Monday, 31 December 2007

A new year, a new hope

The road of life can only reveal itself as it is travelled; each turn in the road reveals a surprise. Man's future is hidden

To some extent, this quote summarises yesterday’s blog. We are travelling a journey whose destination is to some degree unsure.

Many would have made new year’s resolutions. I don’t bother. If I am not already on a journey then making a resolution isn’t going to get me started on the journey. Journey’s involve action and not inaction. As Lao Tsu has said “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” So the question that I should be asking for today is what is the steps that I will take to move along on my journey.

Paul in II Corinthians 5:1-10 talks of looking forward to the time when he will be free of his earthly body and be taking on his heavenly body. As I read that and Barclay’s commentary on it, I thought that isn’t what inspires me to do what I do. A lot of what I have done has been to complete tasks that had some priority at the time. They weren’t things that I saw as significant or fulfilling some great destiny. In many instances, they are things that I could do at the time.

If I have any passion that drives me forward right now, it is to be able to apply that which I have discovered through my research. I have no desire to enter into a research cycle simply for the pleasure of achieving a publication record. It is a little like not finding any enthusiasm to repeat the installation and set-up of the same operating system on another machine for another customer. There comes a point where there is no learning and little being achieved. My whole life has been about moving forward and facing new challenges. It isn’t quite what Paul Conrad says when he says "I look beyond where others have been to see where I would go" but I am certainly looking beyond where I have been and beyond what I have already learnt from others to see where I might go.

In reflecting on this theme, I would like to argue that in my teaching, I am not interested in teaching just what is already known. I want to have a learning environment that is about exploring possibilities. Seneca said “Homines dum docent discunt” which translated means “Even while they teach, men learn.” I would hope that this is portrayed in my teaching.

In terms of my research, I want to be able to apply the theory and to test it. I see possibilities in the theories that I am working with and I want to explore some of those possibilities. Not just within the realms of computing. The principles of using variations to build a space of learning and of exploring variations in understanding to build reconciliation is a theme that I would like to pursue. Yet I am conscious that the more I learn, the more I realise there is to learn.

Stephen Covey 5th habit is “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” It seems to me that if we are to help people learn then we need to understand where they are at in their understanding of what is to be taught and then to open up the possibilities from that point. We see so many conflicts in our world because there is no desire to understand the perspectives of others, to learn from them, and to help them see other possibilities. How blind we are if we think that our culture or our beliefs are it and others must conform. Together, we need to seek to understand and to address issues that separate us.

No, I am not hoping for some eternal bliss serving in a new body. I am seeking challenge for now and the hope of developing even deeper understandings.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt


Covey, S. R. (1990). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Future and uncertainty

In completing this morning’s quite time and reflection, I was challenged by William Barclay’s commentary on II Corinthians 4: 16-18. He said that Paul looked toward a growing future glory while this world’s physical body was beginning to fade and weaken. The key point is that Paul had a vision of the future that provided him with sustenance for the task at hand. Despite this world’s struggles, there was a confidence that he was following a path planned for him and that there would be reward in the future.

I don’t want to claim that I am some great minster like Paul charting a clear path toward future glory. I don’t have that confidence in a call but what I do have is that there is a path forward into the future. The only certainty that I have right now is that I have a PhD to complete writing. After that, well we will wait and see.

But this doesn’t mean that we are without hope. We can look back over the journey to this point and realise just how things have worked out for good. There have been other down times when our plans looked like coming to nothing and then new doors opened. Let me relate a few that seem important now.

I originally went to university to do mechanical engineering but in part because it wasn’t really my desire and the papers never inspired me, I failed to pass the intermediate year. After feeling like my world had collapsed around me, I discovered that I had passed enough maths papers (maths was one of my strong subjects at high school) to take second year computing papers in the newly formed Computer Science Department at Canterbury University. This led to a renewed focus and grades that allowed me to return and do my M.Sc. and to a career in the computing industry.

Then in 1990, we made a decision to resign from a computer sales and support company with the belief that we would find contract work on our return from a month travelling in Japan and attending a friend’s wedding. On our return, we discovered that the computer industry had hit a slump. The old mainframe systems were in decline and the emphasis was on the use of the smaller micro-computers. Employment agencies told me that I had the wrong skill set and that I couldn’t be employed developing software for these new machines. This was despite having brought our own micro-computers and running a Christian bulletin board on the old FidoNet dialup networking technology. A six month period of being unemployed led to a switch to teaching and through the Christian Ministries Support Services Trust to helping Rev. Harold Turner to set up his computer. Harold introduced me to the writings of Michael Polanyi and his theories of personal knowledge.

This path has led us to the point where we are now at. That is working on a PhD in Education with a focus on a theory of learning that recognises that each of us has a different level of awareness or understanding of what we are learning. This isn’t to do with IQ or in built ability. It is more about the journeys that we have each taken and the variations in life that we have experienced. My focus in this work is in relation to teaching computer programming with specific emphasis on object-oriented programming. However, the principles of variation theory or at least my understanding of those principles could be applied to any field.

Now, as I write this, I am aware that I don’t have future employment organised although I obviously have my thesis writing to keep me busy for a while, involvement in a multi-national, multi-institutional research project on novice programmers, and the possibility of helping write a course for Joensuu University. The question that I keep getting asked is what happens next? What will I do next? Not surprisingly, I am not sure but I do have a confidence that the next door will open and we will move on along a path that builds again on what has gone before. It may or may not involve the teaching of programming although that is still my desire. It may or may not involve my other passions of photography and cycling.

The thing is that I have confidence in the passage from Jeremiah 29:11 that says ““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” They are not necessarily plans for financial prosperity or security but they will be plans that will utilise the skills and knowledge that we have to “enable” and “encourage” others on their journey through life (see my page on teaching).

Kiwi-ET’s reflections

This blog is for me to place some of my reflective thinking thoughts online and hopefully to get some comment or feedback. I look forward to some interesting exchanges.