Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Many small decisions to be made in the virtual birth unit

One of the things that keeps me on my toes in the SLENZ birthing unit project is the many, many small decisions that need to be made about things from what images to have on the wall to how the signs should look.

The picture above is of the birthing room - check out the superb birthing pool in the corner - I am with the builder of the unit, Aaron Griffths (left).

This is me (Petal Stransky) stuck up the birthing rope. It is normally used by women to hang on to during a contraction, and supports them in a squat.

This me with Aastra (Deborah Davis - my partner in crime) sitting on the bed in the birthing room.

Birthing in a birthing centre

Here is Jessica's account of birthing in a birth centre - a great story that underpins the design of the virtual birth centre in Second Life.


Do you have a story about birth centres?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Telling a story

During the latter half of the week I attended the Aged Care Queensland conference at the Gold Coast. The final session of the three day conference was a talk by a young Australian, Matt McFadyen. Matt is only 27 and has already managed to fit in several life-changing adventures to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Apart from the inspirational aspects of his story, I was impressed by Matt's actual presentation style. Matt beautifully illustrated five very important considerations for giving a presentation, talk or telling a story. None of these things are rocket science, but they are worth reminding yourself about them from time to time.

Giving a presentation
  • I know I have said it before, but the way to engage people is NOT to use a series of boring PowerPoint slides with nothing but text. If you wish to use visual aids use images, video or other means of illustrating what you want to say.
  • Be passionate about what the topic. Passion is catching and will help the audience feel closer to you.
  • Have a structure to your story. Draw the picture, build the tension and lead the audience along with you. Don't be afraid to be a little bit of a showman.
  • Use personal stories to illustrate your point. Human stories make a talk so much more relevant to the audience.
  • Know your stuff. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be in the delivery of your material. And the more confident you are, the more you will enjoy yourself - this enjoyment will rub off on your audience who will in turn enjoy themselves.
For all the digital entertainment that is available these days, I do not think you can beat listening to a good yarn. Who do you know tells a good story?

Image: 'Jan2009AntarticaSailTrip020' 23am.com

Flexible Learning 2009: Introduction

I am in the throes of enrolling into the Otago Polytechnic "Flexible Learning Course" facilitated by Leigh Blackall and Bronwyn Hegerty.

Free course
The course is free as an informal learner. This means you have full access to all the course material and can join the learning activities. If you wish to have your assignments assessed and receive the course qualification, you need to formally enroll.

Here's a quick video explaining why I want to take the course and what I am hoping to learn.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

On walkabout

Miles, Queensland

I have been on walkabout for a few days this week, visiting Miles, Dalby and Chinchilla at the request of Megan McNichol who is project officer for the Western Downs Skills Project. Megan and I saw an opportunity for me to advertise my eMentoring project and do some more generic work on building online networks and using social media for building communities.

With Nan and Megan (left to right) at Chinchilla Learning Network Centre

It was wonderful opportunity to get out of Brisbane and see some of the countryside, and get a sense of the challenges facing rural communities in Queensland. It was also useful to think about the application of web 2.0 and social media in a wider sense than just health. Mark and I had great fun learning more about that part of the world. For example, did you know there was a famous watermelon festival every two years in Chinchilla?


What do people want to achieve?
At each of the networking workshops there were about six people from all walks of life. Their computer skills and knowledge of the Internet ranged from not knowing how a mouse worked, to organizing an online election campaign.

I asked what people wanted to achieve, so that I could get a sense of how social media could be used to achieve their aims. There were a number of themes at all three workshops:
  • The need to get information out to people eg local community news, information about facilities, resources and events, advertise services.
  • Media for presenting information must attract everyone's notice - be geared up for younger people as well older adults.
  • Two-way participation eg seeking feedback from the wider community about local services.
  • Online tools must be easy to use and not be too time-consuming.
  • Want to know about tools that save time at work, and work more effectively.
  • Supporting each other, especially new practitioners.
  • Making sense of the various tools and how to manage all the information that people have access to.
Cotton fields outside Dalby

Barriers to using social media

There were a number of concerns about using social media especially at work, and barriers that prevent people using it:
  • Lack of skills, knowledge and confidence - some people have minimal knowledge of using computer and Internet.
  • Attitudes and fears. Concerned about loss of identity and personal details, junk mail/spam and viruses, and safety from 'undesirable' people.
  • Beliefs that web sites such as Facebook and YouTube are purely for teenagers and full of 'rubbish', and offensive material.
  • Security of information.
  • Employers restrict use of Internet - concerns about appropriate use of the Internet by employees and 'wasting time' when they should be working.
Took us five days to eat the watermelon Mark bought for only $6

Where to from here
I had a chat with people at the workshop about how we can re-frame some of the concerns that they had about the Internet, for example, I showed them how Facebook is being used by professional organisations such as the Australian College of Midwives to advertise activities and events, and bring interested people together.

Here are some of the ideas that we came up with that will be followed up on a regional level and also by individual participants:
  • Information sessions on basic computer and Internet skills, going right back to the basics including Internet safety and how to manage one's online identity.
  • Investigate how commonly used websites such as YouTube and Facebook can be used to disseminate information, utilising its tremendous capacity for attracting a national/international audience - for example, the video that I have embedded above about the watermelon festival has attracted over 54,000 views which is invaluable free publicity for the region. Use these tools to engage with young people because they are already familar with them.
  • Investigate how blogs can be used to disseminate information in a way that encourages interaction and engagement - I am hoping to return to Miles/Chinchilla in late April to run a blogging workshop. This was an especial recommendation to the mayor of Miles because we felt it would encourage two-way feedback with the community.
  • Make the most of resources that are free and commonly used by people - don't go to a lot of expense of re-inventing the wheel.
  • Use multiple avenues to disseminate information - don't just stick to one avenue.
  • Move away from thinking about restricting information - put it out in the open as a way of connecting with people, even beyond the local region.
  • Be mindful of issues of copyright.
  • Investigate how online tools can be used for more effective use of time eg using Google Docs for collaboration as opposed to sending emails back and forth, and Google Reader to monitor websites and the information they put out.
  • Take the time to experiment and 'play'.
I was guaranteed that I would see kangaroos, but I was very disappointed that the only ones I saw were dead ones on the side of the road. So, to fulfill my need to re-connect with a great love of my childhood, here is a reminder of my most favorite TV program when I was about four years old.


The learning needs of aged care and community staff in rural Queensland

Chinchilla Learning Network Centre

This week I was able to meet aged and community care staff in some rural communities of Queensland. This was with the aim of promoting the eMentoring project that I am implementing on behalf of Aged Care Queensland.

Challenges facing health care staff in rural context
I met with a variety of staff and roles at Miles, Roma, Chinchilla and Dalby. These places range from two to six hours drive west from Brisbane.

View Larger Map

The one thing I have come to realize from just this short trip is that unless you have driven around Queensland, you have no real idea of how vast the state is, or the problems that face people with regards to accessing professional development and support opportunities because of geographical isolation.

What staff need and want from eMentoring
There was a mixed reaction to the eMentoring project from people. On the one hand, there is acknowledgment of the great need for support for people that is not readily available on a face-to-face level, because of the physical distances staff have to travel. One theme was the incresing number of people taking on management roles who have little or no experience or preparation, and who need mentoring support.

At the same time, it is vital for the industry that experienced staff share their knowledge and skills with junior colleagues before they retire, and that industry knowledge is not lost to the younger generation.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for the online communication aspect of the eMentoring project amongst staff in Roma. They are used to having to think laterally about everything they do - their motto is "not difficult, but different" - I just LOVE that way of looking at the world.

$6 water melon bought at Miles

Barriers to eMentoring

At the same time, the old chestnut about time and financial constraint reared its ugly head. One great barrier to taking part in the project was having to go to the two day workshops, even though accommodation and flights are being paid. The challenge of finding staff to cover workloads is huge, by all accounts.

The other barrier is lack of computer skills and the confidence to 'have a go' or to 'play' on the Internet.

Where to from here
What I have noticed as I have gone about the state talking about the project is that there is a lot of interest from senior managerial staff - they recognize the need for mentoring and are keen to share their own skills and experience as mentors. This is very encouraging because without organizational and managerial support, it will be difficult to embed eMentoring as an every day concept.

But the other thing that has been extremely noticeable is that ground level clinical care staff, be they care workers or junior nurses, have been absent from information meetings. What is difficult to make out is the reason for this - whether they are not interested, cannot see a need for mentoring, do not realize the project is for them, or that they just cannot find time to get away from their clinical work to attend the meetings.

Get real
I understand how busy clinical care staff are in aged care, as well as all the other responsibilities and calls they have on their time outside of work. But there comes a time when that excuse becomes a little tired - people have to take responsibility for their development and learning, even if that means doing some of it in their own time. And employers have to look at how they can support staff to take the time to attend workshops. Employers cannot continue to complain about the state of the industry if they do not take action to remedy it.

Do you have any ideas about how to get past the barriers of time and money to implement professional development programs? What has worked for you?

Virtual birth unit starting to come together

I had a quick tour around the virtual birth unit on Friday.

It is very exciting to see it start to come together.

We still have an awful lot of work to do on it by the end of May, but it is starting to feel very real now as opposed to a nebulous concept.

What has struck me is the homely feel of the birth unit, which, of course, is what we are aiming to create.

So if we do nothing else, getting students to think about the environment and birth will be a fabulous achievement.

Meeting up with SLENZ team
Meanwhile, I am off to Wellington to meet up with the rest of the Second Life Education Team New Zealand for a couple of days to plan the next stage of the project.

This Union girl's night out with Brisbane Broncos

As some of you know, I am a great rugby union fan, avid supporter of the Super 14 Highlanders and England rugby teams. But I became a turn-coat on Friday when I went to my first rugby league game, and watched the Brisbane Broncos beat the Melbourne Storm. The game was quick and exciting, but I missed the rugged stuff that goes on in union games.

Building a new stadium in Dunedin
The thing that really blew me away was the Suncorp stadium which is a fabulous sporting venue. Mind you, our seats were second row from the top - it was so high up, I felt quite sick and giddy when I first sat down. But it did get me thinking about the controversy about the new stadium that is being built in Dunedin.

I am not going to go on too much about it here - have a look at Leigh Blackall's commentary which more or less sums up how I feel about the issue.

Yes, it would be fabulous to have a new stadium like the Brisbane Suncorp stadium. But I just cannot see how we can support it when you compare the revenue gained from the few thousand supporters that go to Highlander games to the 40,000 thousand plus who go every week to Bronco games.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Feeling slightly curly

After being apart for just over six weeks, I'm thrilled that my husband has come to Brisbane to see me for two weeks. He has whisked me off for a romantic weekend in Melbourne, or rather I should say that he has dragged me over here to take me to the Australia International Airshow at Avalon.

Our courting days
It took me back to our courting days when he used to drag me to all the big airshows in England. In those days when I was soooooo in love, I never complained .......much! But yesterday I complained bitterly all day because I got absoutely soaking wet and nearly froze to death. You would think after nearly 25 years of marriage I have done enough to prove my devotion!

Victoria Market
But I have to say that our trip to Victoria Market this morning made up for the miserable day yesterday. Again, walking around it took me back to our courting days when we went to Europe for our holidays. The stalls and people were very cosmopoliton, making me think I could have been in Italy or Greece. In particular, I was reminded of a wonderful holiday we had at Lake Garda in Italy in 1987. We used to make our way to a country vineyard at the back of our hotel for lunch, eat cheese and meat, drink far too much grappa, and sleep for the rest of the afternoon.

The Curly Girls
The highlight of the weekend was an evening out at a burlesque show last night featuring The Curly Girls. The girls were fabulous! They were beautiful, talented, funny but at the same time it was obvious they had put a lot of thought to their routines to make comments about women in society today. Mark and I are thoroughly taken with the girls, the show and the venue. You must go and see them if you are in Melbourne, or check out their Facebook pages.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My experience of being an eMentor

Here are a couple of thoughts about my experiences of being an eMentor. I think the most important thing about using online communication in a mentoring relationship is to make sure the person you are talking to understands what you are saying - that the method of communication you are using does not cause misunderstandings.


What are your experiences of using online communication? What are the downfalls? How would you manage the intricacies of being an eMentor?

What makes a good mentor?

Here is my reflection on a couple of mentors I have worked with over the years, and how they have interacted with me to make my learning experience a fulfilling one.


Can you think back on the people who have mentored you over the years, both in formally and informally - how did they support your learning. What did they do that worked for you? What did they do that was a complete disaster?

Tips for being an effective eMentor

Over the last few days I have been engrossed in working on developing the handbook for the eMentoring project I am managing. One of the things I have been thinking about is how you can be an effective eMentor

Tips for eMentors
  • Be committed to your mentoring relationship.
  • Respond promptly to communication like emails.
  • Attend online synchronous meetings as arranged.
  • Be respectful and non-judgmental.
  • Be culturally aware which includes race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

Be an effective online communicator
  • Take time to read communications such as emails
  • Prepare for online meetings.
  • Responding in an appropriate way that address issues brought up by your mentee.
  • Take ‘netiquette’ into consideration.
  • Check out with your mentee if she/he understands your questions and comments.
  • Remember that online communication is different because you do not have clues from body language that would normally be picked up in a face-to-face conversation.

Supporting the mentoring relationship
  • Asking questions in a way that supports constructive reflection.
  • Do not be negative, criticize or say things that are demoralizing.
  • Support your mentee in her/his refection and learning. You must not tell your mentee what to do, or do it for him/her.
  • Your relationship should must be driven by the mentee’s needs, aims and goals.

Accepting differences
  • Accept that your mentee may have a different opinion or way of working from you.
  • Being aware of ‘power’ element in your relationship.
  • Work to ensure that you both are ‘empowered’ within the relationship.

A mentoring relationship is a partnership with you both having equal status. Accept that mentoring is not about ‘teaching’ but learning. You will learn alongside your mentee.

Is there anything else you would suggest to people who are thinking about being an eMentor?


No author. (2004). PSPGOV414A: Provide workplace mentoring. Retrieved 10 March, 2009, from http://www.ntis.gov.au/Default.aspx?/trainingpackage/PSP04/unit/PSPGOV414A

Rolfe-Flette, A. (2008). Many ways to mentor. Retrieved 10 March, 2009, from http://mentoring-works.com/many_ways_to_mentor.html

Triple Creek Associates. (2006). Mentoring guide for mentors. Retrieved 10 March, 2009, from http://www.3creek.com/resources/booklets/MentorGuide.pdf

Image: '2 & 1/2 and already a computer+junky!' machado17

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Job hunting with an ePortfolio

I have an ePortfolio which is living document which I use for recording my achievements and facilitating my reflections on my work. I have developed it in a wiki and it is a 'one size fits all', but recently I have started wondering if this approach meets all my needs.

Function of my ePortfolio
Up until recently the main aim behind the development of my ePortfolio was my personal learning. I also wanted to show what could be done in the electronic environment to anyone interested in ePortfolios.

In three months time, my current contract will end and I will be looking for another job. So I am starting to think about how I can use my ePortfolio to support my applications for employment, or how I can feature it as I look for work as a consultant. But I am wondering if my ePortfolio will meet that need in its current state.

ePortfolios, employers and job hunting
I'll tell you what got me started thinking about the different types of ePortfolio.

I sent an email to a potential employer as a 'cold-call' measure. In that email I described my skills and experience, and offered my services as a researcher/teacher/project manager. I gave her the link to my ePortfolio so she could have a browse around to get a better sense of who I am and what I could offer her in terms of services. She very quickly acknowledged my email, but asked me to send her my CV.

This left me wondering if she had looked at my ePortfolio, and what she thought of it. When I reviewed it, I realized how much material there is in it - far too much for a future employer to wade through. This has left me wondering if it would put a future employer off, rather than attract the employer? If that is the case, how do I present my material in a way that will capture the essence of who I am and what I do, and also capture the employer's imagination?

Types of ePortfolio
A little while ago Michele Martin talked about the different types of ePortfolio in a post called "EPortfolios for Professional Development: Sarah' Stewart's Online Portfolio", and suggested I may need a ePortfolio that was a work in progress, and a presentation ePortfolio. I resisted this because I couldn't be bothered with keeping two portfolios up and running. But now I am reviewing that decision.

What do employers want?
In all the years I have been working in midwifery and education, I have never had a potential employer ask to see my portfolio. And I wonder they are that interested. Surely it's quicker to skim through a CV?

So my question is: if employers are too busy to look at ePortfolios, what is the point in me worrying about having different types? Are we doing people a disfavor selling portfolios as a tool for job-hunting when the truth is that an employer would rather read a CV or resume?

Presentation ePortfolio
I am not at all sure I need a presentation ePortfolio that is different to my 'working one', and if I do, I haven't a clue how it should look. Russ Gifford has talked about this in his post "ePortfolios - used in business?" and says it should be organized. So maybe what I need to do is to present select and key material to highlight my work. Ross also says that we should get out and promote our ePortfolios.

So that is what I would love to hear from you - do we need a presentation ePortfolio that is more focused than our 'work in progress' portfolio? How do we promote them to future employers?
Would we be better off making sure we have a tip-top CV? What are your experiences of using ePortfolios when you have been job-hunting? If you are an employer, would you look at an ePortfolio?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lesson plans for Second Life virtual birth unit

Things are really hotting up now as the first stage of the SLENZ virtual birth unit is nearly complete. My current job is to develop lesson plans for the students to use for self-directed learning. The activities will be:

Group discussion

Learning objectives:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of childbirth as a normal life event which occurs within diverse social and cultural contexts.
  • Discuss the impact of the underpinning philosophies of midwifery on the childbirth experiences of women and the development of midwifery knowledge
Discuss the learning they have gained in a group that is set up especially for this in Facebook by responding to guiding questions I set them, as well as comments others make. This will be open to anyone who has a Facebook account. If it is successful, we could start similar groups in Bebo and MySpace. Whilst this is not the aim of the activity, it would be wonderful if a community of practice formed that looks at issues of birth and environment.

Compare and contrast

Learning objectives:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of childbirth as a normal life event which occurs within diverse social and cultural contexts.
  • Discuss the impact of the underpinning philosophies of midwifery on the childbirth experiences of women and the development of midwifery knowledge.
Write a small paragraph, record audio or make a video that compares and contrasts the virtual birth unit with the 'real' birthing environments they work in ie hospital, home, primary unit etc. This will encourage students to think about what is 'ideal' and what they see in real life. If they see gaps, hopefully they will think about how they can bridge the gaps to provide women with as ideal a birthing environment as possible. This paragraph can be published on the Internet wherever they 'hang out' such as the Facebook group.
Treasure Hunt

Learning objectives:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of childbirth as a normal life event which occurs within diverse social and cultural contexts.
  • Discuss the impact of the underpinning philosophies of midwifery on the childbirth experiences of women and the development of midwifery knowledge.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the role of the midwife in the normal childbirth process.
  • Demonstrate effective evidence based, midwifery practice guided by a sound knowledge base.
Carry out a 'treasure hunt' around the unit and answer multiple choice questions about the unit and what it is trying to portray in an online survey. If they get answers wrong, they will be directed back to the unit or to other resources that will inform them. I was thinking that I would use MyStudiyo.

Learning outcomes:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of childbirth as a normal life event which occurs within diverse social and cultural contexts.
  • Discuss the impact of the underpinning philosophies of midwifery on the childbirth experiences of women and the development of midwifery knowledge.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the role of the midwife in the normal childbirth process.
Write a 500 word paragraph, record audio or make a video that reflects on their experiences in Second Life, and their learning about Second Life, networking and birth, and birthing environments. This paragraph can be published on the Internet wherever they 'hang out' such as the Facebook group or personal blog.
Self-directed learning
I have no idea whether the students will carry out these activities. There will be no assessment attached to them, nor will we be checking up on the students. The activities are designed to complement what the students are learning in class, and enhance the learning of students from any midwifery program. This is a deliberate strategy to make the birth unit a sustainable learning resources.

However, as Leigh Blackall has pointed out, the lesson plans will not be so relevant to midwives in developing countries because the Second Life birth unit is designed for the western context. Another project would be to look at how this birthing environment compares to birthing environments in developing countries...but that's for the future.

What do you think of these activities? Do they match up with the learning objectives? Can you suggest another idea?

Image: 'young maasai mama' Arriving at the horizon

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Coming down from the ivory tower

The last six weeks or so I have had a complete change from working in academia, to working in the healthcare industry.

A story of a princess
When I lived as a princess in my ivory tower, I used to gaze out of the window into the distance and dream of open access free resources for all, unlimited access to any web site, and a world where people wanted to spend all their time networking on the Internet.

But I have been turned into an ugly sister, and kicked out of the ivory tower, and sent to live with the ordinary folk in the village at the bottom of the hill.

Living in the 'real' world
Now that I am an ugly sister, I don't get accepted into the posh balls, nor am I allowed to wear fancy gowns. I am not allowed to watch YouTube anymore, and I have found out that ordinary village folk are not considered good enough to be invited to the balls, or have unlimited access to the Internet. To make things even worse, some times I am looked on as the village idiot when I talk about things like creative commons, and get locked in the stocks.

When will my prince come and rescue me??!!

One step forward, two steps back
Oh alright.....so I'm being a drama queen.....it's no where near as bad as that. In fact, I am very grateful to be working with people who recognise the importance of networking and who are very keen to learn new things about online communication.

Nevertheless, some times the slowness with which change happens is very frustrating, and lots of little mistakes and hindrances get in the way of success. For example, I made connections with people in an aged care advocacy group who wanted to know about web conferencing. I was about to launch into full throttle on Elluminate, but they could not get through their organization firewalls.

Everything is so much more exaggerated in the context I am working. What I see as a small hindrance which I can work through in five minutes can completely shut down the people I am working with.

Great successes
Having said all that, it also means that successes are so much more meaningful. I have now got the group of people who are supporting me as I develop the eMentoring project to meet in Elluminate. We've had our technical hitches, but are now really getting the hang of web conferencing.

I have also been asked by several groups to run networking and blogging workshops. One group is out in the west of Queensland, and are keen to explore how they can make use of online communication technologies to develop online community. This is especially exciting because it is a broader community initiative, not just aged care.

What has the princess learned?
I am learning that dreams do come true. It may not happen in quite the way one imagines, or even desires, and it certainly takes time. Working in the eLearning field can be extremely frustrating and tiring, and the old adage "patience is a virtue" is very true.

But if you do not dream, you cannot have a dream come true.

Image: 'Someday...' Gabriela Camerotti

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The need for support in the workplace

The one thing that has really stood out as I learn about aged and community care in Queensland is the desperate need that people feel for support in the workplace. Much of that is because of the huge geographical distances that isolate people. But a lot is also because of shortage of staff, and high staff turnover. One result is that people are being put into jobs they know nothing about.

Who needs eMentoring?

As I have been talking to staff about the eMentoring project I am managing, I am finding that it is the people at management level who seem to be more interested in being mentored. I have had a number of managers as far up as CEO level who want to be hooked up with someone who will support them as they grapple with issues such as funding and staff management.

This begs the question: why aren't caregivers and nurses getting in touch with me? Are managers gate-keeping? Are the barriers I mentioned in my previous post too much for them?

I have had some extremely positive reactions to the project, and have met some very enthusiastic managers who are willing to support their staff to join the project. But will 'support' be enough, or will the proof of the pudding be in the eating - in other words, I suspect the 'support' staff will value most is paid time off to take part in mentoring activities, but I am not sure that will be provided to any great extent.

If you are a manager, how do you motivate staff to engage with workplace learning?

Image: 'All For One and One for All' foundphotoslj

The barriers to eMentoring

I have held a few meetings, and spoken to a number of people about the eMentoring project I am managing. And there are common themes about what is stopping people from engaging with eMentoring, and preventing them from volunteering to take part as either mentors and mentees.

None of the themes will come as any great surprise to people working in education or eLearning. So the question is: if we know so well what stops people from engaging with workplace learning and professional development, how can we overcome those obstacles?

Time constraints
It's the old adage - "I just don't have time!"

I have been known to rant about this, accusing people of using it as an excuse. And I still maintain that we need to look at how we manage our time at work. Nevertheless, with chronic staff shortages, and endless rounds of funding proposals to write, accreditation and audit visits to prepare for, it is hardly surprising that aged care staff don't have a lot of energy for anything "extra".

Financial constraints
The managers I have spoken to about this project are very keen to make sure their staff are supported at work, and they recognize the value of mentoring. However, they maintain they do not have the budget to pay for backfill which will release staff.

The caregivers I have spoken to do not want to do anything related to work in their own time. They are shattered when they get home, and want to switch off completely from work.
Other calls on their time such as family obligations prevent people from committing to the project. This is a serious barrier to people with young children, because it prevents them from leaving town to attend the mentoring workshops, even though travel and accommodation will be paid by project funding.

Understanding mentoring
The other really important barrier to mentoring is that some people do not understand what it is. Some people I have spoken to see it only as a way of giving advice, and have got very caught up with discussions about what will happen if mentees do not take the advice of the mentor. Or do not do things the way the mentor thinks they should.

Explaining mentoring
This has emphasized to me the importance of explaining what mentoring is, and to tell stories to illustrate. To me, mentoring isn't about telling a nurse what medication she should use to treat a leg ulcer, but rather to point her in the direction of the evidence, and support her while she works out the implication of that evidence to her practice.

Computer skills
There is no doubt that lack of computer skills and access to computers is a barrier. But as yet, I have been surprised just how enthausiastic people are about learning new online communication skills. What remains to be seen is how easily staff can overcome organisational firewalls and Internet policies.

What would stand in the way of you volunteering to get involved with a learning project at work?

Image: 'helping hand' popofatticus

Meeting the needs of indigenous and Torres Straits people

This is the second post about the eMentoring handbook I am developing. In the previous post "Developing resources in plain English", I considered the challenges of developing resources in language that everyone can understand.

The other issue I need to consider is how to ensure the handbook meets the needs of the audience who are indigenous or Torres Straits people, making sure that the handbook is culturally appropriate.

I have to admit that my knowledge of matters pertaining to the indigenous and Torres Strait people of Australia is limited. And I think that it is vital that I do not make the assumptions that indigenous people are uneducated and illiterate. That clearly would be a huge mistake and quite erroneous.

Nevertheless, I know that there are many indigenous staff who work in aged and community care as care givers, who have not had the advantages that I have had, and consequently their literacy levels are not what they should be, through no fault of their own.

Cultural appropriateness
I am very mindful that this eMentoring project must be culturally appropriate, and I am very privileged to have people advise me about how to do this.

As for the handbook, as well as making sure that the text is written in plain English, I have been advised to use plenty of images. Yet at the same time, I must ensure that they are a mix of images, not all western-centric.

If you work with, or are of indigenous or Torres Strait decent, I would love you to have a look at the handbook and give me feedback. What is important for me to consider - how can I ensure that the eMentoring handbook meets the needs of indigenous or Torres Strait people? Where is a good place to get aboriginal images that I could use? What is the culturally appropriate way of working with aboriginal images?

Image: 'Bach Beach'
www.flickr.com/photos/23783085@N00/1565861408 Cam Pervan

Developing resources in plain English

One of the elements of the eMentoring project I am managing for Aged Care Queensland is to develop an eMentoring handbook, which will also be developed into a CD ROM. This handbook will supplement the mentoring workshops I will be running.

eMentoring handbook
I have written the first draft of the handbook, and you are very welcome to have a look at it here, and give me feedback on the content and how it is written.

The main feedback has been that the content is appropriate but there are a couple of issues to address, such as sorting out structure so it is easier to follow (ie separate sections for mentor and mentee), and using stories to illustrate what mentoring is.

Using plain English
The main issue, which I must admit I was expecting, is that it is not written in plain English. In other words, it has a very academic feel to it, and may not be suitable for people who are less literate. Some of the people who end up as mentees may have left school at a very early age, so may find this handbook too boring for words.

Plain English versus academia

Plain English is English text that is concise, clear and does not use technical language. Over the years I have been criticized for not writing in an 'academic' manner, whatever that is. It really annoys me the way that some academics write in a way that no-one can understand. To me, it is academic snobbery and a way of trying to be one better than one's audience. But what is the point of writing if no-one can understand what you are saying?

Nevertheless, even though I think I am writing in everyday language, the feedback is that it is not 'plain' enough for the potential audience in this project.

How do you write in plain English?
There are a number of web sites that will help you when you are developing resources for the general public - as usual I started with the wikipedia page on plain English which sent me off to various useful websites.

The Plain English Campaign which has been running in the UK has a number of free guides on using plain English. The main points are:
  • use 'you' and 'me'
  • use lists
  • be positive
  • use short sentances
  • don't assume people know what you are talking about, so don't be afraid to give instructions
  • don't use technical language
  • use active verbs
Design of resources
The other interesting things I have read about plain English is how things like font and design affects how you read material:
  • use font such as Arial
  • don't go any smaller than size 12 (size is the absolute smallest you should use)
  • should alternate long and short lines
  • use ranged left alignment - justification alignment is harder to read
  • make use of white space to draw attention to titles and headings
  • use bold as opposed to upper case letters or underlining for emphasis

Do you have any examples of complicated English that has completed bamboozled you? What do you think is a great resource written in plain English?

In my next post I will address how this eMentoring handbook will meet the needs of indigenous and Torres Strait people.

Image: 'I Want to Live' thejbird

Eating our young?

There's an expression about the way we older health professionals treat young people in the workplace - it is said that "we eat our young". For example, McKenna et al (2003) surveyed new graduate nurses in New Zealand and found that most of them had experienced some sort of bullying or horizontal violence. This results in absentisim, sickness and stress, and ultimately nurses leave the profession.

Supporting , not eating
The 'Young Professionals in Aged Care' meeting I went to the other day only emphasised the importance of supporting and nuturing that young people need in the healthcare workplace. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly obvious as I spend more and more time at the coalface as opposed to the academic environment, that the way we support staff, whatever age they are, is one of the biggest issues we face in healthcare.

Networking as a startegy
Networking is a key strategy for workplace support. It's hardly rocket science, and it is certainly not new. Neverthless it is worth emphasising, especially to young people who may not realise its potential.

I am a great enthausiast of online networking because it takes you so much further than face-to-face networking does. Networking provides opportunities for mentoring, connecting, sharing knowledge and resources.

Key to building a network
I would say that the key to developing an effective online network is taking the time to get 'out' and meet people using a variety of online communication tools. Help people and share your knowledge and resources - like 'pay it forward' - people will do the same back to you.

Here is the presentation I gave about how to network using the web last Friday. What would be your advice for building a network? What benefits have you seen in online networking?


McKenna, B., Smith, N., Poole, S., & Coverdale, J. (2003). Horizontal violence: experiences of Registered Nurses in their first year of practice. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 42 (1), 90-96.

Image: 'Lion (Panthera leo)' Arno & Louise