conference PhD research

SAAHE conference, 2010

I’m leaving on Wednesday to attend the 3rd SAAHE conference at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (link to programme). I’ll be presenting the results of a pilot study within our department to try and establish students’ access to computers and the internet, their experience with online tools and services, the learning strategies they employ as part of their studies, and their feelings about the teaching practices within the department.

I’ll post the presentation when it’s done.

conference education

Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa conference

heltasa welcome

I just got home from the HELTASA conference (my first) at the University of Johannesburg.  I’ve enjoyed the last 4 days, and think the conference organisers did a great job of making the programme interesting and engaging.  The keynote speakers were all very different, and each brought an interesting dimension to the event.

Here’s a few thoughts from the past few days:

Positivesheltasa poster

  • Everyone I met was incredibly friendly and really went out of their way to make us feel very welcome
  • The organisers tried hard to make the conference memorable by doing things differently
  • The presentations were generally diverse, although a little too focused on academic development and foundation programmes (for me anyway)
  • The cultural events were great
  • It was the first time that I was able to spend a few days in Johannesburg, and it’s really changed my perceptions of the people and the place…for the better
  • The campus was beautiful


  • No wireless access at either the conference venue or the residences
  • There’s still no-one recording video and audio of all the presenters and making it available for download
  • No printing facilities for presenters (like me) who needed to make last minute adjustments to their work
  • The cost for the residence accommodation was a bit high (although it did include breakfast)
  • Attempts to “enforce” socialising didn’t always go down well

heltasa buildingsAll in all, it was a good experience, I got some good feedback from my presentation, and came away with a lot of ideas for changing my practice.  Here are my notes from the speaker presentations, my abstract, and my presentation.


TEDx Johanessburg (session 1) – Iain Thomas

The first session at TEDx Johannesburg began with Iain Thomas, the author of ambiguous micro stories at I wrote this for you. Here’s the site tagline, which is great:
“I need you to understand something. I wrote this for you. I wrote this for you and only you. Everyone else who reads it, doesn’t get it. They may think they get it, but they don’t. This is the sign you’ve been looking for. You were meant to read these words.” Apparently there is a whole ecosystem of micro-story writers, this is the first I’ve heard of it.  I love the idea.

“We are a generation that consumes media in smaller and smaller chunks.”  I think of Twitter and the effect it has on my own concentration / focus / reflection?  It’s difficult to identify relevant data from an endless stream, focus on it, extract meaningful information and make use of that.  Should I slow down?  How?  Why?  Can I afford to?

Iain creates very short stories by leaving out the small details (e.g. age, gender, etc.) and having the reader fill in the gaps.  “There’s no story I can tell you that’s more powerful than the one you tell yourself”.

“We are not the unique snowflakes we are told we are, we are all of us the same.”  I love this sentence.  It makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger, but at the same time I think that each of us is unique.  But the aggregation of the whole “flattens” us out and makes the sum of the parts seem more uniform.  I like the idea of simplicity (the group) through complexity (the individual).

“This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time” (from Fight club).  Inspiring quote to motivate one to get on with it.

“I don’t care how many fish there are in the sea, I don’t want fish, I want you.”  I came across a variation of this a few years ago (I forget where)…I don’t care how many fish there are in the sea, if I’m a mackerel and you’re a herring, it won’t help either of us.

Iain Thomas at TEDx Johannesburg

Iain got me thinking about stories and the important role of stories in our lives.  We all learned through stories when we were younger, and then for some reason, most of us stop telling them.  Maybe it has something to do with the creativity that’s “educated” out of us (Sir Ken Robinson).  I remember growing up fascinated with fables, myths and science fiction, yet most of what I read now is either academic or non-fiction.   I just finished reading Randy Pausch’sThe last lecture“, based on his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon, where he also talks about the importance of stories in our lives.

I like the idea of using stories as vehicles that we can use to carry concepts and principles.  Kind of like sneaking the idea in there, or learning without realising that you’re learning.  I often tell my students that their patient documentation can be thought of as a story…the story of this patient and their condition/injury.  Just like a story has a logical sequence and structure (beginning, middle and end), so too should an assessment have structure.  What are the logical patterns we can use to best convey the story of this patient and our role as physiotherapists in that story?

For the past few months I’ve been trying to get my head around the idea of complexity through simplicity, and this concept of ambiguous micro-stories seems to resonate with that idea.  It’s something that I worked hard on for my doctoral proposal, although I based it on a variation of one of Einstein’s quotes that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”.  For me, Iain’s stories fall into this category of creating stories that can be incredibly complex, but only through incredible simplification.


TEDx Johannesburg is over, so what now?

OK, so TEDx Johannesburg is over, now what? On the flight home I found myself thinking: “OK, that was great and I feel inspired. So what? What do I need to do to make the whole thing worthwhile? Because if I went and saw ordinary people doing extraordinary things and I do nothing as a result, what was the point?”

So now I get to go over my notes and try to make sense of all the cool things I heard and experienced. I’m going to try and think a little bit more deeply about what each of the presentations that moved me actually meant in terms of who I am and what I’m trying to do with my life. I’ll post my notes from each presentation, together with my thoughts on it. Bear in mind that the collection of posts that results is really not for anything other than a way for me to reflect on what happened, and to try and figure out how to move forward with that.  If it happens to be interesting or something more for anyone else who was (or wasn’t) there, then that’s great.

I’m going to push it out by individual presentation over the next week or so, so that it’s more manageable for me to work with, and which also splits the content into discrete chunks that are easier to read. If you presented and don’t see your work here, please don’t be hurt. Not everyone can be all things to all people, and I think the idea that each of us found every presentation to be a life changing experience isn’t really realistic. And besides, you can take solace in the thought that I’m just a small-time blogger, and that you at least got to present at TEDx 🙂  For me at least, the whole was definitely greater than the sum of the parts.


TEDx Johannesburg

I’ve been a longtime fan of the TED conferences and found out last night about the TEDx conference being held in Johannesburg in a few weeks time.  The theme is “Uplifting communities“, which ties in nicely with the project proposal I submitted to FAIMER last month (see previous post).  So I decided to apply as a speaker for the conference, using the same ideas on innovation in education using emerging technologies.

You can see my speaker profile here.