Sunday, 31 January 2010

Demanding performance versus ...

When applying for jobs, there is often the question of about what I am aiming to be in the future. What are my performance goals? There is always the assumption that I have some lofty goal related to promotion or more income. There seems to be difficulty with some organisations accepting that I just want to do the job well, to earn enough money to pay the bills, and to enjoy life and relationships.

My goals in life aren't about gaining status or expensive items. Rather, I am interested in ensuring that we have good family relationships and that none of the family is struggling needlessly. A job often enslaves and traps me when I would prefer to be out enjoying creation and all that God has given us.

So often the assumption is that I want to climb the ladder of status. In the research context, this means improve my research ranking. But, and this is a major but, the research that I am interested in doesn't rank highly in the ranking system. Does this mean that it isn't important?

I believe it is very important, if we want to help improve the learning that is happening in my subject area. At one point, I looked at a project that might have helped raise the profile of Computing Education research but what I saw was that this was taking me away from the research that helped foster improved learning into meaningless argument.

In some respects, I see similar things with the assessment practices. The focus can move off learning to being the judge of performance or doing what is going to be assessed. In fact, I see it increasingly shifting to being a judge of performance. I keep asking what is important? Is it really important for the learner to achieve certain performance goals or is it more important that they find and learn about what is really important to them in their life?

In teaching, I find it satisfying when I am able to help students learn what they are interested in and not just what the course demands. I feel satisfied when a student gains a deeper understand or seeks to explore a subject further because it interests them. I would prefer to spend time with an individual working through a problem that they are having difficulty with or that they want to explore further than marking yet another piece of work that the student has put together in the last minute because it was required for assessment.

Yes, I acknowledge there are things that we need to do to be able to live in this world. It takes effort to ensure that food is on the table. The difficulty is that life in our modern world is more about gaining status and abstract and often meaningless goals than it is about enjoying relationships and learning to live together.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Tolerance

In some respects, this is a continuing theme from the last couple of blog entries. I am becoming more focused on the principle that God's focus is on restorative justice and on giving rather than on destructive justice and judgement.

Barclay commenting on Luke 9:49-56 places emphasis on acknowledging and accepting that there are many different ways to God. C. S. Lewis in the Narnia series has a picture of this in “The Last Battle” (that is if my memory serves me correctly). There a believer in Tash enters the new world along with Aslan and his followers. Confused, the believer in Tash questions why he is there to be informed by Aslan that he has actually been living a life like a follower of Aslan rather than as a follower of Tash. Mistaken belief didn't lock out this person. But does this mean that we shouldn't be concerned about what others believe?

Barclay argues that the basis for “our tolerance must not be based on indifference but on love. We ought to be tolerant not because we could not care less; but because we look at the other person with eyes of love. When Abraham Lincoln was criticized for being too courteous to his enemies and reminded that it was his duty to destroy them, he gave the great answer, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?””

It is Abraham Lincoln's response that many of our world leaders should remember as they deal with conflicts around the globe. Rather than making enemies of those that they disagree with, they should be building bridges for dialogue. We should be seeking the best for all people in love.

As I work with students trying to assist them to learn about computer science and software development, I see people from a wide range of nations and beliefs. It is easy to become the judge based on interactions and the work that they submit but it is far more productive to enter into dialogue seeking to understand why they have answered the way that they have a endeavouring to discuss the differences in understanding. Building bridges brings hope although not always answers. Dialogue can also challenge our understanding and provide new opportunities for learning for both us and those that we endeavour to teach.

My research into programming has left me confident that certain ways of thinking are more productive and helpful than others. There are a range of different ways of thinking about the nature of a program (Thompson 2008). This influences the way that a person approaches programming. However, I am also confident that I can't just tell someone how to think partly because my knowledge is also partial. I must help them to see the alternatives and through that help them to gain insight into more productive ways of thinking. Further along the way, I also gain a better understanding of how to help others and have some of my own thinking challenged. Through endeavouring to build bridges in understanding, we grow together and gain more that what we would gain by standing face-to-face in conflict.

Reference

Barclay, W. (1975). The gospel of Luke (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Thompson, E. (2008). How do they understand? Practitioner perceptions of an object-oriented program. Unpublished Dissertation, Massey University, Palmerston North.

Upside down expectations

It is said that some churches preach a prosperity gospel. It goes along the lines of accept Christ and you will find wealth and prosperity. The message is all about what the individual can gain. From this individual gospel perspective, faith is all about the individual and their salvation or entry into heaven, whatever that might mean. They are offered 'salvation'. This message may be combined with a message of repentance and seeking God's forgiveness for sins.

It is easy to have a faith that has the wrong expectations. When Jesus came, the Jews had a certain expectation for the Messiah. The Messiah would be an all powerful conquering leader who would free Israel from her overlords. Barclay in commenting on Luke 9:18-22 says Jesus had “to take their ideas of God and of God's purposes and turn them upside down” (p 119). I would contend that this still needs to happen. Jesus came to develop personal relationships, to suffer, and to die. His plan and God's plan involves loving all of creation. He has to change our thinking from what we might think best for ourselves and those around us to what is best for all of creation. It isn't personal comfort that is important. It is healing the rifts between people, races, and groups. If our faith is based on personal benefit other than establishing a personal relationship with the living God, then we have missed the point. The real benefit is faith and belief is in our attitudes to others. It isn't what we can gain but what we have to give.

Reference

Barclay, W. (1975). The gospel of Luke (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Customer Service revisited

Back on 22 October 2009, I asked what happened to customer service? I would like to report that we have found some people who seem to understand what customer service means. The shop assistants at Vodafone's Bullring store sought a way to place my order despite their systems appearing to get in the way.

Unfortunately, all their good work has been undone by the back end support. I received an email telling me that if I was already a Vodafone customer to ring their customer support because my order has been cancelled for an invalid technical reason. I rang customer support who have confirmed that the reason was invalid but they claim they can't do anything about the order. I have to go back to the Bullring store to have the problem resolved.

Sorry Vodafone, the problem is yours. It is your systems that are at fault. I feel sorry for their store attendants who from my perspective as the customer got everything right only to be let down by the back end support systems and a failure to understand who the customer of this business really is.

However, it is not only me who has received poor customer service. It seems that despite having a well paid job and being brought to the UK to fill a shortage, our son is not able to pass credit checks in order to purchase a mobile phone plan. What is the real credit risk here? Letters of appointment and proof of address seem to mean nothing if you haven't lived in the UK for three months.

Our son's requirement isn't an essential service but these same restrictions seem to apply to essential services. Are new migrants that are brought to this country to help fill your positions of need to live in cardboard boxes while you check that they are credit worthy.

My heart cries in pain that our western society is so hung up on monetarism that it has forgotten the struggles and trials of the people. God's economy isn't about credit checks and making sure you are paid. God's economy is first and foremost about meeting people's real needs. Take the risk and give to ensure that all can live then watch God bless.

No, I am not saying that I live that way but I pray that God will continue to work in my heart that I may give of the talents and resources that he has given me to satisfy the real needs of others ahead of protecting my own future security.

My cry is that the UK will wake up to the issues of its people and all of creation and seek to utilise its resources to bring God's restorative justice to reign in society.

Friday, 1 January 2010

God as background noise

As we start this new year, I wish you all a Happy New Year. It is time to start as I intend to go on. Yes, I thought I would start the year with a reflective blog. It is becoming something of a regular activity and as I look at my list of possible topics, I see I am nowhere near exhausting the topics.

It is easy to talk about New Year resolutions and Marilyn reminded me this morning of how most are just good intentions. However, as I start this year, I want to focus on God and the role that we allow Him to play in our lives or more specifically whether we recognise his presence around us and with us.

At the beginning of December, I attended a symposium on variation theory and learning studies in Hong Kong. Ference Marton, one of the organisers, is in the process of writing a new book and in a draft chapter that we got to read, he uses an example of people who live close to a power station that generates a low but consistent sound. The residents have never lived without that sound so never recognise its presence. It isn't until the sound is removed that the residents become aware of its existence even though visitors recognise it and comment on it. For the residents, it is just a consistent background noise, the context in which they live.

As I reflected on this story, I recognised how easy it is to treat God like background noise. He is constantly there but we fail to recognise His presence. As long as everything is running smoothly and there are no problems, it is easy to ignore His constant hand guiding and protecting us. It isn't until something happens that introduces a difference in our experience that we become aware of His existence and presence. When these hiccups to our safe and secure life occurs then we can either turn and seek His guidance or we can turn our backs on Him and try to resolve our own problems.

2009 was a year of trial for us and our family. Our shift to the UK wasn't without problems and the economic environment didn't help the job hunting for ourselves and for others around us. There were also health and other struggles through the year. As I write this, things are looking more positive. But more significantly, I am seeing increased signs of faith in God coming from the struggles. For myself, there is a greater sense of peace and knowledge of God's presence surrounding us as we look to the uncertainties of 2010.

The shake up during 2008/2009 as I completed the PhD and looked at what to do next has forced us to rethink our values especially as the security blanket of permanent jobs and home ownership have been removed. Now both Marilyn and I are on short term contracts. Both are lower on the pay scale to what we are used to. It feels like we are starting to build our careers all over again. We could get angry and say that God has misled us but rather we see God's hand at work more so now than when we had those secure jobs and our home. In the uncertainty, He is getting more opportunity to shape our character and direct us to those things that He desires us to do.

Variation theory talks of discerning differences as the way to build conceptual change. The differences that have occurred over the last 12 months have forced us to look again at our relationship with each other and with God. We have uncovered new ideas and understandings. We have changed as people and in our relationship to the world around us.

As I think of how others might come to be aware of God in new ways, I recognise that it is difficult if there is nothing that challenges their perceptions so that they become aware of His constant presence. Trials and difficulties are often when this occurs but not always. In part this is because they seem like times when He has moved away from us even when in reality, He may have been carrying us.

When it comes to this New Year, I don't want to hear of your good intentions or New Year's resolutions. I want to know how you will relate to God and how you will make His presence more visible in your life rather than leaving Him as background noise which you acknowledge from time to time.