethers

I shan’t look back to see how long it’s been since I blogged: suffice to say it’s been quite a while. It has not, however, been too long: living life is more important than writing about it. Mostly.

The first of my overseas visitors–two of my chosen family, from Vancouver and Austin–arrived on the 7th of December. My beloved arrived on 23 December. Throughout that period I’ve also (mostly) worked, which means it’s been a busy few weeks. Busy, but lovely. If the first one’s any indication, Christmas and St Stephen’s Day in NZ will be just fine, thank you.

Fish-eye Xmas tree

Here’s some highlights of December:

Nearly climbing an active volcano: we did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Well almost as much as you can, since part of it’s closed due to the odd eruption. For someone in very poor shape I did very well: I made it to the saddle and missed just the last bit. Apparently the best bit, but being a snowboard I’ve learned to trust my instinct–and my instinct said “duuude, no more up, start going down.” 8km down is only marginally easier after 8km up, it turns out.  Photos can be found here.

My team: I’ve inherited a great group of colleagues, and a unit that’s been nicely nurtured. There’s scope for us to do all sorts of interesting and meaningful work in the coming months. Very, very pleased.

Climbing into an active volcano: I first came to NZ in 1992; I’ve wanted to visit Whaakari (White Island) ever since. It took 20 years but it wasn’t at all disappointing: the sting of sulphuric acid vapours, the heat, the inability to breathe without a gas mask. The 90 minute boat trip each way was lovely too. So were the hundreds of dolphins that decided to join us on the way back to port. Only things missing were Himself and Dr. Moore.  Photos can be found here.

Xmas lunch with the lads: Paul and Alan (who own this and work here and here) hosted a lovely holiday lunch at theirs. Great meal on the back deck, then chatter and natter in the lounge whilst the remnants of Evan blew through.

St. Stephen’s Day/Boxing Day at ours: our first family event in NZ. Whanau, friends old and friends new. There was much barbecuing and much warmth. More Evan. All the fun of the holidays without the stress of Xmas expectations. Perhaps an annual event?

Himself: In order to set ourselves up for the next phase of our lives Max has been Vancouver whilst I settle in here in Auckland. the first 2 months were the toughest, though it’ll be another 3 months now until we see one another again. But we agree this is the way to go. I got to deal with packing, moving and unpacking; he got to deal with an empty apartment that needed renovating before it could be sold.  But as of Christmas Eve his motorcycle is on the road here and during the next 10 days I hope he goes for a few good rides.  He’s earned ’em.

NZ fairly shuts down until early January (except for retail and service industry staff, though a surprising number of restos are also closed), which I already quite like. The boys leave today; Max is here until the Epiphany (Coincidence? J’espère). I’ve been a bit sad during the holidays: it does feel a lot farther from the family up North. But the first one is the hardest, right?

Wishing you and yours a peaceful, restful and joyous holiday season!

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come on rise up

It has been, suffice to say, an exhausting and heartbreaking 48 hours. Emotionally difficult for me…but I’m in a warm bed in a dry apartment. My people? Not so lucky.

Growing up in New York–living each summer on a peninsula no more than 5 feet above sea level–meant the spectre of The Storm was always in the background. Every few years, usually in September or early October, a tropical system would threaten the area. Most followed the coast and prevailing winds and travelled northeast and out to sea. Eastern Long Island, perhaps New England, sticking much farther out into the Atlantic would get whacked; we would get some rain, some good waves and maybe some beach erosion. Twice a hurricane proper came in, but neither Gloria nor Belle caused any major problems in Rockaway. Except in the areas that flooded when any sort of high tide happened. Truth be told, it was the nor’easters, the winter storms, that flooded Rockaway. But never the catastrophic events we were warned about. Last year Irene came closer than most, but for most it was still OK. So it makes sense that a hurricane transitioning into a nor’easter would be the Big One.

Rockaway was a great place to grow up, and a great place to grow out of. Many of the folks from Rockaway ended up in nearby Long Beach (“Rockaway with jobs and mortgages”). Fewer DFDs–Down for the Day tourists–in Long Beach too. My brother and his family took the plunge a few months ago and gave up their house in Massapequa Park to move into their investment property in Long Beach: a smaller house, but only a block from the beach. Besides, we’ve extended families and friends galore there.

Which ‘hood got it worse? Probably the fires in Rockaway tips the scales, a bit. But both places had storm surges of 6-10 feet, with 20 foot waves on top of that. Here’s some of what happened to Rockaway:

  1. A before/after shot of the boardwalk. Notice the boardwalk is gone.
  2. Four blocks of “the Boulevard” that burnt out. We lived on B114th street, so these were our local shops)
  3. A slideshow of the flooding and damage across the Rockaways. Including the fires in Breezy Point that destroyed probably 100+ homes

It’s a lot to take in.

Last night and today was about tracking people, seeing what was happening, trying to ascertain who got flooded, who evacuated, who was stuck. One family member spent the night in her attic when the waters got too high. Most people were riding the storm out–after all, none of these “OMG you’ll die if you stay” scenarios have ever played out as badly as they said. This time was no different: it was much, much worse.

In terms of damage, some will probably write off their homes; most will have to make significant repairs. There won’t be subway service to Rockaway for weeks, given the flooding in Rockaway, Brooklyn and lower Manhattan on the A-train. Long Beach will get LIRR service faster, perhaps. There’s as much as 4 feet of sand in some parts of each ‘hood; most of the debris is small enough to remove relatively easily.

But everyone’s alive. Things can be replaced. They’re not people.  Everyone at home is in my thoughts and my prayers. New Yorkers are tough and strong: they’ve faced bigger challenges. It’s New York, the greatest city in the world.

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stuff happens

Sometimes stuff even arrives.  Ours did last Tuesday. To use the local argot, “sweet as, bro!”

The container took a mere 20 days from Vancouver to Tauranga NZ. However it took another 12 days for the last 100km journey. Luckily the biosecurity folks cleared everything in advance. Yes, even the camping gear.

It’s been almost a week since and everything’s all sorted out, right? Not even close. The master bedroom is 99% sorted; ditto my clothes. Most of the kitchen stuff has found a place somewhere, but not necessarily in places where I’ll be able to find things as I need them. But the spare room is a massive debris field of boxes–chin-high boxes.

To make things more challenging, I came down with a nasty flu on Wednesday night. I nearly crawled to the doctor on Saturday morning after 2 days of complete incapacitation.I was given a Tamiflu script and HOLY does this stuff work! I was feeling better in about 6 hours. I felt almost human on Sunday and was able to go to work today (Monday). But that was a total of 4 days of near total write-off.

This is all about immune systems by the way: my Canuckian doesn’t have resistance to things local this region. When I moved to Australia it took about 18 months for my body to adjust. Good times!

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kia ora, eh?

Having long passed the period for which I can reasonably blame space-headedness on jet lag, it seems a good time for an update.  So here it is!

Job: I am settling in nicely, albeit slowly. My colleagues are awesome, the projects interesting, and the scope for new and innovative work very broad. Admin are keen for me to get my research agenda off on the right foot (support, resources, $) so that’s a looming priority. Fine by me!  Each day feels a bit less like juggling chainsaws than the day before.

Home: I found an apartment and have the keys! On Friday my mattress gets delivered; sometime next week hopefully the movers deliver the Canajun goods (which arrive in port on 27 August, 2 days from today!). I’ve been acquiring small appliances each day, so I’ve a kettle, countertop grill, rice cooker all ready. There’s ensuite laundry and a dishwasher but no microwave.  I’ve not ordered “Sky” (expensive satellite TV); instead I’ve signed up for a high bandwidth broadband account and plan to IPTV everything. The complex has a small indoor lap pool and hot tub, as well as small gym. Noice!

Social: I have been forcing myself to go out waaay more than I ever did in Vancouver.  Like twice a week at least.  My body can’t handle it (even drinking water), but it would be very easy to sit home every night.  Once the apartment’s filled with our stuff I’ll join the gym at work (best value in Auckland; still more than I’d ever pay in Canada) and move my body more.

Auckland and NZ: I like this funky wee city. Very multi-culti, eating is surprisingly reasonable, transit around the core of the city very good. Shopping for groceries isn’t too bad; shopping for homewares can be painful if you don’t do your research. But so far I’ve avoided outright gouging, except for telecommunications. Mobiles here are like Canada was 5 years ago, except receiving calls is free. Internet is expensive and speeds vary widely (there’s only one “pipe” coming into the entire country). At work it’s fine.

I organized the transfer of my Canadian driving licence to NZ yesterday: my temporary licence was handwritten like a receipt, how cute is that?

I miss Himself terribly–friends too. But I think I’m going to be very happy here.

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My last day in Canada was a bit stressful. Had hoped to sleep in, but awoke early. Even after a leisurely breakfast in bed (tea and toast) it wasn’t even time for my (now ex) office to open up on campus. I puttered on the ‘puter, then got into gear.  My agenda was:

  1. Awaken
  2. Ablute
  3. Haircut and shave
  4. Pedicure
  5. A wee shop
  6. Tidy the place
  7. Pack
  8. Emigrate

#7, it turns out, was the buggar. I had 2 free bags and was planning on paying $70 for a third. 3 x 23kg + 2*7kg (carry-ons; yay Star Alliance gold) = lots of stuff, right?

First luggage scale snapped in two, which is never a good sign. Bought a new one and the bags weighed in at 35, 28 and 27kg each. After multiple repacks I got it down to 23, 25 and 25: no matter what I took out of those other bags they weighed the same. Eventually I gave up and left 4 shirts and one sweater. I had my second ablute, got dressed and awaited my driver.

Driver gave me the loveliest, most personal card I’ve ever received and neither one of us could stop crying. The traffic jam enroute to YVR helped though. At check-in it turns out my scale was off by 1.5-2kg per bag. Poor shirts and sweater, left behind for no good reason. So I purged a bit from my carry-on into the checked bag, was through security and ready to board.

I’ve flown Air NZ many times and they’ve never disappointed. Nice 777-200. Comfortable seat, excellent meal (beef curry), exceedingly prompt and professional service, and the best cuppa in the sky. There was an empty seat next to me for my debris too. So after dinner and a movie, I took 2 sleeping pills and slept for almost 8 hours (even with a toilet break). Woke up, refreshed, had brekkie and we landed–almost an hour EARLY at 415AM!

The uni had sent a car for me, but my sister-in-law and the girls got up and surprised me with a welcome balloon–lovely! We agreed to meet at my hotel, where we had a bevvie (coffee for the grown ups; hot choco for the girls) and I gave them their wee gifties. The hotel is great: a nice sized 2BR flat with views of the Hauraki Gulf from my bed. Kitchen is well kitted out too. No bathtub; only a stall shower though 🙁

After breakfast and a chat with Himself on Skype (he’s currently in Ireland at his Dad’s), it was task time:

  1. SIM card for phone
  2. ATM card
  3. IRD (social insurance) tax number
  4. Keys and passes for work
  5. Bus pass
  6. Uni ID card
  7. Blender
  8. Groceries for the next day’s brekkie

All accomplished in about 6 hours…except for one. I even ran into my new boss, with whom I’ve only Skyped previously–seems like a very good bloke. However, the ATM card didn’t work. I’ve been assured it will work as of 10 hours ago (a system refresh at midnight). So shortly I will go out and determine if it’s twoo.

Last night I met my friends Michael, Grant and Brian for dinner. The Thai food was so-so; the company was excellent.

I am loving New Zealand so far!

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Née aux États-Unis; fabriqué au Canada

The last of the good-bye meals was last night. The 3 suitcases are nearly packed; ditto the two carry-ons (yay for Gold status and extra luggage allowances). There’s also the final load of laundry, tidying up, a quick grocery shop so Himself has some food when he gets back next week from his Dad’s in Ireland. Then it’s off to the airport late this arvo, a 14 hour flight, and a new phase of my life begins. Finally!

And yet, I feel profoundly sad.

I came to Canada from the US in 1989 as a confused and troubled young man. That impulsive, badly executed move was, in hindsight, a turning point.

Having brought a host of personal issues with me I quickly crashed and burned in a strange city and surprisingly strange country. I needed help–a lot of help–and received it. Government and community-based organizations were here for me and rather quickly I gained an equilibrium missing from my life ’til that point. Over the next two decades I was able to return to school, complete graduate studies and create a rewarding and enervating third career that’s sustained me personally, professionally and economically ever since. And I’ve made the best friends I’ve ever had–family really. I also learnt how to snowboard, ski, cross-country ski and ice skate. And watch hockey and curling. 🙂

Canada made me. Canada has brought out the best of me. I shan’t ever cease to be grateful for the privileges afforded to me by living in Canada and garnering Canadian citizenship.

As I move towards NZ I am leaving Canada, but not leaving Canada behind. Unlike many others my attachment to my homeland is marginal at best: aside from family I feel little attachment to the US. I am Canadian in my heart. And, I hope and pray, will always remain so.  Au revoir, à bientôt: until we see each other again, soon.

But I am *so* looking forward to that first flat white tomorrow. Um, er, the day after tomorrow, since I don’t get a Thursday 06 September this year thanks to the International Date Line. 😉

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Migration to New Zealand: my experience

Life is full of paradoxes. For example: when I was offered my upcoming role at the University of Auckland, there were a few trajectories available to me to get the paperwork required to take up the role:

  1. A Work-to-Residence work permit (7 days processing)
  2. A Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident permit (1-3 months processing, with a job offer)
  3. Residency via my Australian citizen spouse (4 weeks processing)

With my Aussie passport wielding husband, #3’s a no-brainer, right? Well, except that he would have to bein New Zealand to sponsor me…and he won’t be able to join me for several months. Therefore both inconvenient and unfun.

That leaves two options. One might be tempted to go with #1, but I wasn’t. I’m not 25 years old and I wasn’t keen to move all the way to NZ, settle down and then find myself ineligible for permanent residency in a few years’ time. Given I have a couple of manageable but chronic health conditions, this was a legitimate concern: NZ Immigration has some of the toughest health standards in the world.

NZ Immigration is also incredibly transparent. Even compared to Canada. In fact, Transparency International (cue May Day socialist anthem) ranks NZ #1. Numéro un. Ichi-ban.

SMC, yeah you know me

So SMC it was, is and shall be.  The process is linear: if you can write a long report or fill out a detailed form or application it’s entirely self-doable. The stages are as follows:

Hunting and gathering: discern what sorts of evidence you’ll need for your application (proof of employment, education/credentials, criminal records checks from every country you’ve lived in for more than one year since you were 18 and any countries whose citizenships you hold: I got 3, plus I lived in Australia for 3 years).

Medical: find out who nearby can do your detailed immigration medical. Best to pick someone who does these regularly. Ideally they should be able to refer you to a clinic for the blood and x-rays. My medical cost me $400 out of pocket, of which more than half was for lab and x-ray work.

Expression of Interest (EOI): the EOI is really the application to migrate. What the clever folks at INZ do is have you complete it online, submit it (with some fees, biensûr), and they pre-assess it. If what you’ve claimed for points is enough to be selected (the threshholds vary over time), your EOI is “selected”. If it passes muster you are “successful” and are then “invited to apply”. You have between 3 and 6 months to submit, depending on whether you have a job offer or not.

Invitation to Apply (ITA): The ITA is mostly the pdf version of your EOI, with some additional forms and directions. Your task is to gather all the required evidence, cross check to make sure your dates align pefectly, make any edits (hopefully only minor ones), and send the ITA with your evidence, your payment of the application fee (over £1000!) and completed medical report (the doctor usually gives it back to you and you can open it up and read it if you wish) to whichever office of INZ you’ve been assigned.

Review of ITA: once received your ITA is reviewed to make sure everthing required is submitted. If you’ve missed something minor you may be asked for the supplemental content only–but INZ has the right to send the whole thing back to you for resubmission. After the completed application is reviewed you’ll be advised about whether your medical needs to be referred for a panel doctor’s opinion (more about that below). Once everything is considered to be in order, your Case Office asks a colleague to review the application one more time to ensure everything is copacetic. And then…

Approval In-Principle (AIP): you are approved in-principle. All you need to do know is send in your passport, pay your final migranty levy (around £150 plus an courier charges to send your docs back to you), and you get your “blue sticker”: a resident visa.

I submitted my EOI in early April, and it was selected a couple of weeks later. Within a week I was issued my ITA. Since I had already started gathering my documentation, I would have been able to submit the ITA within days…except the bloody Yanks took 8 weeks for my police certificate! Grrrrr! Rather than submitting in mid-May it was received in London on 15 June. Acknowledgement was the next business day (18 June); after requesting some additional info I received AIP on 07 August. My passport is en route to me from London currently: I should have it on Monday or Tuesday of next week. Two months from submission of ITA to visa in hand, in other words. Not bad at all.

Once I arrive my resident visa allows me unlimited entries and departures for 2 years. I must start the job named in my SMC application within 3 months and must stay in it for at least 3 months. After 2 years I can convert it (automatically) to permanent residence if I’ve met the “commitment to NZ” requirements: if I’ve actually lived and worked in NZ, in other words. 3 years later I can apply for NZ citizenship.

NZ residents who’ve lived in the country one year or more can vote too!


While my chronic conditions aren’t terribly interesting, I expected they might raise a red flag and they did. But thanks to the counsel of folks from awesome online communities like ENZ, Move2NZ and (to a lesser extent) Ex-Pat Forum, I was able to secure a specialist letter to include with my medical.  My medical referral took less than 2 weeks to be cleared and I’m confident the letter made the difference.

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I am disappointed with the UBC rumour mill, which has proven to be exceedingly inefficient…

After 16 years, numerous roles and two post-graduate degrees, it’s time to leave UBC, almost entirely (I’ll still teach a bit online in the MET programme). I have accepted the role of Director of the Learning Technology Unit in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. Yes, New Zealand. I start in the role mid-September; I finish up in CTLT at the end of August.

NZ has long been the only country in which I would have liked to live besides Canada; U of A is a great institution. I am sad to be saying goodbye to what has been home for over two decades, but this feels very, very right. Which is good, considering the flaming hoops I’ve recently had to jump through to get my visa sorted!

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La belle ville au beau province, avec une équipe formidable

What did you do with your summer holidays? The beach? Mountain biking? Europe? The pool? Me? I did something I’d promised myself I’d do (again) over a decade ago: I went to Québec and did a French immersion program, UBC@Québec. Masochist much?

No, not really. Like many Canadians I limped through high school French as a second language (FSL), achieving a marginal ability to read the language. Write? Speak? Understand? No, not really. Thus, when I was in grad skool I availed myself of Explore (it was called the Summer Language Bursary Programme when I did it in 1999). After five weeks in Trois Pistoles (the lower St. Lawrence, 2 hours East of Québec City) I understood French reasonably well (well…not joual, the argot of Montréal) and could express myself reasonably well. It underscored for me the power of a well-designed immersive experience–and I promised myself I’d do it again someday. Fast forward a decade and I learn that: 1.) UBC runs a program for educators, and 2.) I can use my UBC tuition waiver to cover a significant portion of the costs.

Why do another immersion, if I live and work in an English-speaking context? Well, it’s simple: my unit collaborates with universities all around the world–anglophone universities. We do little with universities whose teaching is in another language, including the excellent francophone universities in Québec and Europe. That’s roughly 30% of the universities in Canada. Quite frankly that’s unacceptable to me…and it’s unfair to always place the burden of bridging the linguistic divide on the shoulders of francophones.

How it worked

I arrived in Québec City late on a Monday evening. Having identified someone else here for the programme whilst awaiting our luggage, we jumped into a taxi and were at the residence within 30 minutes. Our hosts greeted up with «Salut! Bienvenue à Quebec!» and a cold beverage. After a bit of confusion we got keys to our accomodation: 4 bedroom apartments with a large eat-in kitchen, full bath and spartanly furnished lounge.

In the roommate (colocs, or colocataires) lottery I think I won. Aside from bald fat gay higher education me, we were:

  • Patrick: a high school teacher from Burnaby
  • Keymo: a high school teacher from Vancouver
  • Will: a middle school French immersion teacher from Prince Rupert

I would say the first 30 minutes set the tone for the entire coloc experience. We three didn’t switch into English at all (except to explain the odd word to one another) for probably 3 or 4 days. Those who spoke English as much and whenever possible had a very different experience.

The next morning we were up for orientation and our “interviews”–oral placement exams, really–followed by lunch and group grocery shopping (with delivery arranged in advance!). The next day we started in our classes, with me in the intermediate group. K and W, clever lads, were in the advanced; P in the second level beginners (first beginners had little or no French). I decided in advance not to try and prep for the placement exam, which served me well in the end.

La classe, les ateliers, les profs et le Féstivale

We had two class sessions each day, with two instructors splitting themselves between two levels. Stéphanie comes from the south of France, has her doctorate in linguistics and is a kickboxer. Suffice to say I behaved myself. Myriam comes from Québec (pur laine), has her masters in French linguistic and is an expert on pronunciation. Their styles were both polished and professional: I would say Myriam was more sage on the stage and Stéphanie more guide on the side. We covered a fair bit of grammar (good, but not why I was there) and a range of applied communicative learning activities designed to improve our ability to express ourselves and understand others in French. We only had one tool in our class, which is amazing (besides me).

We also had a workshop (atelier) or group learning activity. The workshops were geared towards those teaching French. Each of the instructors in the programme–Myriam and Stéphanie, plus Marie and Carl, who taught the beginner 1 and 2 classes–plus Andrew, the admin coordinator for the programme. These were all interesting and well-designed, if not necessarily workshops (I work in educational development: I’m a stickler for workshop versus lecture). Our other learning activities were mostly tours of historical sites around town, and some experiences with folkloric music and dance. And we started each morning with a song!  The cultural piece was particularly rewarding.

And then there was Le Féstivale d’été, the summer festival. Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, LMFAO, Sarah McLachlan for the anglos; Ariane Moffat, Isabelle Boulay, Jean LeLoup, Marie May, Zachary Richard, and Johnny Halliday for the francos. Suffice to say I stuck with the latter. Scheduling the programme during the Féstivale–where a laisser passer all access wristband is only $70 for ALL shows over 10 days–gave the programme a whole other layer. It also meant most of us were zombies running on 6 hours of sleep each night.

Why it worked

This programme’s underlying design laid the foundation for its success. A broad range of learning styles, learning activities, and formative assessment strategies were implemented. Often such programmes lack continuity and internal logic: this programme was deceptively consumable for learners. As well, it was exceedingly well-delivered by a team of teaching masters, each of whom worked according to their own orientation to teaching and learning. No one used a cookie-cutter approach; never did I think “Oh no, we’re doing X again.” It was engaging, as well as inspiring.

Finally, it was exceedingly well organized, in terms of operations and logistics. Things started and ended on time. The pieces all fit together. Answers were ready for most questions and found out for others in short order. With few exceptions, the folks involved were good humoured and warm. There were 60 students from across Canada and the US, most of whom were educators. Teaching teachers is not an easy gig. Total WIN.

Pis maintenant

It’s been almost 48 hours since I got home. The laundry is done, I’ve leveraged my kettle and bath numerous times and it’s great to be back in the arms of Himself. Tomorrow it’s back to the office and already (throughout the trip, in fact) it’s been back to the (online) classroom.  I’ll try to work through the photos this week…try.

And I’ll try to listen to Radio Canada as much as possible. Radio-Canada est le reseau auquel je voudrais ecouter une fois ou plus chaque semaine.

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You are not special: an inspirational charge to graduates

Having read about this “controversial” graduation speech at an American high school commencement, I’d meant to hunt down the video and got distracted. However my cousin posted today in Facebook (thanks Jimmy!) and I’m glad I took the 12 minutes to view it

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How anyone could view this as less than warm, humourous and inspiring–based on how the text was delivered, rather than on the static text itself–escapes me. We had a few teachers like David McCullough Jr. at Nanuet Senior High School. They were rigorous, they were at times relentless, and at times most of their students resented them deeply for the standards they set and how hard they pushed us. Dr. Demarest, Dr. Dillon, Mrs. Walber (all English teachers; go figure), Mrs. Marshall, Mr. Nissel (yes even you Norman)–thank you again.

Classrooms are like firearms: no one has a right to them and in the wrong hands they destroy lives. We need more David McCulloughs in our classrooms.


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Zero sum game?

This morning the story of an Alberta teacher who rejects a “no zero” assessment policy caught my attention. I suspect there might be more to the story than meets the eye, but the policy in question isn’t, from my ancillary connection to hundreds of K-12 teachers (as their teacher).

I find “no zero” policies problematic, particularly after the early primary years. In addition to subject matter understanding, part of summative assessment in K-12 schooling serves to prepare citizens. And part of citizenship–“being a grown up” as Mom used to hammer into us–is to meet intellectual, interpersonal and (eventually) professional standards. Submitting work to a certain standard is important: submitting something should be an obvious requirement for any possibility of a passing grade.

As children develop, understanding the importance of making an effort, doing one’s best, and completing tasks in an acceptable timeframe all gain greater prominence. We are already getting students here at UBC who bristle at being held to due dates for assignments, for following explicit submission instructions, and for having to work within clear and structured participation requirements for learning activities.  Thankfully I’ve not yet encountered this ethos among colleagues. I certainly wouldn’t countenance it amongst my own team.

Or am I too old skool, yo?  Thoughts?

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Canadian Moodle Moot in Feb 2013 in Vancouver!

CanadaMoot February 12 – 15 2013!
From Coding to Networking: Building Moodle on a Human Scale

Just to remind you that BCcampus and the BC and Canadian Moodle communities invite you to join us February 12 -15, 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia at the Coast Plaza Hotel (or online from your home or office) for some west coast openness, collaboration, innovation and community building.

Pre-conference: February 12, 2013
MoodleMoot: February 13 – 15, 2013

Martin Dougiamas, lead developer of is confirmed as a keynote! Martin will be opening and closing our Moot, as well as leading a discussion for Moodle administrators.

Canadian Moodle trivia? Canadians have apx. four times more Moodle registered sites (by population) than the global average! (Toni Roberts, Mount Allison University & CanadaMoot Program Advisory member)

If there is anything, or anyone that you would like us to consider for February’s Moot please email us: We look forward to your input!

Stay tuned to for further information.

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Untethered: Tablet teaching with the iPad

Click here for a PDF of the PowerPoint.

NB: due to a building-wide network outage today I delivered the session tethered–with the iPad and Apple TV tethered to my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot connection!

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Untethered: Tablet Teaching with the iPad

This week is the annual CTLT Institute–all sorts of awesomeness on offer, all of it currently over-subscribed–and tomorrow I’m presenting a lunch-n-learn session:

Tablet Teaching with the iPad
iPads are great for reading, surfing the web, and playing games—and for teaching! During this one hour session we’ll explore a range of apps that support the work of a scholarly informed teacher. The iPad, combined with AppleTV and an HDMI (high definition) LCD projector means you do it untethered! If you have an iPad, bring it–and if you have a favourite teaching-related app, be ready to show us!

There are 27 in the session, with a waitlist of another 25.  No pressure, no, none at all.

Shall I post the slides here afterwards?

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au contre courant

There’s a lot happening right now. One term completed; another looming large with a first-time taught course on a first-time used LMS platform. Throw in some holidays (Mexico), professional development (two conferences in Montréal), and an upcoming intensive language course (Québec) and my calendar’s filling up this summer.

But it’s all good. How are you?

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clin d’oeil

Is the term really (nearly) over? Wow that zoomed by. For me, at least. Still tidying a bit of stuff up though. Which means marking. It’s nearly done; I’m well done.

  • ETEC565A went well.’Twas the first time teaching the tweaked version. Seemed to go well. We await the SEoT…who will hate me this time?  😉
  • I’ve pretty much finished the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) program: just waiting for my review. You can view my e-portfolio here.
  • On a related note I’m about to submit my BREB application for my 565A-related SoTL project. Yay!!!1 Empirical research! Data!
  • Speaking of which: the LMS evaluation study is going well too.
  • Going to 2 conferences in Montréal in June; for the first time in yonks I got an abstract bounced. Uh, er, 2 of them, in fact. But the second was a Hail Mary pass anyways. Still presenting at the other conference though.
  • Paid my final balance for my French course in Québec City in July. Flights booked too!
  • And other things are in the pipe, but nothing to share just yet…. 🙂

Have a safe, restful and (if so inclined) spiritual long weekend.

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Alignment of theory to practice

As we have moved through the program I have become increasingly appreciative of the mentorship I received in my early university teaching career. Those relationships—most specifically with Professors Allison Tom, Tom Sork and Dan Pratt—have served me exceedingly well fifteen years later.

Professor Tom first proposed the idea of having my teaching reviewed by a member of the professoriate; unsurprisingly I asked her to review my teaching and she provided substantive, thoughtful, forthright feedback. In the end I felt more confident in what I did well and more motivated to work on areas that needed improvement.

Professor Sork was the supervising professor when I first taught ADHE329 (Designing Short Courses, Workshops and Seminars). My qualifications to teach the course were a strong background in designing and delivering such adult educational programs, and having completed Prof. Sork’s graduate seminar on program planning the year prior. For my first university teaching experience I inherited a fully designed—comprehensively, marvellously organized, wholly aligned—course, complete with detailed course syllabus. My appreciation for that course increased as my teaching experience at UBC broadened. In the context of this program, this meant I did not learn many new things to integrate into my own syllabi (for example): I did, however, have a clearer sense of why specific elements worked well. Regardless, I made some improvements.

Professor Pratt has proven a mentor with respect to aligning my aims as an educator with my practice. This has been in two specific areas: learning activities and assessment. For the former I acquired a clear sense of how to ensure student workload is reasonable with respect to student learning: less often is more, if the less is purposeful and well delivered. For the latter I learned the value of formative assessment and summative assessment, as well as ways to bring in activities that make summative assessment more authentic, where appropriate.  As well, Professor Pratt made a statement that has haunted me (in an affirming way) throughout my career in higher education: “surely the quality of what is learned is more important than the quality of how it’s taught.”

What did I learn about these things during this program? I encountered more literature that supported my overall approach. I was exposed to examples from others in the program with respect to course design, assessment and evaluation.

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some tips for new online/blended instructors

For folks new to teaching online (or blended), managing your online space can be a bit challenging at first. Or rather challenging. Or hairy-pulling challenging. As someone who started teaching online back when the internet was based on fishing line and tin cans, I can help. These tips mostly apply to using a learning management system (LMS).

So here’s a few suggestions:

  • Channel all course-related email to the LMS: whether your LMS has a proper email tool or a “messaging” one, by only accepting emails within the LMS you don’t need to check multiple points–and students know exactly where to contact you. Therefore…if a student contacts you elsewhere, reply saying “send it again as per the course directions.”
  • Start the clock at read: if there’s a problem with student work, or a student emails you about needing a concession, those things start when the person receiving the message reads them. When I recently emailed some students whose assignments were missing required components most replied within 24 hours…but one didn’t. There’s no other fair way to do it. And put *urgent* in the subject line.
  • Use the tracking system: you can track what students have done, what they’ve contributed and what they’ve read. Including that time sensitive email message. So you know when the clock started ticking (see above). Or can say to the student who says “I’ve been working hard on this” you can reply “well, to my mind spending 8 minutes on this activity, which is what the tracking system shows, doesn’t quite imply industriousness”. Though to be fair I’ve only had this come up once.
  • Create a “storage” folder in email: as you read and action emails, transfer them to  a newly created “storage” folder. That way you can use your in box as a task/to do list.
  • BCC yourself: every email you send to students BCC to yourself, whether new messages or replies. Then you know it was sent (it appears in your inbox) and you can manage your sent emails from the in box–including moving them to storage without having to dig into the sent mail folder.
  • Use emoticons in the forums and email: You might think things like 🙂  😀 or 😉 are juvenile…but in a text-only environment they add tone. For intereactive elements like email and discussions they’re great: for your assessment feedback, which should be more formal, probably not. Students can’t hear your “teacherly” voice online–or your sense of humour. These help…a lot!  😉
  • Time release content: If you entire course contents opens on day one, students will move through at a different pace. Keeners may blast through things very quickly; others rather slowly. If discussions in the course forums are a key learning activity this can dilute those conversations. By release chunks of content across the term you keep folks largely in the same space. In my courses I have modules, each of which multiple units/lessons. So I release each module individually: this means students still have 2-3 weeks of time to manage as they see fit in each module.
  • Digitize yourself: students love it when instructors bring images, audio or video of themselves into courses from time to time. Learning how to capture a quick video via your webcam, then uploading it to Youtube (and embedding the video in a discussion forum posting) gets a great reaction. Yes you will probably hate your voice and perhaps how you look. But to everyone else it’s just you–get over it!  😉
  • Use the assignment tool: the environmental implications of saving reams of printed pages make this worthy on it’s own–but there are many other benefits of using the “drop box”. First, you can see date and time of submission, so late assignments are obvious. Second, you can mark up students’ assignments and send back with embedded feedback. Third, you can access papers anywhere you have ‘net access–no need to check your campus mail slot. Finally, you can build assessment rubric for these assignments: these allow you to tick radio buttons to indicate levels of performance and assign points–and there’s space for qualitative feedback too.

Were these of any value? Any questions? Comment below!

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After a guilt-free work at home day (very productive, in terms of work and chores), I hopped into the car at 16h30 en route to Cypress Mountain. Since yesterday morning there had been almost 60cm of fresh “powder”. In coastal BC “powder” means fresh snow–you need to get aboout 1800m above sea level and much farther from the sea itself to see real powder.

Still, 60cm of fresh snow is waaay better than the snowcone (read: ice) that Cypress was on Wednesday night.

I got on the left just after 17h15: there weren’t many cars on the road up, but a couple were clearly not kitted out for winter driving. Luckily they’d slid off the road where there was a shoulder (and snowdrift) to catch ’em: there are bits where going off the road is going over the edge. With snow tires it was easy to go 50-60km/hr with good traction. They had closed the closest parking lots so they could plow some snow out. An extra 5 minutes walk, pas grand chose.

There are two mountains in the downhill area of Cypress. I prefer to start on the side with Vancouver behind the peak: the green run is a bit less challenging and on clear nights the view of Vancouver is awe-inspiring. Tonight the view was fog and cloud. Through the ice pellets. There was lots of fresh snow–so much that the runs were almost completely ungroomed. After a couple of runs (with 1 minute waits for the lift), I found out the other side handn’t been opened at all today because of avalanche concerns. But there was a rumour that it would open soon.

I filed that nugget of info away and kept boarding. Today was only the second day with new bindings, and I was beginning to think they were perhaps not quite right…whether that’s the bindings, their settings (for heel pressure, in particular) or their position/stance on the board I wasn’t sure. But I kept going. After each run I glance over at the other side: nope, still empty chairs going up in the lift.

Until the run I saw people on the lift. So I booted my bald, fat arse over to the other side.

Below us was an untouched winter wonderland: virgin runs, groomed, “fresh corduroy” of the sort one only gets first thing in the morning–if you’re willing to queue for it. About a third of the way up, others started coming down. The snow was so soft, all you heard was a *whoosh*. Except when someone took a spill, then it was a *whoomp*. Followed by laughter or whoops of joy. OMG OMG OMG OMG!

Unlike most of the people chasing fresh tracks, I was interested in the green run. Turns out, not many people were (yet). There were perhaps 2 or 3 tracks on Collins. I could carve turns quickly and easily. I could speedcheck without any leg burn. I was breathless and I wasn’t even halfway down.

It couldn’t last, of course. Each run up there were more tracks and more riders and skiers. Didn’t matter. On the run I felt a bit rubbery in the legs, I glided towards the lodge.

I am renewed.

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