Thursday, February 25, 2016

Vin Garbutt in Adelaide (18/2/16)

Vin Garbutt is one of that wonderful breed of British folk singers who effortlessly combine comedy and music. They have you laughing away at their stories between songs and then melt your heart with delicious melodies and the joys and sorrows of the people they sing about.

For over 40 years Vin has been travelling the world mesmerising audiences with an extraordinary voice, an endless swag of wonderful songs, and an infectious warmth and love for humanity. In what could well be his last Australian tour he seemed anxious to give thanks to all those who have enabled his extended career.

The bulk of his songs have always featured stories about the little guy – the people who have worked hard or who life has treated harshly and who have no voice of their own. He has a knack for uncovering such stories, mostly from his native UK, and crafting songs around them. Like the miner who became a seamstress when he lost his job in the mines (Silver and Gold); the former musician from Iran who became a teacher (Teacher From Persia), the retired steel worker who took to growing vegetables in his tiny allotment (Man of the Earth). Stories like this have been a driving force behind his success. The purpose of Vin Garbutt’s version of folk music is to bring these stories to light. And to entertain of course.

And he does it such a joyous way that there’s nothing gloomy about it. Life can be tough but there’s always a funny story around the next bend. For Vin Garbutt life’s a wonderful and melancholy thing.

His quirky on stage demeanour is cheeky and endearing, and his care for his audiences and the gratitude for the life he leads is abundant.


“All the very best” he says every time he raises his glass to take a drink. Right back at you Vin. You’re a treasure. 

(Also published over on The Clothesline)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Penny Arcade - The Longing Lasts Longer (Feb 14th, 2016)

“Turns contemporary stand-up on its head” – yep. I’ve never seen or experienced anything quite like this. The promo continues: “you will never be the same.” Big call. Not quite true, but The Longing Lasts Longer made my brain work overtime. “Thinking is hard people” Penny Arcade said as she implored us to stay with her while she expounded on her unique take of the universe. You will likely be confronted with phrases you’ve never heard, and ideas you’ve never thought about. This is performance art. Intellectual comedy. And it’s been a long time coming.
Initially using New York City, her home of 50 years, as a metaphor for all Western society she tells us how it’s changed. How it has become gentrified and commodified. She tracks through the decades from the 60s onwards with reference to the friendship and work she’s done with famous friends, and then devotes a lot of time explaining how anyone born post 1980 was born into the fog of consumerism. It would be hard for anyone under 35 not to feel targeted, but Penny Arcade is not blaming then. She blames their parents.
Essentially this is a 75 minute monologue on how one intelligent, articulate and entertaining person who dares to take risks, sees the world.  It’s all done against a soundtrack of instrumental segments of very familiar tunes from “four decades of pop culture”. Occasionally lyrics are left in so Penny can inject her own commentary into the lyrics as she does with a couple of songs from Van Morrison and it feels like she was rapping with him – to great effect.

How much you enjoy this show is going to depend very much on whether you are prepared to think, really think, and whether or not you agree with her view of the world. I agreed with most of what she was saying – it was revelatory and refreshing – so I loved it.  Cherish individuality and authenticity. Never lose your sense of adventure, and above all, love yourself. If you’re listening you may end up loving Ms Penny Arcade.

(Also published on The Clothesline)

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Did virtual learning ever take off?

Today over on Facebook a former TAFE colleague, Kate Wise, wrote:
"Thinking of our virtual learning Michael. Did it ever take off? Missed those wonderful sessions with the rest of the world.
Did virtual learning ever take off?"
 It certainly did. Virtual learning can mean different things but Kate is referring to those international events hosted by the Australian vocational education and training (VET) sector where scores of people, and sometimes hundreds, joined live virtual classroom (webinar) sessions from across the world to discuss educational issues. They were enormously popular and most everyone who joined those sessions would testify to their effectiveness. The model worked brilliantly for professional development.
I always found it frustrating that the same model never really worked for classroom delivery in the VET sector. It got some traction in higher education, but even there the predominant model turned out to be the one way non-collaborative lecture style webinar offered by tools like Echo 360.
It seems that there were too many hurdles and ideological leaps for the average teacher to teach their classes this way. What’s interesting is that the corporate word adopted this model with gusto and today virtual meetings for companies with a distributed workforce is commonplace.
Virtual learning is also used as a synonym for online learning. Online learning is everywhere these days, but the model that has been widely adopted is essentially the set and forget model that offers little real interaction and almost no real time virtual sessions. Many people who were employed as e- or online learning specialists in professional development (ie people like me) have been discarded and deemed unnecessary. The prevailing model is still static content plus quizzes. It was decided that nothing more was necessary.
So people like myself who were encouraging a richer form of elearning that emphasised collaborative approaches with a synchronous real time component are left bemused that we spent so much of our professional lives promoting a model we knew was powerful and effective but in the end was deemed superfluous. It still sits uneasily with me. It feels sometimes as if I wasted my time; that my belief in this richer model was misguided and na├»ve. But I’m left with the memory, like Kate, that some remarkable and deep learning occurred in those virtual sessions sponsored by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. But we failed to in our quest to have that model become part of standard delivery.