Archive for July, 2006

This morning on Radio 4’s Today Programme, there was a piece about an email message sent to a woman by a man she had met for the first time the previous evening. The email, long, flowery and, some would say (have said), creepy has since reached something of a curious zenith in Internet infamy, its recipient having passed it on to friends, who then forwarded it electronically just about everywhere. The text of his email can be found here and it is indeed quite cringe-worthy, but my interest in the Today piece was the commentary on how we choose to communicate with each other nowadays.

The ease of transmission and speed of delivery inherent in text and email brings with it all sorts of pitfalls. Having removed or, actually, camouflaged many of our mechanisms for reading one another (evolved over the millennia), we are often inappropriately familiar. We can pour out our hearts, we can vent and let off steam or we can stir up the shit and get it completely and utterly wrong. And more, we live within the illusion that a medium such as email is somehow ephemeral and less lasting than a face-to-face or even a written note. As the writer of the email featured in Today found out, the opposite is true.

We rarely think about language, though we clearly use it a lot. Were we to, we might make one very useful observation, and that is how closely what we say or write both follows and leads what we think. The longer we take to say what we mean in the least number of words, the better.

Another observation (for me) is the wonderful way we can construct many possible meanings from one piece of language (and, by way of corollary, we can construct one meaning from many different pieces of language).


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Today is the day that the centuries old tradition of swan-upping, the ritual and annual tally, weighing and tagging along a certain stretch of the river Thames of mute swans and cygnets was supposed reach and pass the College. This task, dating back to the 12th century, is performed on behalf of the Queen by men with job titles as oddly out-of-date and yet endearing as their coloured uniforms .

It was also the hottest day of the year so far, and though we sat in the shade of one of the great conifers on the Henley lawn in our lunch hour. We waited in vain. Though there was the usual armada of pleasure craft, some even with red flags with images of white swans (swan-upping-spotters?), we couldn’t see any of the Thames skiffs which are used for the 5-day journey. Perhaps they had passed earlier, to miss the midday sun, and we already at the next pub.

Next year…

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This morning I was able to attend a Research Colloquium and heard a presentation by Dr John Burgoyne on Critical Realism. A lot of the discourse was going on on a plane higher than mine – with all sorts of ‘isms’ and ‘ists’ being bandied about, but it was still fascinating to see the level of discourse and have a few hints at where it might apply in the MBA programme.

I won’t (or, actually, can’t) get into a discussion of what Critical Realism is [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_realism if you want to know more] other than it seems to say that there is an objective, knowable world out there, and there are reliable mechanisms for experiencing that world, but that we may each perceive that world differently according to our own mechanisms

We focus on learning at Henley, but learning is not really so easy to observe since it is itself a mental construct. How does the learner know when learning has taken place? And does our creating the space for learning define whatever happens as learning, therefore bringing it into existence?

If you don’t have the language to describe something, does it exist? Conversely, if you have the language to describe something, does it then exist?

No wonder my brain hurts!

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All Presentation and Correct

Today we were all treated to a wonderful lecture by Professor Jean-Noel Ezingeard. This was his inaugural lecture, something of a celebration of academic status, that draws in fellow faculty, senior managers, friends and family.

Jean-Noel’s lecture was about information technology – Angel or Demon? It was a treat to watch – a demonstration of what it looks like when the technology used in a presentation is matched by the charm of the presenter. Quite a few of the learned members of faculty were taking copious notes on how to incorporate music and video into their powerpoint presentations.

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Defining groups

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are very much on our minds here at the moment. This weekend, amidst the summer barbecues and World Cup parties (“Allez les Azzurri!”) I found myself reflecting on the following things and the extent to which we concentrate on, facilitate or assess each with the adult learner :

working in a group

studying in a group

learning in a group

It feels as though we know a lot more about the first two. Much of the activities face-to-face and online are instances either of people working through set problems or helping themselves and each other prepare for an exam or an assignment. Learning in a group, on the other hand, requires an extra dimension. Reflection? Insight? Self-awareness?

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Typical week?

Friday has come round very quickly. Thought I’d just make some notes on the week, a sort of round-up.

Monday was a day of working from home. We now have wireless internet, so have the odd and novel pleasure of typing a replies to work emails while cooking the bacon on the other side of the kitchen.

On Tuesday I had an early start – a working breakfast in the Riverside Restaurant with Dr David Price. It was a great chance for me to learn more about the DBA, something I’m considering for next year. I am still undecided whether I’d be better off with the structure of the DBA or the freedom of the PhD. Either way, I am already enjoying the feeling of demystification around research and excitement about being methodically creative in a subject area of interest. For me, this may be the use of language in adult learning. This is a theme I hope I can also develop here.

Also on Tuesday at the College, Dr Richard Boyatzis – impeccable pedigree, doyen of the topic of leadership and big cheese at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western in Cleveland – led a wonderful session on resonant leadership. He was a very animated speaker, had the whole audience of stunned faculty up and clapping along to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ at the start. The mark of a good subject and a good presenter is when everyone is left with something different to think about.

Wednesday was spent up in London at the Institute of Education, attending a Netskills training on Communication and Collaboration for e-Learning. It certainly got me interested in how a blog works (as you can now see). It also reminded me how lucky I am to be living and working outside London!

Thursday was interesting because, as often happens in this job, there was something different to do every half and hour. My preferred Belbin team roles are Plant and Resource Investigator, so that chopping and changing suits me just fine. Whether much actually gets finished is another matter! Luckily, we have some fantastic doers – the administrators – here. I took part in a lengthy meeting to work on aspects of the new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment). The possibilities for interactive working are immense, but so is the complexity of setting it up.

And on to today. Much of the morning was taken up ‘clarifying the situation’ regarding the use of the Henley name to someone who was selling their Diploma assignments on eBay. This afternoon I’ll be helping to interview potential candidates for the face-to-face MBA programme. These people come along to the College for Selection Days. It’s the part of the job I love best, interaction with future, current and former members. I am just finishing the College’s coaching certificate course, and that has been a wonderful journey, too.

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Welcome to this blog

Hi there,

this site is going to perform two functions (at least!). One is to get familiar with the ins and outs of maintaining a blog – and have fun experimenting with its development over time. The other is to see how it might become useful as part of the learning journey on the MBA programme – a place to record thoughts, events and ideas – reflect on things that happen here at Henley.

I hope that others, particularly those involved in delivering any aspect of the MBA programme, will feel inspired to interact with this medium, and perhaps get blogging themselves. We expect our programme members to reflect on their learning journey and their own personal development, and I am curious to see how this might be a tool to do that.

Be seeing you!

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