Sunday, 23 May 2010

Why did we come this far?

We have just passed eleven months since we packed up everything and moved to the United Kingdom. Since the teaching year is also drawing to a close, it seems to be a good time for reflection. Not much has gone as we had planned on this journey but that doesn't mean everything has gone wrong. There are positives and negatives in this journey.

Why did we come this far? The primary focus was to spend more time with our daughter and her family. That has certainly happened. The second reason was to find meaningful work that allowed me to continue what I had started over the last few years both with teaching and research. There has also been some progress here.

But and the are big buts, next weekend, our daughter and her family move to the US. This means an end to the regular family gatherings that have occurred since our son arrived in December. In some respects this is sad because of the growing relationships that have been developing. However, that is were our son-in-law's work is taking them so off they go.

On the work front, there is still long term uncertainty. My current contract at the University of Birmingham ends on 20 June but they have indicated a willingness to extend it for twelve months. That takes some of the pressure off financially but not in terms of making research progress. I have to meet with the head of school and discuss my interests.

The housing is also uncertain. We continue to rent when we would prefer to purchase but where should we purchase when we don't know how long we will remain in this area? We are thinking that we may purchase regardless of the uncertainty simply to give us a better base to work from and there are other reasons now to stay in Birmingham.

What has become clearer is the focus for my research and work. Some of this has been reflected in recent blogs. From a research perspective, the use of variation theory to plan opportunities for learning is now a major focus. This applies to my teaching of introductory programming and agile practices, and to a training system for cycling commissaires. This builds on the work that I did for my PhD thesis.

I am also looking at how to apply variation theory to foster more fundamental rethinking of assumptions and philosophies in society. This comes from my commitment to the good news of Jesus and of bring form God's kingdom in shalom. The world wide financial crisis and the recent election here in the UK, have helped push this forward again in my thinking but possibly of even greater influence is my reading on anabaptist spirituality and my attendance at Workshop. My current reading (McLaren 2007) sums it up in the books title, “everything must change.” If everything must change then what lays the foundation for the new structures? How do you foster the type of thinking required to usher in the new understanding of these issues?

Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Yet that seems to be what our politicians and economists want to do. Somehow we have to help change the underlying assumptions and frameworks used in western society. Someone needs to exploring the alternatives and the variations in thinking that will bring the fundamental change. These need to be presented in ways that stimulate grass roots change. Here I believe variation theory and possibly serious games can make a difference. There is much work to be done in this domain to understand what works and how to make a game of this nature that inspires people to play it and to allow it to challenge their thinking.

This isn't about brain washing. It is about helping people to look at alternatives from all perspectives and to understand the issues that need to be addressed and the alternate systems that may be put in place. The goal is to challenge underlying assumptions without alienating the learner.

What I do now with programming or commissaire training is simply laying a foundation for the greater challenge. Who wants to join me on this journey?


McLaren, B. D. (2007). everything must change: When the world's biggest problems and Jesus' good news collide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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