David Richardson

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  1. I'm making a posting about my presentation in Gothenburg yesterday (if I don't do it now, it might take quite a while before I have time again). Firstly, let me say how much I enjoyed meeting the E-HELP members and associates who made it to Gothenburg. I could only participate in a small part of the discussions, but they were interesting. I wish I could have been there longer. I was speaking without notes, so it may be that I miss one or two points … but you've got the film, so you can always fill out this account from that. My presentation allowed for on-going dialogue with the rest of you, so there were, inevitably, one or two points I'd intended to make, but didn't. I've included these here, marked with asterisks, so that you can see the difference between what I said and what I intended to say! ICT in Distance Education in Sweden I began by trying to give you a picture of the Sweden I work in. Sweden's a very large country by European terms - with a land area about the size of western Europe, but a population of just about 9 million. Most people live in small towns and villages, which are quite a way from each other (I mentioned that I drove 380 kms to get to the meeting, and passed about 2 manned petrol stations on the way - and one place where I could stop off and get some coffee on the way home. Most of the time I was driving down two-lane roads through thick forest.). Given the fact that the government's policy for many years has been to make higher education available to everyone, and that it's really important for the small towns to try to reduce the 'brain drain' to the cities, then using ICT in education is essential. The problem is that not many people have known how to do it! *The Swedish government has shovelled money at anyone who wanted to try to get ICT-based distance education off the ground, with very varying degrees of success. The process has followed a familiar pattern: you start by giving money to technicians and computer experts … but they don't know much about teaching; so they define the problem as the moving of bits of information into the heads of the learners ('giving them knowledge'); so they start off by writing their own learning management system; then they discover that it's really expensive and incredibly difficult; so they buy a commercial platform programme; then they spend all their funds trying to organise the content; but they find that they don't have any content; so they try to get some teachers to hand over their notes; which they put on the platform; and often they manage to run courses; which have an incredibly high drop-out rate; and finally they evaluate the whole process; and quite often just give up … several million euros later.* *However, there have also been plenty of success stories, where the common factor has been that teachers have been empowered by getting their hands on fairly simple tools and being given their heads.* The success stories have generally looked at the acronym ICT and realised that the technicians' (see above) mistake was to see it like this: IcT. In other words, it's all about information and technology. However, for a teacher it's all about: iCt - communication. Once you concentrate on create communication between learners, teachers and materials, you can come up with all sorts of creative solutions. However, you can almost never shrink-wrap them, and all of them depend on on-going inputs from fairly autonomous, independent-minded teachers, whose loyalty is first to the students' learning … and only later to the technology. This doesn't mean that these teachers don't need any kind of support - it's just that the support works best when it fits itself to the teachers, rather than tries to tell teachers how to teach. I mentioned the way the Swedish Agency for Flexible Learning (http://www.cfl.se/?sid=60) organises its IT support: they have an IT department which is responsible for keeping the networks running, and 'web warriors' who are technicians and programmers who are made available to teams of teachers who're putting on-line courses together. They have an intranet where courses are constructed and tested. When the courses are judged by the web warriors and teachers to be ready, the IT department gets to look at them, and then they're placed on the public server. *There also needs to be pedagogical development which is informed by knowledge about ICT. I mentioned the goat-cheese farmers in Jämtland in the north of Sweden who could latch into a network of similar farmers to be able to download a list of ingredients in German for their German customers. In 1997 I was running a course for study centres in Jämtland who were joined together by this Zonline system (http://www.zonline.se - except it's all in Swedish). Zonline is basically a First Class based system and I was trying to tell them of the virtues of the web. "It's a very simple way of making high-quality pictures available to the students," I said. "But why do you need pictures in teaching materials?" they said. "Aren't Word documents enough?" BTW Zonline now has a variant of its system for downloading to 3G phones - the next technological and pedagogical challenge.* My conclusion from all this was that course designers and teachers were suffering from the syndrome described in this Japanese saying: when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, we were letting the technical features of the systems we were using define our pedagogical goals, rather than concentrating on using that technology to achieve our goals. I concluded that I needed a common pedagogical denominator in order to make sense of the bewildering variety of technologies I had available, and the one we developed is something I call 'the cone of input'. As luck would have it, I found a description I wrote a while ago, so here it is: The cone of input … is a conceptual tool the team I work with developed a few years ago for teachers to try to make sense of the range of tools and possibilities they have available. The reason we did this in the first place was that we were drowning in information and technological toys, and no-one seemed to be able to give us the big picture from a pedagogical point of view. We started with a quote from "In Search of the Virtual Class" (Tiffin, J and Rajasingham, L, RKP, 1996): “For the moment, let us accept that the amount of bandwidth is a measure of the amount of information that can be transmitted at a given time by a channel … “The irony of the current situation is that the classroom is a broadband environment and can be used to transmit as much information as the senses can absorb. Yet we mainly use it for learning with words which require little bandwidth.” This gave us the idea that 'bandwidth' would be the unifying concept. If you start with maximum bandwidth, you've got a physical environment like a classroom or a lecture hall. Studio video conference uses a bit less bandwidth; the web even less; e-mail even less; and the cable that goes to the printer on which you print out your handouts least of all. Put these 'rings' of bandwidth together and you've got a cone - which is what the teacher or tutor has to put her inputs into. The aim, however, is to create a rich learning environment in which the learner creates a 'cylinder of learning' with bandwidth as wide as that available face-to-face. There's a financial aspect to things too - the more bandwidth you use, the more it costs (someone, anyway). There's no such thing as a 'free' lecture hall, or a 'free' journey to the face-to-face site for the students. Then there's a pedagogical side to things. Perhaps with many subjects people need the rich input of face-to-face before they can fill their own 'cylinder of learning'. Other subject areas thrive on the minimalist input of low-bandwidth environments like e-mail, since the distractions are fewer. In any event, the course designers are faced with a balancing act all the time in order to use the optimal amount of bandwidth at all points throughout the course. We've found this process so complex and stimulating that it feels a lot more like art than science … which fits in very well with the empirical way I work as a teacher! *Here's an example of the cone of input in practice. I have a colleague who teaches history in adult education in a area of natural beauty called Hälsingland. One lovely spring evening he was in the bus on the way home from a course meeting and took a blurred digital photo of a local beauty spot out of the window. When he got home, he posted this on his site with the question "Is this the soul of Hälsingland?" Within 24 hours everyone of the course had responded (with poems, stories and observations), and then they started responding to the responses, etc. In other words, a small piece of input in the cone of input created a very large amount of student learning.* You're free to take a look at the site I use (the link's both at the bottom of this posting and at the top of the page [Distance Courses]) … but bear in mind that the on-line courses I work with are all centred on communication, and you can't create a link to the network of contacts students have with each other and with me. In fact, you could say that the desire to 'see' any course I work on is a category mistake (a term from philosophy coined by Gilbert Ryle: a foreign visitor comes to Oxford and is shown round the colleges. "But where is the famous 'Oxford spirit'?" he asks. That's a category mistake: you can point to a college, but you can't point to the Oxford spirit.).
  2. Sorry it's taken me a while to respond - I haven't checked this forum for a couple of weeks. If you go to my portal page: http://www.humsam.hik.se/distans/index.htm and then click on Active Course Sites, you'll find a link to the Toolbox, where I've created links to one or two pages on some of my existing courses which could be of interest to you. I've done a fair bit of English for Technical Purposes, and I've got a great deal of background material on my hard disks. If you'd like some of it, just mail me and I'll send you some of it! My mail address is david.richardson@hik.se
  3. Firstly, I think that 'niche marketing' is more than just important - it's the way that the web is going in general. What is happening is that we're experiencing a return to traditional human values: we believe what we hear from people we see as being like us much more than what 'experts' say. The good thing about these home-produced web sites is that they can reflect much more closely something that real people find useful … so more and more real people find them valuable and visit them. One of my colleagues here has produced a portal site full of links which might be valuable to teachers of English in Sweden (http://www.spraklankportalen.se/). The interesting feature she added was to include a way for registered user (registration is free) to add links - and to write commentaries on the links which are there. In effect she's produced a system for adding to her site, and providing a measure of quality control, leaving her with the kind of monitoring function which John and the other moderators exercise on this site. It's a shame that Maria produced this site only in Swedish. However, 'läs mer' means 'read more' and is the link to click on to come to comments. The site started only about 6 months ago, so it's still being built up, but it looks as if it could develop into something really useful.
  4. … and I'd like to add that I live in the county of Kalmar in Sweden which experienced a sizeable swing to the Social Democrats when much of the rest of the country swung away from them! We've just topped the league for having excellent and responsive healthcare services (which are organised on a county basis here). Our local politicians now want to make the 90-day guarantee (of the maximum time it takes between going to the doctor and beginning specialist treatment, having been diagnosed) into a 45-day guarantee.
  5. The co-pays in the Swedish system are designed to discourage people from calling the doctor for minor ailments they can sort out themselves. There's a very good medical advice line you usually call in the first instance (which costs one local call unit), and they'll either refer you to treatment you can carry out yourself, to a non-prescription medicine from the chemist's, or to a medical centre where you can get qualified medical advice. I've never heard of a case where someone has stayed away from the doctor's because they can't afford the co-pay (i.e. people are all rich enough here to afford it).
  6. Just to add a little to my previous post. After you've paid the co-pay, you don't pay anything else at all. There was a case which got a lot of publicity here recently of a young man who had a chronic, life-threatening and very rare condition which required medicines and other treatment costing just over 1 million SEK per annum. The state continues to pick up the bill for that (which actually means that the costs are spread out fairly equally among all of us). No-one even suggested that he should be left to his own devices …
  7. Let me respond to John's original posting and say something about the situation in Sweden. But first let me extend my condolences to John's wife and John himself - I hope that you're both doing as well as can be expected … Last year I earned about 350,000 SEK and paid about 108,000 SEK in direct taxation. My employer paid slightly less than I did in various types of payroll tax (the Swedish economy is doing very well at the moment, by the way). We are subject to a co-pay of 150 SEK each time we visit a clinic (although people under the age of 18 pay nothing at all). That's about $25. There's a cap of 1800 SEK per annum on that co-pay, so anyone who has a chronic condition quickly gets up to the limit and then pays no more for the rest of the year. If we're referred to a specialist, we pay between 80 SEK and 250 SEK, depending on what kind of specialist it is. That co-pay also counts towards the annual limit. There's a similar 1800 SEK per annum limit on costs for medicines. The state-run Apotek (drugstore/chemists) has an obligation to substitute cheaper generic drugs for any brand-name drug a doctor might prescribe. There's also something called 'guaranteed care', which says that you have to start receiving treatment from a specialist (if the condition warrants it) within 90 days. If your local health authority fails to meet this guarantee, you can seek treatment somewhere else in the country, or the world, and your local health authority is obliged to meet the bill. The health care system is basically excellent, with modern hospitals and properly-trained staff, although the current Conservative government is trying to run it down. (We're electing a Conservative government about once every 15 years at the moment. They get one term to screw things up, and then we have to spend 10 years or so putting things right again.).
  8. We always sing the Internationale on the May Day march - and it amazes Swedes when they hear that there are English words to it too.
  9. I don't know if I mentioned this, but my university is offering the first 'regular' course in Sweden on Kamimo Island, our island on SL in the spring. The course is called Oral Production, and is worth 3 European Credits. It'll be held entirely on Kamimo. You can apply for the course by going to http://www.studera.nu. There's an 'English' link right at the top of the page, and you need to uncheck the box that says something like 'Courses for International Students' in order to be able to find the course. You can read more about Kamimo in general, and about some of the thoughts we've been having about preparing the course on our blog (http://kamimo-islands.blogspot.com/). I'm also going to be in Berlin on 30th November, presenting at On-Line Educa (http://www.online-educa.com/). I'm planning to use the Peer Gynt Rotunda on Kamimo to make the presentation, which means that visiting avatars will be able to attend there. I'll be talking about which kinds of activities I think fit better in an environment like SL and which work better on more conventional video conferencing equipment. If you'd like to be there, the SLURL for Kamimo is on our blog. I'm in Session DES51, from 11.45 to 13.30. I'm on last, so I'm expecting to be there at around 13.00 (CET). We're not sure if the German IT-infrastructure will hold out, so there's a Plan B, for just in case it doesn't. One extra trick will be an attempt to use Veodia via SL (http://www.veodia.com). You can (apparently) link live video to any prim in SL, so I'm going to try to turn the camera on the audience in Berlin and show the avatars what I can see in the room! If it works, this'll be a given for the Oral Production course. We've been running a pilot course called Social English for Doctoral Students this autumn too, with students from Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Italy, and teachers from both the north and south of Sweden, and Missouri. It worked like a dream! Just as Graham says, it's a very interesting feeling sitting around a camp fire on Kamimo, discussing a student with Luisa from Pisa and Mats, who's sitting about 800 kms away, broadcasting the discussion to a room full of people. We're writing the Social English course up right now (our Norwegian project leader is a very competent writer of academic papers - thank the lord!).
  10. I'm involved in a project which has just been granted around $50,000 by a Norwegian government fund to produce an educational environment in the virtual reality programme Second Life (http://secondlife.com/). The main partner is the University of Molde in western Norway, and the other two places involved are Kalmar and Central Missouri State University. The funds we've been granted are for 2007, and if we do something useful with them, we'll get at least as much again for 2008. Since this is a purely internal Norwegian affair (they've got oil money coming out of their ears!), the application process was very quick and painless. We managed to get an application together in about 48 hours, and the whole process, from application to decision took about 2 months. This meant that we haven't done a lot of the detailed work of deciding what we should do with this environment yet … which brings me on to you lot reading this! The first thing we have to do is to design an educational 3D environment in which our avatars and those of our students can interact with each other. We're going to pay an outfit in Nova Scotia $15,000 to do this for us … but what is it going to look like? Swedish, Norwegian and American is the answer … but what does that actually mean? Here are some thoughts I've just sent to my colleagues: "It got me thinking about the environments that I've seen in SL so far - they've all been sub-tropical, with palm trees and people wondering around in T-shirts. They've also tended to be very technological and fairly flat. Scandinavia for me, though, is hilly, forested … and cold! What about the Ice Hotel as an inspiration? (http://www.icehotel.com/). "Ecological" is another term which springs to mind. What about a sedum roof? (http://www.organicgardening.org.uk/factsheets/gg38.php)" We've had some fun ideas about what you're going to be able to do in the environment too … students and teachers can do all sorts of things you can't do in RL (the 'in' term for 'real life'), like fly. Before I carry on about those fantasies, do any of you readers have any suggestions you could make?
  11. We're opening Kamimo Island officially on 21st September, but the Social English for Doctoral Students course kicks off on 19th September (though we're probably going to do most of the first session on the Marratech desktop video-conference system). We've got two Italians, an Estonian, three Swedes, two Norwegians and a Chinese person living in Norway as students … about right for a pilot course. Kamimo Island is looking good - even though I say so myself! (Actually I haven't been involved in all the clever stuff, so I feel free to praise it …). It's got a very Scandinavian feel to it, with the kind of rocks we get up here, and some typical Scandinavian flowers. There's a fjord and a waterfall with a secret cave behind it. I really like the classroom with group tables which float up into the air (with the participants) when the group wants to talk privately (and float down again when it's time to go back to a plenary session). The island's voice-enabled and we were having a planning meeting in there on Wednesday with participants from Pisa (Italy), northern Sweden, southern Sweden and Norway. The audio was absolutely clear, and the difference between having to communicate by typing and being able to just talk to each other was incredible - it's a completely different experience altogether. I was so encouraged by the look and feel of the place that I've proposed a 'regular' university course in there in Spring 2008. It'll be a 3-credit course called Oral Production (that's 'Bologna' credits under the ECTS), which we'll advertise partly in the way that all Swedish university courses are advertised. In other words, it'll be a mainstream course that just happens to be run in Second Life. My bosses have it under consideration at the moment, but it looks fairly certain to run. (The main learning outcomes are going to involve being able to successfully discuss and describe academic and technical issues in English in a variety of forms and contexts). If we get the green light, we'll start in early February 2008. In theory, anyone from anywhere within the Bologna area should be able to apply for the course - the only hindrances are purely practical ones, such as the fact that our admissions system basically only works in Swedish! However, I'm looking at this course as a test case to try to eliminate some of the more illogical barriers to cooperation across Europe. We're only thinking of offering 24 places on the course at the moment, and some of them will almost certainly be nabbed by some people from Molde in Norway and Pisa in Italy. If you're interested, get in touch and we'll see if we can't drive a coach and horses through the various restrictive practices you find in university systems! Swedish university courses are non fee-paying, by the way, so it won't cost you anything, even if you live outside Sweden. You have to supply your own computer, though. As you can probably tell from the tone of this post, I'm pretty excited by this development. I've never been attracted by the idea of teaching environments which require heavy investment in equipment and software to work at all - or which require vast amounts of (EU) funding just to be run as pilots. Thanks to the largesse of Norgesuniversitet, we've got this environment for three years now (and it'll only cost the three of us main partners a total of about $2500/year to keep it after that), so it's nice to be able to contemplate using it. So … if you're interested in exploring it for real, get in touch. We're also working out a system whereby other universities can use the island on an organised basis.
  12. Interesting responses. I trained as a teacher of English in the UK and worked doing that for three years between 1977 and 1980. In other words, my direct experience of the teacher side of the classroom was from the days teaching was seen as a vocation, and we worked per year, rather than per hour. Since 1980, for nearly all of the time, I've been teaching English as a Foreign Language in various places and it saddens me a little to see the damage that's been done to 'my' subject by the demands of the national curriculum. Right now I'm teaching corpus-based (descriptive) grammar to foreigners, whilst UK pupils get prescriptive 'grammar-translation' type grammar thrust upon them. How you intellectually reconcile "underline the adjectives" with the fact that 'adjective' as a concept wasn't invented until long after Greek tutors were teaching Romans Greek is beyond me. It looks like the use of something we can call 'education' as a means of social control to me … My personal conviction is that I'd have been sacked in about 1985 for resisting the national curriculum, if I'd stayed in the UK.
  13. Jean Walker asked me for a description of the post-secondary education system in Sweden, so I thought I'd start a new topic where we might learn about several other countries too. The system in Sweden is basically fairly simple … but it gets quite complicated too! There's basically a three-stage education system here, with a few add-ons. When children are about 12-15 months old, nearly all of them start at a day nursery. These are nearly all run either by the local council or by cooperatives of parents, and have staff who'll have done a 2-3 year training course at a university-level institution. In my daughter's current day nursery, the staff refer to themselves as 'pedagoger' (teachers). Attendance at day nurseries is voluntary, though, and you have to pay a fee. This fee is currently capped, and we pay 1,260 SEK per month for full-time attendance (8.30 am - 4 pm). That's about $180 or £90 per month. The next stage is also an 'add-on', but is about to be made compulsory: förskola. This is a pre-primary class offered to 6 year-olds and soon 5 year-olds, in which the activities are little more organised towards things like reading and writing (although pupils aren't expected to be able to read and write before they begin the first compulsory stage of school: 'lågstadiet'). After that you get Classes 1 - 9, which are compulsory. You start Class 1 in the August of the year in which you are seven (so a child born in September will start at the age of 6) and finish Class 9 in the year you are 16. This stage is divided up into two parts: Classes 1-6 and Classes 7-9. It's common to progress from one school to another as you go from Class 6 to Class 7. At the moment, you don't start getting grades until Class 8, and you get final grades at the end of Class 9 (in the very last half-hour, usually!). These grades are set by the individual teachers, although there are national tests in Swedish, English and Maths, and eyebrows are raised if the teacher's own grades diverge from these national grades too much. The national tests have no legal status, though. There are plenty of teacher-administered tests at school, but no national examination system. On the strength of the grades you get in Class 9 you are admitted to (non-compulsory) post-secondary 'gymnasium'. Most pupils do a three-year programme at post-secondary level, starting in the year they're 16 and finishing in the year they're 19. Some technical programmes are four years long, though. In general, the entrance requirements follow the strength of demand, rather than academic merits. Thus the entry requirement for the International Social Studies programme my older daughter has just started (which is one of the toughest programmes in this town - mostly delivered in English, rather than Swedish) is much lower than for the Hairdressing programme, since there are far more people who want to follow a course which gives a vocational training in hairdressing. You basically need what would be called 'straight As' in other systems to be admitted. All 'gymnasium' programmes involve core subjects (such as English, Swedish and Maths), although the subjects themselves are studied at a number of levels (from A to D), according to the number of hours in total the pupils have studied. Thus everyone will do Maths at A level, but only people doing specialist science and engineering programmes will study Maths to D level. University entrance requirements specify which level a prospective student needs to have studied at, making it impossible to be admitted to a science degree course with insufficient Maths, for example. ------- Now on to organisation. A few years ago, Sweden introduced a 'friskola' system, which loosely translates as 'free schools'. This allows any organisation or group of people who can get their plan approved by the national Board of Education to start an independent school. You aren't allowed to ask parents to pay school fees - instead the local council is required to pay the school a sum of money equivalent to the sum it pays for each pupil in the local council school. I.e. these schools are independent of local authority control, but the local authority is still obliged to fund them. Nearly all the 'friskolor' are at 'gymnasium' (post-secondary) level, although there are several schools run by religious organisations (causing a lot of soul-searching when segregated Islamic schools are set up with money from Saudi Arabia …) and one or two non-sectarian secondary schools. Strangely enough, the friskolor are nearly always established in the more well-off parts of town, and tend to have a very low number of pupils with special needs, or language difficulties … In Kalmar, the situation is fairly typical. There are three or four friskolor at post-secondary level, but each one has a very particular profile (IT, HGV driving, etc). Profiles are very common even among council schools, though. You'll find 'gymnasium' schools dedicated to ice-hockey, handball, aviation and equestrianism run by local councils. Each of these must follow the national curriculum, though. In a local town, a major local electrical contractor started a post-secondary school which specialises in electrical contracting within its headquarters building. They have about 20 pupils are are extremely well-funded. The overwhelming majority of pupils go to the council schools, though. There are three very large ones in Kalmar, each with its own profile, but with lots of overlaps (Kalmar has 60,000 inhabitants, by the way). Stagnelius (the one my older daughter attends) is a more academic school; Jenny Nyström has a lot of 'aesthetic' subjects like Drama, Art and Photography; whilst Lars Kagg is the school for people wanting a vocational training. However, as I've said, each of these schools follows the core curriculum too. -------- At the end of the entire process, it's once again the individual teachers who decide on what grades the pupils are given. There are national tests again in Swedish, English and Maths which are intended to give guidance, but these have no legal status. Our new Conservative government have pledged to introduce grades at a much earlier stage … but my judgment is that they're just learning how difficult and expensive that is, so they've been a lot quieter about them in the last couple of months.
  14. Here's the English-language site of Skolverket (the national agency handling schools): http://www.skolverket.se/sb/d/190 Unfortunately most of the information you really need is only published in Swedish. We have a national curriculum document called Lpo 94 which is the 'law' for schools at the moment (Lpo means 'curriculum for publicly-run schools' and 94 is the year it was adopted in). This sets out the information in detail.
  15. Quite. There was a stand-up comic in the US in the 60's called Murray Roman who had a great routine called "You can't beat people up, *and* have them say 'I love you'!" It's a lesson which needs to be re-learned every decade, it seems.
  16. Quite. I keep hearing the punch line from the Aesop's fable: who's going to bell the cat? The problem is that it's much easier to wear a bracelet than to start trying to change society …
  17. Sorry to jump back - I've only just started reading this thread. You should read The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - it's about the Earth passing through a belt of poisonous gas which apparently eliminates from the Earth all life apart from that of the enlightened (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Poison_Belt). You can read the full text here: http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Arthur_Cona...he_Poison_Belt/ This was written in 1913 …
  18. Thanks for this tip too. I know of HUMLAB and Patrik, even though they're at the other end of the country (about Land's End to John O'Groats distance away). I used to participate a little in a discussion group called ITAS here, which was based at HUMLAB. Active Worlds was interesting … but a bit platform-specific. I'm also more interested in the methodology than the technology. Having worked with SL for a while, I can see its limitations, but I'm also convinced that SL, or something like it, will be an essential tool in the future. One of the reasons I'm a bit suspicious of hard-and-fast conclusions and theoretical frameworks for computer-based learning at the moment is that we haven't actually got to the end of the process of developing our toolbox of technologies. And as a new tool becomes available, it affects what happens with the older ones. On the Social English course we'll be using Marratech (desktop video conference) before each SL session, for example, and I'm certain we'll find that the interactions on Marratech will be radically different from sessions which don't involve SL.
  19. I noticed that Oliver Kamm, in his original article, neatly skimmed over the problem of the second bomb, on Nagasaki. If a case can be made for Hiroshima, it's very difficult to see what Nagasaki was apart from experimentation on live animals …
  20. Sounds interesting. My avatar's name is Davric Rinkitink (I was watching a lot of Aristocats at the time!). If we run into each other, perhaps I could show you some of the places I visit regularly (Virtual Roma is a favourite).
  21. Thanks for these links, Graham. We're connecting our islands into the voice network SL has in some places (we've been using the Skype earpieces so far), so we'll have full voice capability when we start. The islands we own are being built on frantically over the summer. The one Kalmar and Molde will be using most of all is going to be fairly basic (though our computing and design students will be let loose on them come the autumn term, and they've got some really nice ideas), but the Virtual Montmartre island which adjoins ours (and is part of the same project) is developing into a copy of Montmartre in about 1920. Bryan's students in Missouri are then going to fill it with events, exhibitions and features on the theme of the beginning of the European jazz age. The Social English course now has three Swedes, two Norwegians and a Chinese (from Norway), a probably two Estonians and two Italians. That's what I call an interesting mix! We kick off on 19th September, so I'll post again nearer the time.
  22. Me too - I think your scenario is more likely than mine, but I'm a bit of a born optimist. I've just marked a student essay about the Reagan Administration where she used Wikipedia and the Reagan Foundation as her only sources. The man was a saint, who single-handedly saved the world! She, like several others, was quite surprised to hear of Reagan's lack of a war record … you'd never guess from the number of pictures of him in uniform (it's just that he was acting in movies at the time!). The neo-cons are desperate about their image, so I expect a repeat of the Nixon Presidential Library story: 20 years of propagating lies, with a very belated sanitization. I'd love to see Bush and Blair at the Hague … but I don't think it's going to happen. Bush will probably live to a ripe old age, getting loopier and loopier (from a very loopy baseline!) - and I bet there'll be an attempt to 'rehabilitate' him in about 2020 (hopefully Larry King won't still be doing sycophantic interviews by then - maybe Michael Moore'll have taken his spot, and then we'll really have some fun!).
  23. You might be right, Peter, but even Caligula was somewhat interesting - and genuinely popular when he was very young. I've a feeling that comparing the Bush gang with Caligula doesn't do justice to their banality. I wonder, actually, if we aren't going to be able to discern a 'neo-liberal' (in European terms) or 'neo-conservative' (in US terms) movement which started with Goldwater's defeat, developed during Reagan's kitchen cabinet in California, and has met its denouement now. Let's just hope against hope that they'll have the same status in future that the Whigs have now. Still leaves us with the problem of unleashed global capitalism they're responsible for, though.
  24. Interesting analysis, Shanet. There's a discussion about Iraq going on in this thread at the moment too: http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=10526
  25. Craig, I understand the frustration you seem to be feeling. Here you (Americans) are, spending more on armaments than the rest of the world put together, able to defeat any army or armies in the world that play by the rules, and you can't even keep control of a couple of tinpot countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. If it's any consolation, I can only think of one situation in recent times where a conventional army has prevailed in a non-conventional war, and that was the British in Malaya in the 1950s. However, that's not a very useful example, since the civilian population eventually came to share the same values as the conventional army … and the conventional army stopped behaving conventionally (even special forces, targetted assassinations, etc are actually conventional ways occupying armies behave). There were also far more British troops in Malaya per head of the civilian population than the Americans have got in either Iraq or Afghanistan. None of these conditions obtain, or are likely to obtain, in the current wars. What the US armed forces seem to be superb at is logistics, conventional warfare and high-level bombing (notice that the low-level stuff was largely tasked to the Royal Air Force during the last Gulf War in 1991). What they're not so good at is the boots on the ground stuff, in situations where they depend on the goodwill (or at least the lack of active bad will) of the local population for any kind of success. I've worked with the technical services of the Swedish Army for about 10 years now, and spoken with lots of Swedish soldiers who've been on peace enforcement and peace keeping missions in a number of countries. Their overall experience of the Americans is a bunch of people with lots of equipment, but a lack of flexibility and basic physical fitness (which is why even units like the US Rangers can't keep up with Swedish conscripts on joint Arctic warfare exercises). It's a bit of an unfair comparison in a way, since all professional Swedish soldiers are officers - they only take the ranks of NCOs and privates temporarily whilst on overseas assignments. Two cases in point: there's a Swedish tracked vehicle called the SUSVEE in the US army (Pv206 in its Swedish version), used extensively by the Swedes, but occasionally by the Americans. A Swedish SUSVEE unit will have all the basic skills needed to keep the vehicle in operation on the battlefield, calling in the technical officers only when major workshop repairs have to be carried out. A US SUSVEE unit, on the other hand, has drivers who drive, mechanics who use wrenches, officers who give all the orders - you get the picture. Great organisation for conventional operations, but fairly useless in unconventional warfare. The other embarrassing example was when the US forces first deployed in Bosnia. It took them a week to build the kind of temporary bridge that is built in 3-6 hours by European forces. The demise of the Europeans is somewhat exaggerated, by the way. I don't know if you've been following recent events in the Congo, but an EU force managed to do a good job of fighting guerrillas in the jungle there last year and early this year. It's not surprising that the US is busy losing both wars it's fighting right now (don't believe the propaganda you're being fed). Take this account from Sunday's Observer: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/focus/story...2141934,00.html Now, sure, the 4-5,000 men of the Royal Anglian Regiment are doing a fine job in very difficult circumstances in Helmand. An average of 4,000 rounds per man per day is tough fighting by anyone's reckoning. Look what their commanders say, though: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story...2141901,00.html Do you really think that the US can keep its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for 40 years, being shot at all the time? You know what's going to happen, because the Soviets were there just a few years ago. Sooner or later, you'll be lucky to get your equipment out, the drug lords will take over temporarily and the Taleban will come back. They're playing the long game - it's their country, after all, and they've got nowhere else to go. Now, of course, if you asked the civilian population what they'd ideally like, if they had their druthers, it wouldn't be the Taleban. But if you ask them to choose between what they've got now and the Taleban … I'm afraid they'd probably choose the Taleban. I was in Angola in 1985 (teaching marine biologists … but that's another story), and received all the adulation ordinary Angolans felt for the Cubans (I'm short, had dark hair and a mustache at the time and I was working with a guy from Uruguay called Raul Pereira - they just wouldn't believe that I was a Brit, even after reading my passport upside down!). Everywhere we went, people would rush up to touch our hands, shouting 'Primo, Primo'. That's apparently Cuban military slang for buddy, and it's what the Angolans and Cubans called each other on the battlefield. The reason the Cubans were superstars for the Angolans was that they lived like them, fought alongside them and died with them. The Angolans hated the Soviets because they didn't do any of these things. The Angolan War was a military success for the MPLA (i.e. they ended up with no armed enemies, and in possession of the ground), but the kind of 'tough' action would have been totally useless. When I was there, these guys had been fighting an unconventional war against heavy odds (Portuguese colonialists and South Africans) for 25 years. The infrastructure was in ruins, so there wasn't anything you could usefully bomb from a great height. The 'tough' action from the outside had already been tried - but it was boots on the ground that ultimately made the difference between success and failure … which is why you're failing in Iraq and Afghanistan.