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Toward Personal Learning: Summer Book Club Post 5

I’m still at it! Reading Stephen Downes’ book Toward Personal Learning. This series of posts began as a ‘summer book club‘ and at this rate I might just finish before next summer! This segment covers pp. 428-487 because there was a lot in this section that I had comments on. Below you will find the nuggets that went ‘ping!’ in my mind and a few thoughts on each of them. Quotes from the book are in a different colour so you can easily distinguish my thoughts.

The first bit that really stood out to me was a line in the section summarising Howard Rheingold’s talk in Berlin in 2014. Howard spoke about how learning has changed over the years:

“It’s also more collaborative – this used to be called cheating. It’s also cooperative – I talk about co-learning, being responsible for each other’s learning.”

I like that collaboration used to be called ‘cheating’ – and he’s right! I remember being told do you own work! Of course you do need to understand the basics of whatever concept for yourself, but the application, the generation of going beyond- that feeds on ideas and we need each other for stimulus, perspective, and simply for the multiplied brainpower and experience that coming together brings. It’s obvious really. Two candles together makes a bigger fire.

Howard puts it well:

“It’s about the group being more than the sum of its parts.” p435

Then there is one sentence that merits just copying and pasting here:

“Learning content required a more flexible model, which was provided first by David Wiley, with the Open Content License, and then by Lawrence Lessig, with Creative Commons. Both of these licenses allowed for the free reuse and redistribution of the resource, but with conditions.” p.422

Read more

Goal: To Connect

Last week some students and I got together to record an initial hello about goals to a class in California. We are studying psychology of learning and teaching and how that relates to music learning and teaching.

On a practical note, we are interested in how people connect with one another, all the variable factors, and how we can do this across continents. A great way to learn is to actually do the thing for yourself… so …..

Below is a very short audio recording where everyone said a sentence about how they make or deal with goals. Anytime people meet, there is some kind of initial hello, and we thought that having a topic for discussion might just break the ice.

We’d love to connect! Feel free to leave a comment or record a message of your own. Your message might be a statement or it might be a question.

We would love to hear how you approach goals. The audio was specifically aimed at a class of students on California, but anyone is invited to respond, whether you are old, young, musician, plumber, mum, dad, or any walk of life!

  • Did you have any goals for today?
  • Do you write down your goals?
  • Did you set your own goals or are they something imposed on you, that you just have to do for school or work?

The ball is in your court.

Featured image CC BY-NC-ND by Geckoam

Female Empowerment Society Woman of the Year Speech

Last night I had the privilege of presenting the Woman of the Year award at my university, and I was asked to preface with a short speech. The evening was magically thought out, planned, and presented by Chichester’s Female Empowerment Society and every detail celebrated and respected women in all our forms and our supporters.


Here’s what I said

(audio embedded, text below):

It’s a pleasure to be here with you all to celebrate women in all our forms: those in the main stream and those on someone’s margins; on a pedestal or deprived of recognition. We are all equal in our humanity whoever we are, what ever we look like, whatever our own unique abilities, beliefs or life-ways. We are here to celebrate our shared humanity and contributions as women at this, Chichester’s Woman of the Year Awards evening, organised and led by the Female Empowerment Society.

Across the globe women are phenomenal role models, and this has been a year of awakenings. Read more

Reaching out: Networking and optimising our signal

In our connected world, networking to create connections is an invaluable asset, but it is not necessarily something easy or instantaneous. When people move to a new city it can take years to feel ‘settled’. How can we create a community of practice, a community or learners, a community of professionals, a community of friends? There is not really a text book and even if was, I somehow doubt it would be accurate. Too many real people and real situations involved.

Once upon a time, connection was taught through how to greet people face to face and how to write letters. Introductory salutation, carefully presented and formed cursive handwriting, return address, date (with the commas in the correct place: Tuesday, 13 March, 2018) and signed with the appropriate version of sincerely, yours truly, faithfully. There is a magic with the internet and the instantaneous aspect of communication now, but somehow there is also confusion. Do I write as if you can see inside my thoughts? What filter do I use? How do I approach someone I don’t know? Somehow I cannot shake the generational titles I use to address the neighbours where I grew up. I could never address Mrs. Fletcher as Jane, and still have a hard time calling my school teachers other than by their formal Mr./Mrs. names. The transition from Instagram videos to inquiring about a professional connection is blurred and the specifics of how and when are not taught. This is mainly because the changes are happening so very fast that by the time someone writes about it, we’ve moved on yet again.

Last week I listened to a podcast by Kris Shaffer and Jesse Stommel on teaching without social media. In true podcast form, they have a discussion and raise great points and ask a lot of questions. I took away two very important points:

  • It would be wonderful to be able to safely amplify the voices of students.
  • It is difficult to build a road for connection, and easier to use existing paths.

A resounding yes to both of those points. There are various social media platforms out there which each have different constraints and objectives. Often the objective is monetisation, and connection serves us and the companies who run the sites, however there are platforms that are not monetised.

So amplification? Do we shout into the wind, or how should we connect? Here’s an analogy:

Rain will make you wet, but even though lots of rain comes down, it does not necessarily fill a bucket, because it is not directed.

The total volume of a big splash is worth less than a cup of successfully collected water.


Understanding how to focus in order to reach your intended audience is a skill and will take some research into the others in your intended network.

The blanket approach is not necessarily going to hit the mark in the way that a personal letter once would have done. Connection and amplification, when successful can alter the course of, well of a product, a career, a life. Today I am going to ask my students these questions with regard to their writing:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Who would you like to have in your audience?
  • How can you access those people?


I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t have a definitive how-to answer to give them. I do know that connection is invaluable, it takes reaching out and being willing to take the first step, and who knows… I’ll leave you with a song from days gone by – Even if it’s not your type of music, listen to the chorus. The message is still valid as ever.

Featured image by Mechanical Curator’s Cuttings CC-BY

Knowledge is recognising: Toward personal learning

This post covers notes from 80 pages (347-427) in Stephen Downs’ book Toward Personal Learning. I started reading the book and posting about it last summer; it was initially intended as a ‘Summer Book Club‘. I’m still chugging along, and after a few busy months I’ve carved time to do some reading and thinking. I particularly enjoyed reading these pages and what follows are the themes and quotations that stood out to me and a few short thoughts about them. In these pages Downes talks about learning models, understanding of some very core concepts, and really starts to dive into the why and what behind personal learning. (This post is a 6 min read; the book will take you longer – but it’s worth it!)

Let me begin with what should be an axiom painted graffiti style on the side of one of many learning institutions: ‘learning is not remembering’ p.348

Throughout the next 80 pages, Downes takes us on a detailed tour of different aspects of learning, understanding, and perspective. Read more

Cello Weekend 2018: April 14-15, 2018

Registration is open

for this year’s Cello Weekend!

Email me for details…

Ukes from the UK: Musiquality in California 2018

A week ago I was in Los Angeles with a small group of my students and one of my colleagues. We lived together, travelled together, worked together, performed, taught, improvised, and laughed. It is a final-year credit bearing class at the University of Chichester that started as a student initiative four years ago. The first group’s story became a book (you can download it for free via the link) and they named the initiative Musiquality, bringing quality and connection through music and education. Each year since the students have created an educational outreach project that touches the lives of children and adults, and inevitably changes their own lives as well.

This year the students involved in the trip raised over £1000 performing at gigs and busking and I raised money too, giving a benefit concert and through leading my community orchestra. Together we raised just under $2000 and bought 60 ukuleles to use in workshops and then donate to the establishments we visited. Read more

Recital Video Feb 2018

My recent performance was live-streamed and an be viewed here. It was a benefit recital to help support a trip to America with my students. (you can read about that here) The programme is below.

Question your answers. BHM

This is Black History Month and I want to do something. I’m not Black and so I don’t share the first-hand experience of Black people. I think it hit me why everyone (certainly in America) needs to celebrate this month and to learn. It’s because this isn’t about ancient history, this is about something that people carry and deal with every day.

I didn’t know I grew up in a white world. I didn’t know I grew up in a man’s world. Heck, three years ago when someone pointed out that I asked permission to speak in a meeting with men (and that was only permission to introduce myself), I couldn’t believe I did that. We often cannot see the air we breathe. Sometimes we feel the wind, but only when it pushes against our faces.

Text books don’t teach you what it’s like to live in a world that challenges some but not others. I first learned how much I didn’t know from a great preacher, the late Rev. Hycel B. Taylor, in Evanston, Illinois. I was drawn there by the music and the preaching. There was freedom in that music and such rejoicing and a sense of purpose and hope. Those years taught me just how much I didn’t know, and that I couldn’t know in the same way as living someone else’s life. For me I go back to analogies – I know what it’s like to be a foreigner in a new country, and I can tell you, but you can’t really know unless you live it.

It is hard to see when you’re in it. Let me give a couple of examples.

1. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and am quite out of touch with it really. A year ago my family were all on a long-haul flight and we decided to watch films on the plane… It was December and I put on Home Alone, remembering it was supposed to be funny. I was absolutely shocked at how white, nam-centric, derogatory, dysfunctional, stereotypical… the list could go on. My son kept asking why is the dad talking like that? Why is the brother so mean? Why does that girl whine like that? Thank God it was very foreign to him. How was this normal and thought of as a good film? Somehow I remember the film coming out and being popular and great – the bias, the prejudice, the definition of roles and people – it is all around us and we don’t know it.

2. It isn’t always like that. My son came home one day talking about his friend and I said which one is he? The one with curly hair was how he identified this boy. It took several days and finally being pointed out for me to figure out which of the 30 in his class he meant. This boy did have curly hair, but also had dark skin. My son could see his skin, that was obvious, just like my son is super pale, but it wasn’t the defining feature of their friendship.

Let me give another example that doesn’t have to do with skin colour –

3. As a person I am many things, friend, mother, lover, teacher, and a part of me is American. I grew up there. The day after the Brexit vote happened, someone said to me – why don’t you go home! My reply was, but I’m British. On that day, they couldn’t see beyond the one part of me that was foriegn. It is when people define others by only one aspect, and decide that they are THAT, whatever that is, that’s when it all goes wrong.

Racism does exist. We can learn from the wonderful children who play and see each other with all the components parts. They are allowed to be who they are. Black History isn’t ancient history, and the day when people can cherish and celebrate each part of their identity is yet to come. There has to be a willingness to see the air we breather and to want to change, because a lot of it is polluted. You can see examples of resistance to changing what is obvious in all aspects of life from mass-produced goods that exploit workers across the globe to the impact of our convenience lives on the climate.

Someone recently shared this advert and later suggested that if people wanted to do something for Black History Month, maybe they should go learn something, especially if it is not their history. The 3 min video made me think, well a lot, but particularly brought to mind the times I have realised that I didn’t see what was around me. I want my children and their friends to grow up in a world where they see. Yes that means change.

(warning: there is strong language in it. DO watch it, it is only a few swear words)

Watching this made me think of my own wake up calls. Bear with me for one more analogy (I’m a very visual person). When I watched this I saw the image of a big tapestry being woven, so big it was automated by a giant machine- I couldn’t see the machine but I could hear it, and I was aware that I, myself, was holding onto a thread – like a rope – and could just catch a glimpse fo the giant needle as it dove in and out of the threads. Weaving with great speed. Holding on. I don’t want to be a part of that tapestry.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to let go and stop perpetuating the machine’s weave. I would really prefer to author my own life’s tapestry, and you yours. We may have to pick up some thread from the floor, and I’ll sit here and untangle a bit while you weave…

It may be a convoluted image, but it’s my effort to step out of the fishbowl.

Thank you to Sherri Spelic for her kind and constructive advice on this post.

Featured image CC BY by Kay Kim

Practice: Walking Through Daisies or ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’?

There is something romantic about playing a musical instrument, but practice? The emotion, getting caught up in the moment, it looks so graceful and can touch people’s lives – but that’s the finished product, what happens at the moment of performance. What about getting there? Is it all that rosey? Do people wake up and pull back the curtains to the sun streaming in and think – Oh yes! I get to practise for 4-6 hours today! La la la! and then twirl their fluffy skirts as they dance to the music room, humming and skipping with the music already singing in their minds. (featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Rachel Patterson)

Well… there are moments of bliss in any discipline when the learning moves from being an unfamiliar skill to being a known competence. The thing is that even when this happens, it isn’t over. In music it is not like creating a typed script that you can print out and look at. Live performance involves our bodies, which are changing, growing, and decaying every day and without upkeep and use, even after achieving something, it fades.

Practising is one of those ‘how’ questions that is sometimes not so explicitly taught. It involves so many different aspects of the self: musical mind, analytical mind, physical coordination (and that’s very specific to each instrument), and the motivation – to listen, to persevere, to assess, to pursue goals. It can be exhausting. With experience and the different hurdles life has thrown at me, I have learned to practice differently and hopefully better.

How much?

I used to while away the days at university just  practising all day and that was wonderful. There were certain factors in that environment that made it work there, that are not necessarily present outside the uni environment. I was a part of a wonderful cello studio and had THE most inspiring and motivating teacher that ever walked (still walks, well actually he runs- no time for walking) the planet. We also supported one another. There was competition, but each person was allowed and encouraged to become whatever they were going to be.

One of the things time taught me is that when the factors (in life, in music, in you) change, so does practising. Learning music is not something that can be distilled onto a recipe card. After university, for example, when living in a new place where I practised alone for the entire day, the motivation, recognition of progress, and general stamina that was easy to maintain in a community became tricky to maintain on my own.

Commitments and other constraints on my time taught me to organise, learning to focus, in order to accomplish in one hour what I might have done in three. Listening, analysis, careful repetition as opposed to less focused playing or even indulging in …just going on to that nice bit one more time.

Goals. Attention.

  • I now set the clock when I practise and do bursts of concentrated practise for 25 minutes at a time with dedicated goals and then


It is important to remember we are more than machines. Our minds, muscles, and whole selves need recharging from time to time.

Without remembering how delicate we are, practising certainly can be a bear hunt. …Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go through it…. (Image CC BY-NC by Phil Rogers) Perseverance is important. -Musicians should not play through pain or for hours on end for the sake of it. That is unhealthy. There are however some aspects of physical learning that do take time to learn in the muscles and the brain. Yes, there might well be moments of discomfort while you get your thumb callous into shape (I’ve had a blister or two over the years), but nothing should ever ‘hurt’ from normal playing. The nightmare of the bear is quickly dissolved when planned small goals are integrated into a healthy schedule.

If you have a teacher to motivate you – that is great! If you don’t, that is more of a challenge. Being accountable is a useful tool.

  • You can be accountable to yourself, or to someone else who is not a musician, but is a friend.
  • Sometimes telling someone what your aims are, or making a chart can help.
  • Recording practise allows you to look back and see the progress – step-by-step is good.
  • Bite-sized is manageable, whereas demanding all at once is just not realistic.

I’m off to practice, as my concert is Sunday! I’ve been recording myself to listen and learn, and the other day, while rehearsing with my accompanist, I caught an oops. I forgot the thing that keeps my cello spike from slipping, and well… you can hear my surprise at what happened for yourself. 🙂

It’s not all daisies, but practising does pay off. Keep at it. (I’m talking to you as well as to me!)