I was recently challenged in my thinking when we had a guest speaker come to USQ who said (words to the effect of), we could talk about the future and plan for the future, but in reality we cannot see more than 2 years ahead with any certainty. I thought, that’s a bit depressing, what about my dreams, am I just wasting my time then? Then I realised he was not talking about planning for the future as such, but more-so that we could actually ‘know’ with confidence what would eventuate.
This reminded me of an image I created last year that I put up on Instagram, that I think is worth dwelling on for a couple of minutes.
I know, because I know that there is more to this world than meets the eye of my mind, but I can’t necessarily see it right now, apart from the spiritual (which I will not deal with here). And because I also have Google maps on my phone, with satellite views 🙂 I can see my current horizon and I can see the things I need to do to get to that horizon, and I can plan out the roads I need to take to reach that horizon. But is that horizon all there is? Does my journey end there? Of course not. I know that once I reach that horizon there will be another one ahead of me. Will it be as pretty? Who knows. But that doesn’t matter, what matters is that I am want to get to see that next horizon, and the next one and the next one, as I am on the way to my fullfilling dreams.
So sure, it may take me two years to get to that horizon, but that’s cool, I got there, and I’m two years closer to achieving my dream. But what happens if I don’t take the journey to the next horizon? Well, I suppose I would just have to be content with the view I currently have before me (which also looks very nice).
But i’m a curious sort, so i’m heading for that horizon, to see what next 🙂
Sometimes I get so engrossed in what I am doing that I am completely oblivious to what else is happening around me. On the other-hand, to get the most out of what I am doing I also have to put everything into-it, so that I can get the very best result.
It would appear from popular literature that if you want to achieve excellence, you need to demonstrate perseverance, determination and achievement which leads to success. But one could also consider Mark Twain’s reflection on this when he reputedly said (though some doubt exists as to its origin), “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do…Explore, Dream. Discover”.
So should I dive in headfirst and totally immerse myself in what I am doing with little regard for what is around me, to explore, dream and discover. No, I don’t think I want to hop-on a sailing ship (even if it is virtual) and sail away for months on end leaving behind all that is precious, for the ‘greater good’, to ‘discovering new lands’. I have found when I do this I am only focusing on myself, and tend to negate the other important things around me, including those closest to me. In other words, I start to loose a sense of reality, in this so-called connected world, as I have been so focused on ‘me’ ‘achieving’.
So what could possibly help me mediate exploring, dreaming, discovering, perseverance, determination, achievement and ultimately success? I think it is by me applying and demonstrating my character, or as Albert Einstein put it, “try not to become a man [person] of success, but rather try to become a man [person] of value.
Aha, so what is this Bee doing? It is doing what it does to survive, to keep it’s kind (the hive) going and it is being ‘productive’. It’s also providing us sweet honey to eat and sustaining life (ours and others). It is being what it was created to be, and it is doing this with all its might, thereby adding value to the world around it. Does it have to worry about ego, or about what the other bees are thinking about it? No, but it is exploring, discovering, persevering, exercising determination, achieving and ultimately, experiencing success.
But there is a word missing from that previous list; ‘dreaming’. Now that is what we humans do really well, unlike Bee’s (that I’m aware of anyway). So maybe dreaming combined with character, and then applied to these other more basic traits, is what can make the difference.
But here in lies the crunch; ‘character’ is a virtue, while the others are actions that, in part, lead people to believe certain things about me (my reputation) because they are usually more visible (they see what I do), until they get to dig a bit deeper (to see who I am). So I suppose what I am saying is; I would like to be more concerned with my character, than with my reputation, because it is my character that is my lifeblood, while my reputation is just what others think about me.
My recipe to Bee a success is therefore:
- Start with 2 cups of character,
- add a heaped table spoon of dreaming,
- leave this to sit for 2 – 3 hours to settle,
- mix this with half a cup of exploring and discovering, then stir vigorously for a few minutes until fully combined,
- spoon this into a bowl clearly marked with perseverance and determination,
- ignore the temptation to put in a cup of reputation, as this will only spoil the mixture, though your friends may tell you otherwise,
- place all this in a preheated oven and cook for about 12 – 18 months,
- test with a skewer after 12 months to see how it is going,
- if the plan is a flop don’t be afraid to start the mixture over again, learning from what you did before,
- if it is going well, continue with the cooking until fully baked,
- once cooked top with a generous scoop of honey and share your success with your family and friends.
The democratization of photography has gone hand-in-hand with the advent of the devices used to allow for the ubiquitous production of images that speak to an individuals’ interaction and engagement with the world around them. From the Kodak Instamatic, to the Polaroid Land Camera, to the digital point and shoot, to the iPhone (mobile device) and Instagram. As the various photographic formats have changed over the years, largely aligned with the impact of the medium/cameras used, it’s interesting to note how social photography, now largely facilitated by the online space, has introduced a new universal immediacy to the art. However, this only serves to highlight further that the photographic medium is less important than its underlying social component. In other words, it’s all about the relationship between the subject matter, the artist and how the two provide a unique perspective on our world and ultimately make these public (or keep it private).
My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 56X that I was given by my parents in 1972, with its square format image, it was the camera that really sparked my interest in photography. Its immediacy, point and shoot capacity made it easy to take control of a situation and quickly capture it. It was lite, you could fit in your pocket, and all you had to do was load the 126 film cartridge into it and off you went. That initial interest in photography grew to such an extent that I proceeded to become a professional photographer, a job I did for some 21 years (until 2001). However, the immediacy of the instamatic never left me. In fact as part of my final portfolio exhibition at art collage, in 1980, I compiled a series of images using that same Kodak Instamatic (along with many other images). The ability to pick-up a camera and just shoot an image, without having to worry (so much) about the exposure, or focusing the jolly thing, contributed to a freedom of expression unequaled in more sophisticated devices.
Since leaving the profession of photography I have always had a camera near-bye and enjoyed creating and exhibiting my images on a regular basis, but it has only been in the last 2 years that I
have really been getting back into the square format image along with the notion of immediacy. This has been made possible through the combination of my iPhone and Instagram (an app). The images I now create through this dynamic combination pay homage to the journey I have been on for the last 41 years and provide once more a link to the more pure and innocent beginnings of my image making. Please see: http://instagram.com/michael_sankey/ or use my handle @michael_sankey.
My wife and I were sitting down, just having a wee chat and a cuppa the other day, when we noticed this snail on the outside of window. To all intents and purposes it did not seem to be moving. The more I concentrated on it the more convinced I was that it was just sitting there. I turned back to the conversation we were having, but a few minutes later I was once again curious to see if the snail was still there. To my surprise it had moved quite a way down the window and was almost at the bottom.
Let me compare this to the history of e-learning 🙂 “Now that’s drawing a bit of a long bow” I hear you say. Bear with me though and let me muse on this for a minute (it’s my blog after all).
Universities have been trying to come to terms with how to effectively mediate e-learning for well over a decade now. The University I work in (USQ) has offered fully online courses since 1997 and we have actually learned quite a bit over this time. If we compare what we knew about e-learning then (much of which we kind of made up as we went along, based on adapting other forms of pedagogy) to what we know now, we are light years ahead of where we were. However on the surface, particularly for those of us working in the field on a day to day basis, things seem to be moving at a snails pace. There is so much we want to be able to do, but there never seems to be enough time to do it properly or fully.
One needs to put this into a broader perspective though. We have been dealing seriously with teaching in the e-learning space for only about 15 years. But how long have we been dealing with teaching (as a formal activity)? A very long time. Although, one could argue we have always been dealing with some form of technology to support our teaching; ink on papyrus leaves, slates, chalk boards, white boards, overhead and slide projectors, drawings, images and graphics, reel to reel film, video, Roneo and Gestetner machines, inkjet and laser printers/copiers. However, unlike all the above technologies e-learning has allowed for the ubiquitous connectivity of learners, not bound to the classroom, or a particular piece of technology (as we now can access from anywhere, anytime, using any internet enabled device), albeit a classroom of a different type.
Are we moving quick enough though? Because, from on the surface we seem to be moving very slowly and some days we do not seem to be moving at all. But we are. If I was to take six months off work and not look at anything to do with e-learning, when I came back I would see that the snail has almost reached the bottom of the window.
So what do I learn form this? Don’t stress about it, we’ll get there. We may not get there as quickly as we may like, but we will get there nevertheless. So if we don’t stress about it we may even be able to enjoy the journey a bit more too. So for those looking on; if they concentrate too closely they may not see as much progress as they may like, but if they can be encouraged to pay attention only now and then, they will probably see we have gone further than they thought was possible and probably further than we thought was possible. So let’s enjoy the journey.
Recently my wife and I enjoyed playing some games of Yahtzee. We have done this quite a bit over the years and have also enjoyed playing it with the children when they were at home. The thing about Yahtzee is that, seemingly, it is all down to chance; that is how the dice role and fall. Of course there is no way to control this. Sure you can throw them harder, softer, from the side of your hand, or out of the front of your hand, but ultimately you cannot predict how the dice will fall. Sure you can hope, and if chance would have it, you may throw what you need/desire. In fact you have a one in six chance per dice. However, what you do have some control over is which dice you choose to keep and which you choose to roll again. So to that extent you do have some control over the game and its ultimate outcome, but not a lot. Many a time I have thought, ‘Oh no, I should have held onto the two sixes instead of the two fours, just after having thrown another two sixes’. But there you go, shit happens (as they say).
On this particular occasion (when playing our games) I observed an interesting thing about myself, relating to how my mood swung during the games. We played four games. My wife won the first (not unusual) and I thought ,‘ok fair enough, lets try again’. But I did feel somewhat miffed (though of course happy for her) :-), as I had started really well and had thought I was going to win. We started the second game and it did not go very well at all – right from the get-go. Interestingly, through this process I started to doubt myself and each decision I was making. My wife won this game by a county mile and got a Yahtzee to boot, just to rub it in (but of course I was very pleased for her again) :-). I started blaming myself and was losing sight of the fact that it was just a game and that I really had very little control over the outcome.
I reluctantly agreed to play a third game, definitely believing it was not my night. As fortune would have it, I did a lot better in this game and actually won. The world was suddenly right again, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. It was actually evening, the sun was down and the birds were fast asleep, but it felt like it anyway (though of course I felt disappointed for my wife) :-). “Shall we play one more?” I said, hoping secretly to even up the scorecard. Well, that did not go well at all, I had the worst game of the evening and my wife won convincingly, yet again, and she got another Yahtzee to boot, just to rub it in.
However, this time it was different. I did not feel miffed, or down, and I genuinely was pleased that my wife had one this one. Why the big difference? Well, I had experienced a win; one of four, but a win none-the-less. Sure, I would have liked to have won the last game, but it didn’t matter as I had got my head back in the right place.
This was just a game, but it made me see that, in some ways, it was not unlike life. I realised that there are people out there who have never experienced ‘a win’, not because of any fault of their own, but just because the dice have not fallen the right way for them yet. I realised that I needed to be more conscious of this; that just because I have experienced some wins in life and my mindset is OK, I cannot expect that others have the same outlook. If I felt down just because I lost the first two games of Yahtzee, how much more must some people feel down because they have not been able to get the job they want, or can’t earn enough to get a holiday with their family, or can’t hold a relationship together? Maybe all they need to have is ‘just one win’, so that when the dice don’t fall their way the next time they can at least have something to hold onto.
So what do I need to do about this? I could sympathise with them and say things like, “hang in there, I am sure a win is just around the corner”, or I could actually seek to input into their lives somehow, to help them get a win. For unlike a game of Yahtzee, where it is just down to the role of the dice, we do have a bit more control over what ‘we can do’ when responding to ‘their’ needs. At the very worst we can say to them, “I think you should hang onto the two sixes and not the two fours”, but at the very best we can walk a mile with them, helping them identify some opportunities and even help facilitate an outcome for them. This would not only bring me joy, but I’m sure would bring others joy also.
I have now been an academic staff member at USQ for some 12 years and have worked in Higher Education for some 23 years, so I suspect I can now reflect, to some degree, as to the virtues or otherwise of such a ‘privileged’ position. The notion that an academic is a person cloistered in a secure space, divorced from the real world, is not consistent with my experience. On the contrary, universities today need to be keenly aware of what it means to be relevant in society. With KPI’s, ROI’s and the emergence of Academic Standards closely aligned with Student outcomes, universities, or more particular academics within the universities, have very little room to be precious about what was seen as their ‘academic freedom’ (“I can do whatever I please as I have won the right to sit in the Academy and postulate”). The student has become the consumer and they now want value for their money, and so they should. A society that demands graduates with real-world skills can only get those skills from people who live in the real world. However, this should not be confused with the notion that real world skills are simply a series of tick boxes; “see I can now communicate”. The role of the academic has always been, and still needs to be, one of leading students to become leaders, in their own right, in their chosen fields, firstly at a skill level, but far more importantly in their ability to intellectualise and progress their profession.
I was recently presenting to 400 academic staff at another institution and was speaking on the concept of the Student Learning Journey and how institutions today need to ensure what they are offering, in terms of support and information, is fully aligned across the various and dispersed elements of the institution, to key interaction points in the life of the student. Particularly important is meeting these students at their time of real need; such as when they are struggling to enrol or are having a problem understanding what their lecturer is wanting them to do in their first ever assignment. Clearly this is not just something that happens by itself, and equally it is not something that is only handled by the administrative staff, it is the responsibility of the whole institution. For this to be the case the notion is that there is also then a ‘Staff Learning Journey’ that aligns itself with the life of the institution and meets them at their point of need; such as when they are struggling to understand why their students aren’t responding to their electronic communications, or understanding how they can engage their student in real-world activities. My experience would suggest that most academics want to do the right thing by their students, but do not have the right support mechanisms in place, or know who to ask at the right time. They sit in their offices engrossed in dealing with student issues every day, rarely meeting with their fellow staff members to discuss the ‘real’ issues around teaching. Is it pride, not wanting to appear dumb? Maybe. Or is it that they are just to jolly busy? In some cases (not all) ‘yes’. But it is not quite that simple.
Academics are usually expert in a field; nursing, engineering, maths, etc., but few have actually learned the art of teaching. It is supposed to have been something they just picked up along the way and some have been able to do so very successfully; some. However, unlike years gone-by where students (the privileged few) sat and absorbed the pearls of wisdom emanating from the academics mouth, today we are dealing with a whole different cohort of students. Today we are dealing with more than 20% of the population, as against the top 4-5% of yesteryear (only a generation ago).
The answer? No, I could not be so presumptuous, not so soon. Ask me again in 10 years. Having said that, if we consider the journey of the student and take an interest in the life of the student, we can begin to see that we have the ability to nurture a life, not just teach some knowledge. We plant a seed, water it, fertilise it (not feeding it shit, but wholesome food) and then ultimately enjoy its fruit.
The very real example of this was when I was in my preparatory year for art collage back in 1977. It was a specially designed year 12 I did between school and university (college), designed specifically to get you into Art College. Having come from a very regimented all boy’s school in Melbourne, where they were tailoring you to become a doctor or a lawyer (I did not fit that mould) to a school that took an interest in the person, I experienced for the first time a teacher who was interested in developing up the talents that lay deep within. The teachers name was Julian Rabbels, and he genuinely took an interest in all the students and where they were going to end up. It was only one year of study, but it changed the course of my life and set me on the right road. Not only did he instil in us (in just that one year) a direction for our chosen profession, but he also instilled in us a passion for learning and wanting to discover. He wanted us to surpass his level of knowledge and reach for new spheres. In a very real sense by him doing this he was in fact extending his own influence and knowledge vicariously. Was he conscious of that? I do not know. But for may years after I left that one year course I would revisit Julian’s class and tell them (and him) of my progress and encourage the next group of students in what they could achieve. That is my aim.
A memory that brings me great joy!
I studied photography in Melbourne in the late 1970’s and early 80’s under the tutelage of the late Athol Smith (1914-1990) and John Cato (1926-2011). At this time, and subsequently, I undertook extensive studied in the fine arts. It is from and through the ongoing study of these two disciplines that I now draw some of my inspiration. For example, the motivation for my current work has its genesis in the work of Australian Impressionist painters of the late 19th century, more particularly that of the plein-air style adopted by artists of the Heidelberg School. (see the example from Arthur Streeton, right) I then tie this in with the more current genre of the work of photographers like Ken Duncan.
Importantly in the case of Streeton, using the Australian landscape as as subject matter, but very much playing with the notion of light and colour rather than the the realistic representation for historic record. Similarly in my attempts, I am not so much concerned with the realistic representation of the subject matter, although originally a photograph, but more so (as in the example right) each pixel of my images is manipulated in photoshop to stylise the landscape; in essence using the pixels to paint with.