Friday, November 30, 2012

As Objects Move Around the World, They Gain Stories

Today I listened to BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. The castaway was author and ceramicist Edmund de Waal, whom I knew about through his bestseller The Hare with Amber Eyes. The acclaimed book is about his ancestry and, in particular, a series of porcelain figures known as netsuke that he inherited from an uncle who lived in Tokyo.

Beautiful objects - netsuke

It was one of those radio programmes stays in your mind for a while. I think this resonance was for a couple of reasons. First, de Waal is a very personable interviewee and had enjoyed an enviable upbringing from which he pulled some evocative anecdotes. Second, he also had an interesting back story to his adult life in terms of his struggle to achieve success as a potter after he left university, which made one feel sympathetically towards him. Finally, he is an eloquent person with an economical but precise use of words that reveals a clarity of thought, which I find to be quite rare. I think that people usually overdose on information without having the time to organise and reflect on it and are therefore unable to make clear points. De Waal made several clear points, one of which - about the importance of objects or 'things' to people - I found profound.

Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes

The gist of it was this. As things, or objects, move around the world from hand to hand, they gain stories like a "patina". The objects that de Waal refers to are things that someone has made and spent time "thinking it through". The point de Waal makes is that their monetary value is inconsequential (partly because they are not for sale) but mainly because their value is "elsewhere". The value should also include all the patina which are the previous stories and also the story that you yourself are constructing through holding it. So when you pick an object up, you have two things - someone and a material and those two are the beginning of another story that adds to the patina.

De Waal also made another interesting point about the 'pleasures' of persistence and repetition at a craft, which I dwelt on and will try to apply to my cello practice!

However, it is the image of hands holding beautiful objects and somehow imbuing them with a story after story that resonates with me.

Apart from Talking Heads and Philip Glass, I didn't much care for de Waal's Desert Island Discs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stories are what make us human. We need to create new containers to tell the stories...

"Stories are what make us human. We need to create new containers to tell the stories." This was said by Dr Ramesh Raskar, a researcher at MIT's Center for Future Story Telling to Stephen Fry in Fry's Planet Word, broadcast in the UK exactly one year ago today as I type this. Dr Raskar was working on a sensory suit that would allow someone to experience the electronically captured movement of another person. Wearing the suit someone would be able to 'relive' the saved experiences of a long-gone grandparent for example - perhaps a relative you never actually knew. So the suit was the new container able to tell someones story to the wearer.

The quote about new containers to tell stories struck me a year ago when I watched the programme and I  have been periodically mulling it over since then. If a sensory suit is a new container, then what forms do the old containers take. Are they redundant and is that why we 'need' new ones?

I suppose that containers could be the oral storytelling tradition around the fire or the written word that replaced it, except that it didn't really replace it. The oral tradition is alive and well. My own city of Oxford is home to the developing Story Museum which focuses on performances, exhibitions and activities to support children's learning through stories. What is teh phenonmenal TED if not stories performed?

Likewise stories in the container of the printed word or books are still being published and sold. My husband alone keeps several bookstores in business.

Husband's book buying habits are out of control

Secondhand sellers now have access to international customers thanks to the Internet. New containers for books could be e-readers, like Kindle, but again they haven't replaced books or magazines yet.

I keep reading on social media that digital storytelling is replacing linear narrative. I'm reading Frank Rose's excellent book The Art of Immersion - how the digital generation is remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the way we tell stories. The term immersion describes the way that audiences can become individually and collectively participatory in a narrative using different media, and able to shape and transform the story in a manner that is uniquely afforded by the Internet. For me,  the books sort of builds on Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck - the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, which amazingly was published way back in 1997. Are these (ironically) books both describing new containers for stories - ones that are digital?

I also really like Frank Rose's blog Deep Media - on narrative in the digital age. Deep media is opposite of mass media. Rose has just written his account of a recent New York conference Future of Storytelling - reinventing the way stories are told (clip about FOST below).

In his review of the conference Rose describes an  initiative where data dumps, such as real estate or sports statistics, are automatically transformed into stories by software apps (or bots). The stories render the data much more understandable to readers trying to comprehend performance and trends. So maybe our stories are destined to come from bots and not brains via books in the near future. Strange to think that the quote at the beginning 'stories are what makes us human' can lead to a scenario where ro(bots) are creating the stories.

Finally, I am looking forward to reading Jonathan Gottschall's book - The Storytelling Animal - How Stories Make Us Human which seeks to explain how stories change our behaviour.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

PowerPoint used to tell a story

There's been so much PowerPoint bashing over the years (see my earlier post on this), with Edward Tufte and many others criticising the use of the software in business and education. PowerPoint is often accused of creating a focus on format rather than content, encouraging 'lazy' presentations and even being so boring as to cause death (by PowerPoint)!

However, I have just finished a novel in which one chapter is written using only PP slides. The idea of using PP software in storytelling almost seems to contradict the arguments levelled at its use in business and education.

Having an interest in the role of narrative in the lecture, I was really looking forward to reading Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, and seeing how she used PP in fictional literature.

Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad

I read the paperback version of the book but apparently in the Kindle version the PP actually launches and you read the chapter as an actual presentation of the slides rather than a series of pages, as you do in the book version (see photo below). The chapter is written from the perspective of Alison Blake, a young American pre-teen, who expresses herself in the graphs and SmartArt of PP rather than traditional prose. Part of the narrative involves Alison's take on her brother Lincoln's actions and communication with other members of the family.

A page from the PowerPoint chapter

I really enjoyed the book, which has been a tremendous success for Egan, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It employs quite a loose narrative structure where a series of short stories are linked through a shared character in each sucessive story, with an arc that comes back to first story.

The use of PP works very well for a single chapter but I'm not sure it could have been sustained for the whole, or the majority, of the book. It works so well because PP forces a different pace of narrative compared with the other chapters. It manages this by focusing on a set of significant moments, rather than the links between events. Egan, herself has said that she found PP very good for inserting visual pauses into the story, which is not something that can be done in traditional prose.

Anyway, Egan is a PP novelist having created PP fiction and has written a blog giving advice on how to tell stories using PP.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

University's Quality Assurance Agency against PowerPoint Lectures (Apparently)!

Whist looking for something else I came across this article in the higher education section of The Australian, a daily broadsheet owned by News Corporation.

The title of the article, from 24 April 2012, is UK watchdog is against "power point" tuition. It made me think I must have missed something about the Quality Assurance Agency in the UK press earlier this year. Being interested in the role of the lecture in higher education and the impact of PowerPoint, I felt sure I should have seen this earlier. The original article from which The Australian version was adapted was published on 20 April 2012 in The Times and was written by Greg Hurst, who is their education editor. 

Interestingly the title of the article in The Times is Students must get more for their money, says watchdog, which is not quite as sensational as the anti PowerPoint title of The Australian.

Hurst's article actually reports the response of the QAA's Chief Executive, Anthony McClaran, to the results of research carried out by The Times, which looked at the experience of current first year students in a sample of UK universities. The research covered issues such as contact time, the type of teaching experience during that contact time and the length of time taken to return marked assignments.

The reference to PowerPoint comes in the first line of the article "Students should not tolerate “PowerPoint lectures”, the head of the universities standards body has warned". However, McClaran goes on to explain that what this means is where the lecturer simply reads from the presentation slides in class. He states what students want most is to be able to interact with staff and with other students. This then is quite a long way from stating that the QAA is against PowerPoint tuition per se.

What seems to be the main issue is the largely passive learning experience of a poorly delivered presentation. The challenge to the traditional lecture is to overcome its information-transmission-only heritage that arguably PowerPoint has helped perpetuate.

Universities need to take heed of the extra emphasis of the QAA on the effectiveness and quality of the bread and butter teaching tool in higher education and support staff in their development of different effective teaching techniques.

Donald Bligh's What the Use of Lectures? needs revisiting in the 21st century.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What's Still Good About Lectures?

Have you ever noticed that once you focus on something, you start seeing noticing it more? In the past few weeks I've come across two online discussions about what's good about lectures or what makes a good lecturer. These have been interesting to me as a counterpoint to all the literature which generally focuses on what's not good about lectures.

The first of these sources I found very illuminating. It's an abridged transcript of an online discussion from March 2012 amongst academics on the theme What's Still Good About Lectures. It didn't set out to be a discussion on the importance of stories, storytelling or narrative as an ingredient for a successful lecture but it surprised me how much the discussion kept coming back to it. Here are some quotes from the discussion to illustrate this point:

"Lecturing is all about telling a good story".

"My history teacher was great. He didn't 'lecture', he told stories". 

"The best lecturers I have learned from are good story tellers. They knew how to factor in their personal experiences into the content material".

"Good lectures take you on a narrative journey through the material with the message/lesson the lecturer has crafted".

"I enjoy lectures that I relate to in some way... interesting story or illustration that makes the point".

The lecturers here are clearly reflecting back on their own experiences of good lectures and lecturers which shows what a powerful impact narrative and storytelling has and how stories resonate with listeners because they personally relate to them in some way. The discussion could easily just have promoted what contributors themselves do in lectures that makes them 'good'. 

This is sort of what seems to have happened in some of the second discussion on What Makes a Good Lecturer that I came across (and I think I actually participated in at one point) The comments are at The Guardian Higher Education Network May 2012. Here the discussion was less focused (probably because with so many contributors it was difficult to follow the thread) but still one point caught my eye because it came up again and again. This was the role of performance in face-to-face lecturing. I mentioned this in a previous post as I believe the performance element of lecturing has been somewhat lost with the rise in the use of PowerPoint. Here are some quotes that relate to this point:

"Yes there is something very particular and special about the embodied aspect of lecturing. about the nature of speech, and its performance. in a world of increasingly disembodied information, I think this is all the more important, and indeed, all the more attractive for students - if they can drag themselves there".

"A good teacher can take a lecture and use it to encourage reflection, debate and participation. Your post really resonates with my own interest in teacher as performer. If you love lecturing I am sure this must be the best starting point for a great lecture for your students".

But not everyone agrees with the idea of performance and lecturing, seeing it as less important than other factors:

"I would have to respectfully disagree with any equation of good teaching in HE with "theatrical skills". Far more important are rapport with students, congruence (genuineness), caring for students, intrinsic interest in your subject, in-depth subject knowledge. Theatrical skills are not essential, but are very common characteristics of good teachers. During my research one interviewee described "showmanship is like fast-food". This interviewee also recounted stories of a very calm, yet wonderfully inspiring teacher who used subtle humour to great effect, but could not really be described as an "entertaining" lecturer".

I've seen - predominantly American - lecturers engage with their students and throw them regular questions during the lecture, creating a much more interactive environment than the standard British rhetorical performance - beloved as that might be... I think lecturers who went through the British system are often uncomfortable with the idea as it seems too "school" like (and they don't like to have their performance interrupted)".

So what to conclude from this? Well, much, but I'd like to end with another point that came up in the discussions - TED! "Aren't TED talks really lectures?" TED talks certainly employ storytelling and definitely involve performance - are they lectures? 

The following Vimeo clip illustrates the power of stories I think for a business marketing view but the point applies just as much to HE.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reflections of Japan

I recently enjoyed my first trip to Japan, where I spent four days in and around Tokyo (en route to Australia for a longer holiday). I have wanted to visit Japan for a such long time and was so pleased that the reality exceeded my expectations. Despite being there only a short time, there were a number of things that struck me about Japanese culture that I have been reflecting on.

The first thing is the level of respect and courtesy that the Japanese have for others. I saw this in the unfailing politeness of hotel staff and the smiling faces, greetings and bows of shop staff and transport workers (one of whom pointed out, with great care, that I had a mosquito on my cheek... is that great service or what?). Most of all I was taken with the care and respect that the Japanese show for their dead.

There seemed to be many small cemeteries in Tokyo and they were all impeccably maintained. Near the entrance to each cemetery was a cleaning area, with water, wooden ladles and wash rags, all neatly hung out to dry. It seems that there is regular visiting of family graves involving burning incense, washing and carefully arranging flowers or gifts for the deceased.

Beautifully maintained cemetery with wooden 'sotoba' name sticks

Space is at a premium in Japan even in cemeteries, with the ashes of many generations added and the graves butting up against each other, giving quite a crowded neighbourhood feel, which contrasts strongly with neglected equivalents in other countries. In Japan, a deceased person is given a new Buddhist name during the funeral ceremony and this is written on a wooden stick called 'sotoba', which can been seen in the picture.

The second thing I have been reflecting on is the excess of consumer goods and services on offer. Shops are almost like neon temples to be worshipped at - shrines of immaculate consumption. The ubiquitous Hello Kitty has whole shops devoted to selling her products. This kind of an excess is a feast for the eyes and part of popular culture in Japan.

Hello Kitty and her crystal encrusted pink bicycle

My final reflection is on the crowds of people in Tokyo. I went to the famous Shibuya crossroads, which features in the film ‘Lost in Translation’. The video shows what happens when the lights turn red and the people start walking. The fact that this can happen without incident every few minutes, day and night, is a testament to the planning, thought and attention to detail reflected throughout Japanese culture.

There were so many other things that delighted me on my first trip. When I got back, a colleague remarked ‘They say when you go to Japan, you see the future’. I’m not sure I’ve seen it but if I have then I definitely want to go back to the future. I’m a Japan fan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Traditional Lecture and Fumbling with PowerPoint

In his recent article for The Guardian Higher Education Network on the early adopter universities that are leading the way with educational technology, Steven Schwartz describes how, in the near future, technology will be tailored to students' needs and that online offerings will not be "merely... images from a camera plonked in front of a traditional class with a traditional lecturer fumbling with a traditional PowerPoint presentation".

This got me thinking as to how ubiquitous PowerPoint (PP) has become in the standard university lecture. What percentage of lectures are delivered through the medium of PowerPoint, Keynote or other presentational technology? Of course it may depend on the discipline but, from my own experience, I would hazard a guess that well over 50 per cent of all lectures are being communicated using PP. This means, as Schwarz states, that 'fumbling' with PP for a lecture is now tradition, it's now the norm.

The research on the use of PP for lectures is polarising. There's research on how students much prefer lectures with PP and the notes that can be generated to accompany the lecture (for example see Nicholson, 2002; and Amare 2006) and yet there is also evidence on how much students dislike PP. This heartfelt quote is from a series of comments on a blog giving tips for lecturing medical students;

"I could simplify all the advice to lecturers by saying only: Don't use PowerPoint! Anything else you do will be brilliant compared to even the best PP lecture. I promise".

The issue I want to raise here is that the advent of presentational technology in the lecture hall may well be an example of technology making things worse rather than better. Most disruptive technological innovations result in changing the market by replacing one technology with a newer one that creates a value network. Before presentational technologies, lecturers used acetate overheads, a carousel of photographed slides, photocopied handouts, whiteboards or blackboards. The growth of the use of PP for lecture presentations has been immense and yet it's not at all clear that this technological disruption has added any value. In fact, there are some clear arguments that it has had adverse effects on teaching and learning.

Most notable of these is Tufte (2003), who derided PP's “preoccupation with format not content”. Lowenthal (2009) suggests that presentational software encourages a lecturer-centred, screen-centred and technology-centred lecture. James et al. (2006) gives an account of the research into the impact of PP based lectures on cognitive recall. Overall here and elsewhere, the results seemed mixed as to whether recall is helped or hindered.

Rather than rehashing whether PP is good or 'evil' (Tufte again), there are several other points I want to make specifically about the use of it for delivering lectures.
First, irrespective of whether individual lectures using PP are any good or not, there has been little thought given to the students' experience over several of these lectures during a busily timetabled day. Contrast this with the 'Death by PowerPoint' feeling that any lecturer at conference knows only too well.  Do we ever think about our students' experience across a set of PP lectures? Do we ever ask about this in evaluations?

Second, in most of the formats that PP has largely replaced, there is an ability to annotate or adapt content in real time that is almost completely missing from PP.  Instead PP lectures are presented as complete and fixed, which means that opportunities for digression are difficult because there will be no slides to support those asides and, indeed no accompanying notes. This may mean that students regard any departures 'off script' as less important, when in fact they may be the exact opposite. In addition, the complete linear format of PP lectures mean that a lecturer must make it through all of their slides within the alloted time or else leave the students hanging in some kind of unsatisfactory PP interruptus, robbed of the full experience. All in all it's difficult to see how this lack of flexibility can be a step forward.

Finally and related to the previous point, earlier methods afforded the student audience the opportunity to see the 'crafting' of lecture as the lecturer built up the points through scribbling on an overhead projector with different coloured pens or executed teasingly slow reveals of covered up points on acetates. There was also the performance art that was, first the erasing of a previous lecturer's work from the black/white board and then the filling up of every centimetre of space with an equally transient set of points, to stand somewhat exhausted in front of their finished artefact at the end of an hour. This evidence of effort and of the enthusiasm of the lecturer is crucial, according to Aarabi (2007) who explains how this performance element demonstrates to students the effort that has gone into the lecture. It creates both an authenticity for the students and also an appreciation because the lecture has been bespoke for them. This contrasts strongly with the PP lecture, where this effort is hidden from the student and the ease with which the lecturer moves from one slide to another belies the work that has gone into its construction beforehand.

Of course there are brilliant PP lectures with content, images and video that far surpasses anything that earlier technologies could achieve, but I think these are rare amongst the bread and butter PP university lectures. Perhaps PP has contrained rather than enabled the lecture

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What's the Use of Lectures?

After a lot of thinking, discussing and soul searching I decided last year that there was a topic I was so interested in that I wanted to spend a goodly amount of time researching it seriously. Fast forward six months and I have submitted a doctorate application to a university and am awaiting a decision. I am pleased and excited for several reasons. First, because I actually managed to find the head space and time to do some reading and thinking about my topic. Second, because I went beyond my usual procrastinating to actually writing down my thoughts and creating what I think is a reasonable proposal. Third, because I was organised enough to marshall my qualification transcripts, examples of other written work, references and my CV for uploading into my online application before the deadline. In fact, I think I should get a qualification just for getting the application in. Most of all I am excited because in doing all of the above I realised how much I want to do this research. For the first time in a long time I am  interested in something for its own sake and it feels great.

My research topic is the result of being influenced by two books - yes real books! The first one is a classic research text, first published in 1972. It's by Donald Bligh and is called 'What's the Use of Lectures?'. The second book was published much later in 2010, it's by Nancy Duarte and is called 'Resonate - present visual stories that transform audiences'. These two books are the ingredients behind what I want to look at which is whether the university lecture has a narrative or story structure.

Two books that have influenced me

Bligh's book, which has been republished many times in the forty years since 1972, details the plethora of research that has been carried over many years to show that (in a nutshell) the lecture as a teaching method is only effective at the transmission of factual information, and even at this it is no better than other teaching methods. In essence, this book and many other sources describe how unfit for educational purpose the standard university lecture is.

My starting point in thinking about the lecture was a growing dismay at the poor use of presentational technologies, such as PowerPoint, by lecturers during their teaching sessions. I include my own lectures in this.  Imagine the experience of the average fresher sitting in the darkened lecture theatre on week one of their degree waiting expectantly for their lecturer to deliver the very first lecture. The average student will experience between 250-300 lectures, probably most using PowerPoint, before they emerge after three years with their qualification.

When Bligh wrote his book, PowerPoint and Keynote were a long way off. So imagine that not only are lectures not an effective method of teaching, they may have actually been made worse by the use of new technology. That's not progress.

Stories, storytelling and narrative have long had a role in education, including higher education. Stories and narrative help with meaning making of experiences. Duarte's book describes how story structures are found in many great speeches, presentations and artistic performances and how they are fundamental to communication. So if a company wants to inspire change in its employees or if a politician wants to elicit loyalty in their followers, they use narrative to connect with their audiences, create support for their vision and effect change in people.

Here she is talking about her 'Resonate' approach.

My starting point on this was wondering if Duarte's ideas could be applied in a higher educational context to the humble lecture? Surely the goal of education is to inspire, move and change people. Perhaps narrative and stories offers a way forward for the much maligned (probably PowerPoint-based) lecture.

I hope we shall see.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Becoming Fully Cooked - Try Something New

Part of developing as a person, of becoming fully cooked as I describe it, is being open to learning. Learning something generally begins with trying new things. Most of us are willing to try new things but we are less good at sticking with them in order to benefit from the learning part. This is because learning tends to involve at least a small element of effort aka work.

I have a personal rule of trying something at least three times before I decide it's not for me but recently I discovered this TED clip by Matt Cutts who tries something new for 30 days.

A month is long enough to establish a habit and to achieve real goals or at least clear progress towards them. Since most of us are time poor, Matt's idea is that in order to create the space to try something new for 30 days, you would also give up something - usually something that's not adding a great deal to your life - watching TV trash, mindless internet surfing etc. 

So far using Matt's basic principles, I have managed to practice on my cello for at least half an hour everyday whilst decreasing my TV consumption. It's interesting how quickly, once you just accept you are going to do something, it just becomes part of your day. I've been rewarded by seeing (or is that hearing?) a real improvement in my playing. I'm still a beginner but I've a bigger and better repetoire and I'm closer to my dream of being a cellist.

Coincidently this article from the New York Times captures very well the joy of beginning to play a musical instrument once past childhood.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Space To Think

The photos are taken in 'The Lab' at Oxford Brookes. It's not the kind of lab you'd expect to find at a uni. Instead this is a space created specifically to give people a different opportunity to engage with the campus redevelopment that's going on (and was the subject of my previous post). The idea is that students, staff and maybe interested others can see examples of the different colours, treatments, flooring and furniture that is planned for the new Library and Teaching Building and to comment on these, or ask questions about something other aspect of the redevelopment. When I visited a tasting session for different types of coffee for the new cafes was underway. The Lab is part of the Space to Think initiative at the university.

The Lab@Oxford Brookes with model of the campus redevelopment

Barista at work - will you choose coffee A or B?

This is idea of having space to think got me thinking on several fronts. First, what does it actually mean to have space to think? Does it have to a be a physical space, which is what's implied here by the massive building project that's creating a huge new lecture hall and other teaching rooms, as well as informal spaces for 'connecting' (I presume that means connecting to WiFi), along with a state of the art library.

A long time ago, I studied something called environmental determinism as part of an urban planning elective I did for my degree in environmental science. Environmental determinism basically holds that your surrounding (built) environment can affect your behaviour. It's the theory behind policies like designing out crime and creating active spaces. It follows then that by appropriately designing the new space at Oxford Brookes perhaps thinking by students and staff will be changed, hopefully for the better. 

But does space to think really have to be a physical bricks and mortar space? Couldn't it also be a virtual space - a cyberspace where all sorts of different opportunities to think and do are available. Or perhaps a space in your mind? In a way meditation is having space to think, clearing your mind to enable you to focus on a problem, or to go within yourself to find peace and quiet to relax. Neither of these spaces involves buildings.

This leads me to my question for The Lab about the new Library and Teaching Building...

What will happen if the need for the kind of 'space to think' we are currently creating through the campus redevelopment changes?

I've been thinking about this partly because of this article in the Washington Post. It talks about the traditional lecture being replaced by more interactive methods of teaching involving smaller classes.

The lecture has been the dominant teaching method for centuries in universities. The architecture of most universities is defined by the need for large lecture halls - which are very specific spaces to think. The real estate of universities revolves around the successful usage of this space. The article believes that the lecture hall is not a very good space to think. In the future, it suggests that, spaces to think will involve connecting online and/or being face to face in smaller, more active spaces than the lecture hall.

So if we are creating a new teaching building based on the need for large lecture rooms, it may not be space to think after all. Or maybe the prediction of the demise of the lecture (and the lecture hall) is exaggerated, as it has been so often in the past.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A University Grand Design

This is the BEFORE...

This photo is taken from the corridor in Department of Real Estate and Construction at Oxford Brookes University, where I work. The Department's building is due to be demolished before the end of the year and it will then reveal the secret that it has been hiding for the last year or so...the new Library and Teaching Building, which is fast rising out of the ground as you can see. The demolition will create space for a public square, forming part of the entrance setting for the new building - artist's impression of which is shown here. This will be the University's new 'front door' and faces onto the London Road - a major route into and out of Oxford.

...this will be the AFTER

It's quite apt that a department of real estate and construction should overlook the new development and it has been very interesting watching the different phases of construction take place. From the:

However, it's difficult not to have mixed feelings seeing buildings that you have known so well being quickly taken down. One thing that the property professions teaches you is that it's important that buildings are usable. That can mean different things.

Bill Bordass is one of the people behind a charity called the Usable Buildings Trust which looks at how buildings work for their users in environmental as well as economic terms. The charity has a website with a lot of resources here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nearly A Fully Cooked Person

So what does fully cooked mean?

When someone is described as fully cooked I think it means they have experience and knowledge, and they have learnt much. It's sort of the opposite of saying a person is a raw beginner - that they are 'uncooked'. I suppose it's strange to talk about oneself as nearly fully cooked, or almost ready to serve. I don't know why I have always used this term to describe myself and other people, nor do I know where it comes from. The connection to food is a useful one though. Quite often you meet a person for the first time and they appear to you to be an adult, grown up and mature. Then, as you get to know them better, you realise that actually they are not that at all. They are like a pudding taken too early from the oven. It looks cooked on the outside but inside it's still got a way to go before it's ready. This happens the other way round as well, when you meet an incrediby sage young person, who you expected to be inexperienced in life.

I'm not saying it's disappointing to find that people aren't fully cooked. Becoming a cooked person takes a long time for some people, maybe a lifetime.