Sophie Mei in the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent

Shout out to all those TV owners resident in the UK:

On Monday night at 9pm on ITV1, Sophie Mei, daughter of a good friend of mine here in Sheffield, will be one of 8 performers in the first live semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent.

She’s made it through to the final 40 – out of 100,000 hopefuls.

Selection for the final is based on audience votes …so you know what to do!

We Did It! Graduation Ceremony (No.1)

Our teachers will not be able to come to our graduation ceremony at the end of July as they will be in Japan. Not wanting to miss out on such an important occasion, they decided that in our last ever lesson with them, they put on a special Japanese graduation ceremony for us.

This act of kindness really sums up just how caring these teachers are.

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We are the Champions! Out of over 45 people who started this course 4 years ago, we are the 16 that made it to the end. WE ROCK! (Check out my teeth-grin. I’m not sure what I was thinking…)

It was lovely. We sang, we gave mini-speeches, we received graduation certificates. We received words of advice for our future lives. There was laughter, and tears.

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Receiving my graduation certificate

What made it even more memorable was a special guest …live via streaming webcam from Japan- TANAKA SENSEI! Tanaka sensei was much loved by all of us in our first two years, but had to return to Japan a couple of years ago. He’d not used Skype before, but we managed to get through just at the start of class. It was so exciting, such a great surprise!

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Skyping with Tanaka Sensei

Seeing him, and his wife (who also taught us for a time) was a real treat. I think our teachers were just as excited to have the opportunity to see and speak with him, having not seen him since last year.

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Our teachers having enormous fun talking with their ex-colleague Tanaka sensei, much missed by both students and staff

There’s more photos of our ceremony on Facebook.

We have one more class left on this course, tomorrow afternoon. Then that’s it. Just the exam.

I can’t quite get my head round the idea that we’ve finished, and that we’re all going our separate ways. I’ve not really thought about it. Until now. I’m not so sad about leaving the teachers, because I know that I’ll continue to keep in touch with them, and see them when they come to Japan or I visit Sheffield. I’ll probably spend much of my summer in Sheffield in any case, so it really is a while until that goodbye.

But with my classmates, it’s different. The chances are that I won’t see some of them again, and that really upsets me; I can’t help but shed a few tears thinking about that. They’ve been such a huge support over the past few years. Whilst I don’t often socialise with them, they mean an awful lot to me. It’s been so difficult at times, but together we got there.

In our little graduation speeches, quite a few of us mentioned the importance of our friendships. Another recurring theme was that of persevering, of battling on through the tough times. By doing so, you can conquer the most difficult of challenges.

The photo above of all (but one) of us carries with it enormous meaning, and is one that I shall really treasure.

We’ve really done something incredible here. Well done us.

SeeChange Residential Event: Day 2

It’s been a long day today. I was going to get up early, but when the alarm went off at 6am I thought “stuff it”, took the battery out and went back to sleep.

The program started at 9am, with a plenary analysing the current situation. It was such a long time ago I can’t even remember what we did… It was about an hour later that things got started for us, with our team of 8 retiring to our Project Room, where we set about attempting to fill in the Theory of Change (TOC).

What is Theory of Change and why should I care?

A Theory of Change is an innovative tool to design and evaluate social change initiatives. By creating a blueprint of the building blocks required to achieve a social change initiative’s long-term goal, such as improving a neighborhood’s literacy levels or academic achievement, a Theory of Change offers a clear roadmap to achieve your results identifying the preconditions, pathways and interventions necessary for an initiative’s success.

I was vaguely aware of TOCs (see pdf example here) through my work at CILASS, but had never taken part in producing one.

It was a useful tool, providing us with a framework within which we could freely discuss various aspects of our project. We may go off down a rathole for a bit, but knowing that we could then return to the TOC removed the fear of becoming lost in the myriad of ideas that were floating around.

With our team being made up of staff from central support services, academics, and students (the other student having come all the way from Macedonia to join us) the discussion was incredibly rich. As I sat there listening to and partaking in our journey through the vast plain of ideas, I couldn’t help but think, “This is how BIg Decisions are made!”.

It was fascinating to observe the ebb and flow of energy in the room. Some people were quiet, but would suddenly come out with something that was vitally important. You knew you should listen to them because they’d clearly thought about it quite a bit. Others would be full of ideas, and you could sense their passion. It was also interesting when someone said something that someone else could not agree with. The issue would be dropped, but you’d know it was there, under the table, and sure enough half-an-hour later it would re-emerge, along with a resolution.

Thinking on the day’s events now, I’m struck by how much of this goes on in our everyday lives. We are negotiating and bouncing ideas around in this manner on a daily basis; it’s just diluted by life and we don’t realise what complex interactions we are actually engaging in. I think it’s amazing.

…It’s also pretty exhausting when done in a such a concentrated manner – I’m shattered! I won’t be going to bed until after 1am though as from midnight I have my weekly coaching call. Let’s hope this dodgy Internet connection doesn’t give up half way through. For some bizarre reason all the traffic from this hotel goes via Germany. Clearly, the hotel management is unaware that the UK too does actually have ISPs.

Anyhow, it’s back to Sheffield tomorrow lunchtime for my final writing class, and then some serious revision. Thursday will be pretty full on with a lecture in the morning followed by a training in Adobe Dreamweaver for the CILASS Ambassador taking over my job, then our Japanese graduation ceremony! Our Japanese language tutors are unable to attend our real graduation in July, and thus we are using our final class for a special recreation of a Japanese ceremony. Isn’t that a great idea? They are so sweet. Thursday night I’m taking part in some event – looking after guests or something, I have no idea what it is really – then on Friday it’s Japan Day where I’ll be taking photos of people in Kimono all day. That’s also the day of our last ever class. Gulp.

At the weekend my japanese language teacher from Bristol uni and a classmate are coming to visit, so I think I’ll have to save breathing for Monday.

Anyway, must be off.

Tarra xxx

Team management profile – my report

A couple of weeks prior to coming on this ‘Change event’ I, and all other participants, were sent a (60 question) questionnaire to fill in order that a “Team Management Profile” could be drawn up. A TMP is essentially a 25 page report on you, showing your preferred roles within a team, detailing your strengths and weaknesses, providing areas for self-assessment (improvement), and giving pointers for others that wish to interact with you effectively.

I was pretty cynical when answering the questions, but having received my report I’m stunned. It is incredibly accurate – almost scarily so. I’m an explorer / promoter. I like challenges, constantly seek new projects, have a high energy level and am outgoing.

It goes on to talk about how,

“whilst you enjoy other people’s views,”it is likely that you will have clear ideals, standards and convictions which guide your decision-making. You rely on your ‘sixth sense’ to tell you what is right.”

“Your gift for expression is particularly forceful when you are proposing a line of action based on your personal values. Indeed, some may say you don’t always support your ideas and beliefs with sufficient facts and hard evidence.”

I think that latter point is demonstrated time and time again here, in the Mumble, when I blog about something that I feel passionate about, even when I lack any evidence to back up the argument behind my feelings. I’ve been aware of that for some time now, and I think it’s a ‘lack of time’ for carrying out sufficient research that has come to make me hesitate to mumble as much as I may have done beforehand about immediate issues, out of concern to not be talking complete crap.

There’s another warning for me a little later on in the report.

“You probably feel you involve people a lot in the decision-making process because you talk to them a great deal. You may wish to check up to see if they really do feel involved, in the sense that they can influence you as opposed to their being influenced by you. The more experienced you are, the better you will be able to handle this important balance.”

I tell you, I feel like the author of this report has been stalking me. I recognise that danger in the way I interact with people, and although it is something I do try to counter by asking for sincere opinions, I know that that I find it difficult to not put across my feelings that are often founded on passion and core beliefs.

“You value harmony and co-operation, but can be a strong opponent if crossed” – I think the university’s parking services could vouch for that!

What makes everyone laugh is looking at the Norm data – where you are compared to global norms.

Out of a sample of 151,616 people:

– 91% are more introverted than me
– 75% are more practical than me (I am more creative, apparently)
– 86% are more analytical than me (I’m belief’s orientated – a look at any of my story-tale essays will back that up!)
– 84% are more flexible than me (rubbish!)

I would take issue with that final one. It must have been the wording of the questions that skewed the answer!

Whilst it is of course by no means foolproof, this TMP does seem to pick up on core behaviours and beliefs. I’d recommend anyone who has the opportunity to do it, to do it.

SeeChange Residential Event: Day 1

It’s been a fascinating day today.

Following that early morning jog, I slowly got my stuff together and headed over to the Computing Centre, where I was to met a couple of university ‘colleagues’ for the 50-minute drive down here, the Derbyshire Hotel, from where I’m now staying for a couple of nights (all expenses paid. Thank you Sheffield!).

This three day residential event is the product of the university’s investment in change. The idea was spawned at a national “change” event attended by a couple of senior members of staff, who then thought “Wow! What a great idea! Let’s have our own ‘Change’ process at Sheffield …and let’s call it SeeChange!” The call then went out for project proposals, one of which was drawn up by Patrice of Learning and Teaching Support, and Mark of CiCS/CILASS fame.

The goal of our project is to formulate a strategy that will see students utilising Web 2.0 tools to positively impact upon their learning process. This might include tools such as Facebook, RSS feeds & newsreaders, Flickr, YouTube and social bookmarking. It’s not going to be easy. The use of Facebook by university staff is the topic of some debate and has cropped up several in CILASS debates; the current consensus seems to be something along the lines of ‘stay away’.

What is key to our project is that it is student driven. If the university was to ‘hijack’ these popular services, the response would most likely be students choosing to go elsewhere. It’s a difficult situation: A university driven initiative that cannot be university driven!

I’ll describe some of the tools we’ve been given to aid us in our change process tomorrow.

I feel very fortunate to be involved in what really is an exciting project. And it’s not just the project itself, it’s the way it’s being launched. The four teams that are here (making up a total of about 30 people) were selected following a competitive tendering process – thus we already feel quite special, it’s like winning a holiday (although the hotel’s not all that nice, and the Internet access deal is the biggest rip-off in the history of the galaxy. Having said that, I love staying in hotels and am very grateful for what we have been provided with. I’ll be going for a Sauna when I wake up tomorrow…). The reason it’s a three day residential held outside of Sheffield is, according to one of the organisers, to stop people nipping back to the office at lunchtime – we have to be fully focused. And I think it does help the creative process.

I’m also very appreciative to be able to partake in the training sessions that are being provided as a part of the package, the kind of things you’d pay good money to take part in privately. I’ll talk more tomorrow about the Team Management Profile, a ‘test’ that leads to a personalised 25-page report on your contribution to a team. They are scarily accurate and offer invaluable insights into one’s own character.

It’s fascinating attending this event in the role of ‘student’, surrounded by staff. Whilst I may be 30 years old, I often feel more like I’m a teenager, and am prone to elevate staff above myself in the university environment. But seeing them work together here, it strikes me just how much they resemble my classmates and I as we carry out some group project. This leads me to think on how difficult I find it to take on the mantle of ‘adult’, and I wonder if this is a consequence of being labelled as a ‘student’. How will my sense of identity change when I begin work?

I digress.

I’d better get to bed really, it’s late. We have a full schedule tomorrow. Looking forward to it.