Thursday, 15 October 2009

The move so far

We have now been in England almost four months. We had been away from New Zealand for five months in 2007 but this time, we know that there is no plan to return. What is more, there is no home base in New Zealand to return to. This is a one way ticket.

Finding work that would allow us to set up a home base took three months. I did have a two week contract back in August but the costs of doing the contract didn't leave much left to actually establish ourselves. The economic climate hasn't helped as well although there is clearly a need for some of my skills in the market here. However, employers are being fussy and not wanting to spend money on people who may not deliver. The selection process can drag out with no certainty of being employed or of the position being filled.

This is our third week of establishing a home base and we are beginning to realise just how much we have let go. Appliances (fridge and vacuum cleaner) and furniture items (sofa, dining suite, desks, bookcases) are all things that we are having to purchase. What do you rank in order of importance when you are starting from scratch?

In such a situation, it is easy to question the sanity of the move that has taken you to the other side of the world. This move isn't the same as a move across town or to another town in the same country. When you move house in the same town, you may have to pack some things into boxes but there are a lot of things that simply travel in the drawers or cabinets that they were already in. Our move has seen everything packed away, drawers and cabinets sold and many things having lost their storage homes. Now we are re-establishing the security that was lost but are we really going to regain it?

Things will never be the same as they were in New Zealand before we left. A return wouldn't re-establish any of those things lost either. When there looked like no work on the horizon we considered returning, but would things be any better? We would still need to find work, a home, furniture, etc. The New Zealand market place is smaller and it isn't where we believe God was calling us to be at this time.

Will the situation be different in eight months time when my current work contract comes to an end? I don't think so. By then we may have shed more of the excess baggage, but the dreams and visions that we had before our departure from New Zealand would remain unfulfilled. Retreating or going back is not an option. As always in life, we need to focus on the dream and what we believe we really need to be doing. When that happens, we can continue to move forward believing that we are on the path to achieving that dream.

My current work allows me to teach and to practice some of what I have learnt from completing my PhD in Computer Science Education. However, the bigger challenge is to continue that research and its application to make a difference in the delivery of computing education and to see where the techniques learnt may be applied in other fields. My PhD research looked at the variations of practitioners' awareness of object-oriented programming. It reinforced what I believed about the importance of our perceptions in what we do. The research also uncovered a possible way of helping change perceptions by looking at the variations that open up a space of learning.

In another project, we (myself and others from other institutions around the world) have been exploring how we can use data coming from our assessment practices to better understand the way our students understand or are learning programming. In that work, we have used the SOLO taxonomy to analyse student work and to see the correlations between reading, tracing, and writing of code. That work, like my PhD research extension, is ongoing.

I see a strong connection between these two themes. The BRACELet work is helping reveal variations in answers to what appear to be simple questions. These variations in answers help us to see the differences in the way that students have integrated even simple ideas. I am now asking the question as to whether we can use these variations in solutions to open up a space of learning for our students? I have in the past used variations of solutions to help students see how different programming constructs can be used to achieve the same thing. I will continue to do that. But on this journey, I want to use variations to extend the understanding of the students and to stretch them to see things in a new way.

In my current position, I don't have responsibility for the course but I can plan some lectures and tutorial sessions. It is in these sessions that I will endeavour to utilise the techniques that I have learnt. However, I will not be getting the research data that I desire. There is more work to do before I can be in that position. Some of that work is ensuring that I publish some of my current findings and that I am getting the message out there to those for whom this work is relevant. That has to be more focus and I must avoid the distractions related to our living circumstances. Retaining focus when the world around us has changed can prove difficult but it is something that we have to do if we want to achieve the vision or dreams that we have set ourselves.

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