Santa never sleeps

My three-hour ragù joined the risotto base at 5 pm, sat cooling while I made today’s dinner (pork and apple stew). Once the little ones were abed, I set up a super supplì production line, trying to recapture the memory of our years in Rome.


Can’t wait to hear the reactions tomorrow, at our four-team, twelve-tapas Xmas dinner.

I’m entering my supplì in the “Best Italian starter with rice” category

Fatal conflict: Teacher 2.0 and Student 1.0


Issue: Incompatible integration of module Teacher 2.0 with multiple versions of Student 1.x

Type: Bug

Priority: Major


Since September I’ve been working with first-year nursing students on a series of language tasks to improve their professional knowledge of English. I used our online platform as an interactive learning space to present new material in the form of texts, videos and audio files, and to practise the target language in a range of interactive activities, including discussion forums, collaborative glossaries and group wikis. Each week, I had four one-hour sessions with four groups of 25 students in order to clarify issues, highlight key learning points and give individual feedback and coaching.

All well and good.

When I reviewed the online analytics, I was often impressed by the amount of activity, especially during times that are typically non-learning moments, that is, after 10 pm and during the weekends. The final language products were generally satisfactory — students showed they had mastered new language and could use it in a realistic setting (presentations, brochures, guides).

However, there was some discontent about having to come to class for the one-hour coaching session. Very few students wanted to come after 3 pm. Their primary concern was to get home earlier. This is a local issue because most students still live at home, and many have to travel over 90 minutes to get to university. This combination means that students are overly concerned with being at home, and university is literally second place; hence the desire to leave for home as soon as possible.

Flipped classroom infographicAs a result of the unpopularity of the “late” afternoon classes from 3 – 5 pm, I accepted a student proposal to have two one-hour plenary sessions from 1 – 3 pm, which would take the form of a traditional lecture, followed by two one-hour coaching sessions, where students would work on the language tasks, following the idea of flipping the classroom (see infographic left).

To make the lecture a little more dynamic, I displayed a tweetstream with a custom hashtag for the session. We started with a short pop quiz to review what they had learned previously. I tweeted on their progress — “Which is the hardest question?”, “Who will get the highest result??” — and watched my own tweets cycle round … in the two hours only one student tweeted, and that was only the hashtag, no text!

I asked how many students actually used twitter — fewer than a third raised a hand. Maybe they don’t associate learning with tweeting?

I wish I had taken a picture of the lecture: one student had her head on the table, another was texting under the table, and three other groups had formed chat circles. Everyone laughed when I pointed this out. At the end of the session, I also highlighted how little interaction there had been: I had spoken directly to maybe ten students, and most of the time it was a short question and answer. How much English had they used in the hour? Almost nothing.

After the lecture I had the first coaching session. Three of the fifty students turned up. One had to resolve an administrative issue due to missing classes last year, and then left immediately, so that she could make the train(!). The other two were pleased to show they had already started work on their language task, but instead of looking at the preparation material — step-by-step building blocks — they had gone straight to the end product. The mindset was still: “What do we have to do to pass the assessment?” Not “How can I learn new language and use it in an authentic situation?”

Empty classroomFor the second coaching session at 4 pm, I was totally alone with Fred, the anatomical dummy (see right).

Does this mean that everyone has just gone home early? Maybe they studied the background reading on the train? Yet according to the online reports, almost half of the students have not even visited the online course this week.

So what’s the problem? On one side we have an educational approach that promotes flexibility in learning time and place; learner-centred activities; authentic materials and realistic outputs; promotion of collaborative projects; and interactive learning tools.

I have the sinking feeling that many students would actually just prefer the old-school approach of a teacher-centred lesson, verb gap-filling exercises, memorizing vocab lists and mock tests.

Just so long as they can get a C grade and be home before 4 pm.




New oxymoron: Legitimate rape

The outrage following congressman Todd Atkins’ comments about “legitimate rape” was racked up again when he corrected himself (sic):

I was talking about forcible rape. I used the wrong word.

For those latecomers, the controversy began with an interview in which Atkins’ compounded his oxymoronic thinking with the purely moronic:


During the interview for KTVI-TV on Sunday, Mr Akin was asked about his no-exceptions view on abortion, a highly charged issue in the US, and on whether he would like abortion to be banned even if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

He replied: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that is really rare.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

(Source: BBC News, Video courtesy FOX 2 KTVI)

Note that Atkins sits on the House Committee on Science, the one that believes in magical ladyparts and leprechauns.

Atkins’ clarification today is not intended to be a correction in meaning — it’s just replacing one offensive oxymoron with another, possibly worse –, rather it is a crude attempt to reattach himself to Romney leadership that had tried, half-heartedly, to distance itself from his statements. “Forcible rape” was the term used in a bill, co-sponsored by Atkins and (wait for it, Romney VP nominee) Paul Ryan, from last year that in name attempted to block taxpayers funding abortions, but in fact tried to redefine rape by excluding cases where the victim might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs … or be mentally handicapped.

How does one even begin to respond to this?

Perhaps satire is the only way:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape Victim Abortion Funding
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Bareback ringriding

We were woken by the sound of horse hooves early this morning, as ring riders from the surrounding villages brought their horses to town for the second Folkloric Day of the year: the Regional Ringriding Championship.

Competitors ride bareback on huge draft horses at full gallop, while attempting to spear a tiny ring suspended above the sand track. There are 30 rounds, with the size of the ring decreasing progressively, down to only 2 cm diameter at the end of the day.


Trending fashion for Fall 2012: Lederhosen!

When we bought our current house three years ago, we inherited the mail order subscriptions of the previous owners. And try as we might to stop the monthly flow of clothes catalogues, we are still regularly inundated with bizarre fashion magazines.

None, however, reached the heights of the latest arrival.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you THE fashion statement of Fall 2012:

Lederhosen are back!

And when you’ve finished laughing, check out the prices — these guys are serious! The lederhosen alone cost 250 euros!

And for the ladies … I’m sorry to say that I’ve already thrown out the issue with the Bavarian hunting smock with felt cap and falcon feathers, but this is still pretty … amaaaazing:

Ladies' fashion Fall 2012

Snoods are back!