Tuesday, June 30, 2009

eMentoring and Creative Commons Australia

I am very pleased to see that the Aged Care Queensland eMentoring CD ROM has been mentioned on the Creative Commons Australia website.

The eMentoring CD ROM is to be published with a Creative Commons BY Attribution license. Creative Commons Australia says

The publication of a single CD Rom under a CC licence might not seem like a big step, but it’s one of the first examples Australia-wide of a community service organisation working at the ground level putting real time and thought into providing the most appropriate copyright policy for their resources. The licensing makes the CD Rom much more valuable to the community it is seeking to service. Not only can it be spread far and wide, aged care workers in the field can create customised versions for their regions, teachers and trainers can feel confident reproducing and distributing the information for their classes, and workers from other sectors can use it as the basis for eMentoring Handbooks relevant to their own workers.

Changes to midwifery in Australia

I have to confess that I haven't really been following the latest news in Australia too closely, but I am aware that there are very positive and exciting national changes afoot that will give midwives a greater degree of autonomy.

Midwives will be able to provide continuity of care and be paid by the government in the same way GPs are paid. However, midwives will not be able to access insurance in order to be to provide homebirth, which in effect rules it out as a choice of care for women in Australia.

What I am finding interesting is the way that organisations like Homebirth Australia is utilizing social media to lobby for change ie over-rule this draconian attitude to homebirth. At the moment, there is an active campaign being run in Facebook. It will be interesting to see how effective this mode of campaigning is.

For more information about maternity services in Australia, I recommend you talk to midwives such as infomidwife, Lisa Barrett or Carolyn Hastie.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahmstewart/2044901354/

Working with marginalised women from black and minority ethnic communities in maternity

If you are a midwife, or anyone else in that case, working with marginalised women from black and minority ethnic communities, you may be interested in this online training package that has been put together by Medact.

Medact is a charity based in the UK made up of health professionals who lobby for improved health, especially for people who are affected by war and poverty.

The training package is called "Breaking down the barriers" and is made up of six modules:

  • Understanding migration
  • Maternal and child health of migrants
  • Access to maternity services
  • Culture and maternity
  • Overcoming language barriers
  • Intercultural communication
  • Migration and maternal mental health
  • Improving migrant women’s experiences of maternity services
I have to admit I have only had a quick look at the package but it appears to be very easy to navigate, uncomplicated in its delivery and very thought-provoking even if all the information does not apply to your context.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blogs about pregnancy, natural birth and midwifery

Thanks to MRI Technician Schools for a comprehensive list of blogs about pregnancy, natural childbirth and midwifery: Top 100 Natural Birthing Blogs.

I am number 91 and have been categorized as "miscellaneous" just above Bill Cosby at number 93!

Now you'll have to go and see what Bill Cosby has to do with natural childbirth!

Launch of eMentoring CD ROM

Last Thursday I was proud to attend the launch of the Aged Care Queensland Inc eMentoring CD ROM that I have developed, sponsored by the Queensland Gambling Community Benefit Fund. Aside from the fact I wasn't not too sure how gambling benefits the community, I had a great time because I was able to meet a number of mentors and mentees that are participating in the ACQI eMentoring project.

The main buzz for me is that I have got agreement from all concerned to have the CD ROM licenced under a Creative Commons By Attribution licence which means people can do what they like with the content as long as it is attributed back to ACQI and the people whose material we used.

So, hats off to ACQI - let's hope this is the beginning of all their resources being published under a Creative Commons licence.

Jessica Coates, Creative Commons Australia.

The joys of being young!

(me, on the right with friend at the launch of the Aged Care Queensland eMentoring CD ROM on Thursday 17th June)

I was talking to a young waitress in my favorite Indian restaurant in Brisbane the other day. The waitress was complaining that men didn't speak to her with old fashioned courtesy any more. She complained that men didn't complement her with flourish and poetry but rather what she got these days was "Hey, you're looking hot, babe!"

My wise and profound reply was that she should make the most of it. If anyone says that to me these days it's because they've noticed I'm having a hot flush!

You just don't know how lucky you are when you're 20!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My plan for a flexible course: Mentoring in aged and community care


Assignment Two of the Flexible Learning Course is to make a plan for delivering an educational program that integrates flexible learning principles.

Throughout this course I have been thinking about the principles of flexible learning in relation to the eMentoring program I have been designing and implementing for Aged Care Queensland. This program has been a voluntary program and has required aged and community staff to commit to being either mentors or mentees. The aim of the program has been to connect people using online technology, focusing particularly on staff who live in rural and remote areas and indigenous people - people who would otherwise have limited access to support and professional development.

Hopefully, the mentors will gain from this program as they share the benefit of their experience and skills. Many people volunteer to be mentors because they themselves expect to learn from the experience. However, as things stand at the moment apart from a sense of achievement, all they will get from the mentoring program is a pat on the head.

What I would like to do is design a course they can take that will turn their experience as a mentor into an accepted qualification.

Mentoring in the context of aged and community care
The course will be required to fit vocational and training standards in Australia and delivered by an appropriate RTO - the education arm of Aged Care Queensland. A framework for the course already exists as a Level Four certificate for government employees called PSPGOV414A Provide workplace mentoring. The course I propose would take the elements of the PSPGOV414A and make into a course appropriate for staff in aged and community care who have been or wish to be mentors.

The learner
Before I consider principles of flexible learning, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the profiles of the learners who will be engaging with the course. Having spent some time talking to the mentors I can say that they are highly motivated and willing to share their knowledge with less experienced people. At the same time they are very keen to learn themselves. They are very excited to try new online modes of communication but have minimal computer skills. A number of them also have problems with accessing the Internet at work because of IT policies that restrict its use. Time constraints and geographical distance are the main barriers to being a mentor and any additional education programs.

Contextualising learning
There will be two different approaches to this course. The first wave of students will be the those who have done the 'learning' as they have worked as mentors. Now they need to articulate that learning in a more formal way. The educator's job will be to guide them as they make sense of their experiences and reflect on their learning. The second wave of student will be those who wish to take the course to prepare themselves for being a mentor in the future.

Application of learning theory
In one of my previous posts Carolyn and Bronwyn do a fabulous job of explaining how they feel connectivism is the learning theory that will underpin this course. Carolyn explains that taking a flexible approach to the course will allow students to 'connect' with the course and other learners. Bronwyn takes things a step further by illustrating how connectivism incorporates reflective practice and critical thinking which are essential elements of mentoring. But I am thinking that constructivism may be a more relevant underpinning learning theory.

Constructivism is about students constructing meaning based on their own experiences. Like connectivism, this will require honest reflection and insight on the part of the student which in itself is a vital part of being a mentor. And because each student's experience and pre-existing knowledge will vary, it will be really important to carry out a needs-analysis of the requirements of the student so the educator knows how to support the student, what learning materials are required and how the assessments can be molded to suit the students' needs. So what I am saying is in this course, the educator becomes a facilitator or even a critical friend as opposed to a teacher who dictates all terms of the learning experience.


Assessment in this course will be part of the students' learning journey (authentic). Marking students personal learning and learning journeys is difficult as I said in my previous post. It may be more appropriate that the course does not have a grade but rather 'achieved' mark. At the same time, this course is about students' performance and a 'grade' does give an indication of performance which can be used as evidence for potential mentees.

Because this course is about students' performance as mentors, it may also be appropriate that assessment consists of evidence from colleagues and mentees. A portfolio approach to assessment would capture a more holistic picture of the mentor's performance. Thus, a marking rubric will need to be developed to guide the educator as she assesses the portfolio, and provide the student a framework on which to base her work.

The course will be delivered between six months to one year but students can complete earlier if they have already carried out the mentoring activities. This lengthy time frame takes into consideration the professional workload the student already is contending with, as well as the time that is required for a mentoring relationship to develop. The educational material will be delivered in the first part of the course - the second part of the course will be focusing on students developing their mentoring relationships, gathering evidence and completing assessments.

Delivery of material
The framework of the course will be delivered online using a blog or wiki. Educational material will be delivered using a number of mediums to engage students with different learning styles, access to technology and computer skills including
  • paper eMentoring handbook with reflective exercises
  • eMentoring CD ROM
  • synchronous online meetings to disseminate information and encourage students to network and connect with each other
  • use of video, podcasts and other online medium to impart material in a more engaging way that plain text, especially for people who are not readers/writers.
Whilst I am keen to offer a plethora of online mediums for disseminating information, I also need to be mindful of people's technical skills and access to Internet. So all materials will be available via CD as well as online, for those people who have limited access to the Internet.

I would like to be able to offer a couple of face-to-face sessions that would be designed to address indigenous students' needs but that would depend on funding. The geographical spread of Queensland makes this difficult. If face-to-face sessions are impossible to arrange, it would be imperative that students are given as much tutorial help as they need by telephone or online communication. My long term goal would be for mentors who pass the course to 'mentor' the next intake of students and hopefully be able to provide a sort of 'train the trainers' approach to tutorials in the face-to-face context.

Connected learning
It will also be important to encourage a sense of community amongst these students - somewhere they can talk and share their mentoring experiences and seek support from other mentors. It may not be appropriate to do this in an open online forum such as a blog because of issues of confidentiality, especially in the mentoring context. I will leave the choice of how they do that to them - online synchronous meet-ups or asynchronous forum like an email group. They may also choose to meet face-to-face but this is unlikely because of the geography of Queensland and it will need to be student-led because there is unlikely to be funding for educational staff to attend.

The student would be expected to mentor a colleague or someone in the workplace context over an agreed period of time. The mentoring relationship should involve at least six interactions. The student will be required to submit portfolio that will consist of:
  • an example of a negotiated mentoring contract that incorporates principles of mentoring
  • evidence of how she managed a situation with her mentee
  • evidence of performance from mentee
  • a reflective summary of lessons learned from being a mentor - this can be presented in whatever form or media the student feels is appropriate
  • a learning/teaching resource that could be used by future students - a 'tip' about being an eMentor - this can be made in any form from a short paragraph to video, podcast, photo, drawing - whatever the student feels is appropriate.
What do you think about this plan? Is it too large - should I look to reduce assessment? Is there any areas where I can plan to be more 'flexible'?

Australian Flexible Learning Framework. (2008). A guide to creating learning design for VET. retrieved 17 June, 2009, from: http://toolboxes.flexiblelearning.net.au/documents/guides.htm#learning_design

Australian National Training Authority. (2002). Assessment and Online Teaching. retrieved 21 June, 2009, from http://pre2005.flexiblelearning.net.au/guides/assessment.pdf

Blake, A., & Doherty, I. (2007). An Instructional Design Course for Clinical Educators: First Iteration Design Research Reflections. Journal of Learning Design. Vol 2, No 2. Retrieved 21 June, 2009, from http://www.jld.qut.edu.au/publications/vol2no2/documents/BlakeandDohertyJLDVol2No2.pdf

Lorenzo, G., & Ittleson, J. (2005). Demonstrating and assessing student learning with ePortfolios. Retrieved 21 June, 2009, from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI3003.pdf

Mason, R., Pegler, C., & Weller, M. (2004). E-portfolios: an assessment tool for online courses. British Journal of Educational Technology. Vol 35, No. 6. Retrieved 21 June, 2009, from http://www.sarasotaintranet.usf.edu/ir/Documents/DistanceLearning/mason.pdf

Flexible learning and assessment

One of the areas I am interested in learning more about is how flexibility impacts on assessment. As students' profiles and needs change and the number of communication tools expand, educators are called upon to be to be more flexible in their approach to assessment. But how do we do that?

Spoiled for choice
It seems to me that the options for assessment are limitless. Gone are the days when the only forms of assessment were essays and exams. Now we can use video, online quizzes, blogs, interactive presentations...the list goes on. But assessment isn't just about the tools we use but how the assessment measures the outcomes or objectives of the course. It may be 'cool' to use some trendy new online quiz that captures students' attention, but if it is not aligned with course outcomes, then it has no use as an assessment tool.

Students taking control of their learning
Flexibility is about student focused education and learning. The natural development of this is student focused assessment. We can do this in a variety of ways including self and peer assessment, reflection, portfolio, and student-negotiated learning plans. Flexible assessment also includes more logistical decisions about time frames and grades.

This flexibility has to take into consideration how students see themselves as learners. Are they prepared to take responsibility for their own learning? It may not be appropriate to have flexible assessment for students who have just entered a course as new learners. But as they become more aware of themselves as learners and their learning style, then they can take on the 'freedom' that flexible assessment allows.

Working with students in a way that encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning and learning outcomes can be challenging. So we need to think about the scaffolding and support structures that students require until they become more independent in their role of learner. I think of the baby when he starts to walk. At first the parent carries him, then holds his hand as he makes his first steps. The baby progresses to leading reins and eventually walks independent of his parent and starts to run about the place.

Responding to students' needs
To my mind, flexibility in assessment is about responding to students' individual learning needs as well as needs of the curriculum. The key is making assessment relevant to the learner. Students are far more likely to learn, remember and value work that has relevancy and application than an assessment that they are made to do for the sake of it. At the same time, the assessment has to be aligned to the learning outcomes.

Probably one of the most effective assessment I ever gave was to third year undergraduate midwifery students. I required them to submit a professional portfolio. It was a lot of hard work (for them as learners and myself as marker) but they really appreciated it because they needed a portfolio as registered midwives. In other words, it was authentic ie it had real meaning for the students.

How to give marks
You also need to think about how you mark individualized assessment, provide consistency and fairness. I really enjoy giving students assessments that hinge on personal reflection. This allows student to talk about their own personal practice and learning. But I find it extremely hard to mark - how do you put a 'value' on someone's very personal experiences? To manage this, it is important for educators to do their ground work - put rubrics in place and always link assessment back to course outcomes or objectives.

What I have learned about flexible assessment.
  • Flexible assessment is not about the tools we use.
  • Assessment must be aligned with course outcomes or objectives.
  • Assessment must be relevant or authentic.
  • Students need to be supported to recognize their learning styles and needs when they develop their own assessment criteria.
What do you think flexible assessment means and requires? Have you had any experience of flexible assessment either as a educator or student? What is in it for the educator - doesn't it mean a lot of extra work?


Asafu, J. (2001). Flexible assessment in a business course. Retrieved 14 June, 2009, from http://www.tedi.uq.edu.au/largeclasses/pdfs/CaseStudy-02_Asafu.pdf

Australian National Training Authority. (2002). Assessment and Online Teaching Australian Flexible Learning Quick Guide Series. Retrieved 14 June, 2009, from http://pre2005.flexiblelearning.net.au/guides/assessment.pdf

Hallas, J. (2008). Rethinking teaching and assessment strategies for flexible learning
environments. In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008. Retrieved 14 June, 2009, from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne08/procs/hallas.pdf

Mueller, J. (2008). What is authentic assessment? Retrieved 14 June, 2009, from http://jonathan.mueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/whatisit.htm

The Higher Education Academy. (2009). Constructive Alignment - and why it is important to the learning process. Retrieved 14 June, 2009, from http://www.engsc.ac.uk/er/theory/constructive_alignment.asp

Wood, L., & Smith, G. (no date). Flexible Assessment. Retrieved 14 June, 2009, from http://www.sci.usq.edu.au/staff/spunde/delta99/Papers/wood_s.pdf

Image: 'Reflections' johnrite

Building an audience for your blog

I have been working a lot with newbie bloggers over the last couple of months. This has led me to thinking about tips I would give people who are working to establish their blogs.

Very important tip
One of the most important tips I would give newbie bloggers about attracting readers is to get out and about, and leave comments on other people's blogs. This is not new news - experienced bloggers such as Problogger have been saying this for a long time. But it really does work.

Building a network
But more important than just increasing your blog stats, you will start to build a network of people who you can communicate and collaborate with, which to my mind is the most important aspect of blogging.

I have been very busy lately and have got out of the habit of reading and commenting on blogs. So I have decided to make a pact with myself that I read and comment on at least one blog a day for a month. How about joining me and let me know how you get on. Whose blog did you visit? What did they write that made you want to leave a comment and what did you say?

Proposal for the International Confederation of Midwives

One of my great passions is working out ways of bringing midwives together in a way that would never happen in a face-to-face context. One of the factors driving this is the necessity of supporting our sisters (and brothers) in an international context. Whilst face-to-face conferences is the preferred way of networking and updating oneself, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the funding to attend conferences that you know you will benefit from.

Midwifery conferences
It isn't just midwives in so-called developing countries that cannot attend international conferences. With the effects of the global recession I would struggle to be able to go down the road to attend a conference. The costs of flights, accommodation and time off work make it prohibitive for many to attend conferences - I could make a couple of mortgage payments for the cost of attending a local conference. For the cost of going to a big international conference in the UK, I could put in a new kitchen in my house in New Zealand. And believe me, because of the state my kitchen is in... it gets first priority.

ICM triennial Congress 2011
The next ICM Triennial congress is in Durban in 2011. Along with many thousands of midwives I want to attend but don't know if I'll be able to afford it. Yet I also know that it will be a wonderful opportunity to update myself on what is going on in the midwifery world. I will also be missing out on an opportunity to present my own work.

My proposal to the organising committee of the next ICM Triennial Congress I would like to propose a number of options to the organising committee of the next ICM congress (and any other midwifery conference) for including those of us who cannot attend in reality. The range of technologies must include synchronous and asynchronous, and also allow for people who have restricted access to the Internet and computer technology. I would also like to consider how we include mobile phone technology.
  • Speakers beamed into from other locations using technology such as Skype or Elluminate.
  • Audio and video recordings published on sites such as YouTube or blip.tv.
  • Presentations published on websites such as Slideshare.
  • Live streaming of presentations.
  • Use of Twitter to encourage participation both in terms of sending out information and receiving comments.
  • Speakers beamed out of the conference as virtual 'break out' sessions using Elluminate, TinyChat and/or Second Life.
  • Interactive web site such as Facebook or blog that brings all these things together.
Anyone else got any other ideas about how to hook in an online audience at a conference? What has worked well for you in your experience of planning or attending a conference, both in real life or online?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flexible learning in practice

Here is an interview recording I have made where I asked Carolyn McIntosh about her experiences of flexible learning and the development of an undergraduate midwifery degree at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand.

The key points for me are:
  • flexible learning is more than delivering material online;
  • students need to be supported as they explore the use of alternative media for their learning;
  • faculty need to be committed to flexible learning ideals and methodology.


As a matter of interest, I interviewed Carolyn using Skype, recorded the conversation using Powergramo which then integrated with Audacity to turn the recording into an MP3 file.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Flexible Learning: Trying to get my head straight

I don't know where time has flown but suffice to say I am coming to the end of the Flexible Learning course I have been taking. At the same time, I am about to complete the Aged Care Queensland eMentoring project so the timing is extremely fortuitous.

Not quite sure what I am doing
When I started the Flexible Learning course I wanted to concentrate on how I would develop a course for the mentors who are taking part in my eMentoring project. In other words, they are doing the mentoring - how could I turn their experience into a qualification?

I have developed course materials in the form of paper materials and CD ROM, and live and recorded workshops. The mentors would also have their practical experience to learn from. I have a framework for their mentoring course provided by The National Training Information Service. All I would have work out how they would be assessed.

The plan had been that the work that I do for the flexible learning course will then be turned into a level four certificate by the RTO arm of Aged Care Queensland.

Developing a flexible eMentoring program
However, I have not got to that stage because I have been focusing on the eMentoring program itself, and looking at how mentoring can be delivered in a flexible manner. But I am not sure if planning an eMentloring program meets my own learning outcomes. So here's my questions:
  • Should my plan be for a flexible eMentoring program, or for a flexible course for mentors?
  • How should I approach assessment?
Goals for the next few days
There are two more things I want to do before I tackle my flexible elarning plan.
  • Interview Carolyn McIntosh who did this course in 2008 and has been working all year to deliver her midwifery courses in a flexible manner. This is going to require working out how to record a Skype conversation.
  • Look at flexible assessment methods, including how students can develop their own assessment methods.
Any comments about anything in this post will be gratefully received. If you were going to be 'assessed' on how you performed as a mentor in a formal mentoring program to gain a qualification, what do you think would be a reasonable method of assessment?

Image: 'img_1144.jpg' yish

Using Blurb to publish a book

For some time I have been meaning to back-up this blog. I would be gutted if anything happened to it because I have put so much work into it.

Basic settings - export blog
One option is to use the "export blog" facility found in Basic Settings.

Making my blog into a book
The second option is to make my blog into a book. This is an option suggested by Leigh Blackall, who recommended I use wikibooks.

But the tool I am going to try is Blurb which was recommended to me by Matthew Cashmore who I met at the weekend at the Reality Bites blogging workshop.

It's all in the blurb
According to Matthew, it is a very reasonably priced way of publishing your own books. All you do is make your book and then you order how ever many copies you want printed at very reasonable prices. Apparently, the quality of the printing is very good.

I haven't used it yet but when I do, I'll let you know how I get on.

Image: 'Blurb Book Suveniruri de la Londra 3' KLMircea

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Making online surveys with Google Forms

I have been a great fan of SurveyMonkey for making online surveys, but the big disadvantage has been that the free version does not allow you to download and share your results.

I have known about Google Forms, which is part of Google Documents for some time but have never investigated further (to my detriment). Suffice to say, it is a great tool for developing online surveys and it downloads data directly into a database. This tool is free and very user-friendly. Here are some instructions about how to use it. I highly recommend this compared to the free version of SurveyMonkey.

Image: 'Surveying at Heathrow' Wessex Archaeology

Having a blogging crisis

Yesterday I was privileged to be a member of a blogging panel at the Reality Bites writing festival. In the morning I joined experienced and successful bloggers Matthew Cashmore and Rhonda Hetzel to talk in general terms about blogging. And in the afternoon I led a blogging workshop in a computer laboratory.

Reflecting about blogging
I had a thoroughly enjoyable time and especially enjoyed talking to Matthew who has been blogging for many years and is a social media expert working at Lonely Planet. Our discussions coupled with the fact I am approaching my 2nd year of blogging anniversary has left me to reflect on this blog and ask myself if I am achieving what I set to achieve?

Is this blog meeting my needs and my audience? How can I attract a bigger audience? Now that I am about to become unemployed and consequently beholden to no particular employer or organisation, can I cut loose and write more personal posts? Should I be keeping a personal blog as well as a professional blog? Does this professional blog meet my needs as I start to think about my future direction in terms of employment? If I have a personal blog, do I write it as 'Sarah Stewart'? If I do, how will that impact on my professional identity?

All this reflection has led to the blogging equivalent of a mid life crisis!

I'm bored with my blog
At the moment this blog is boring me. It is dense with professional information and somewhere along the line I have lost a sense of 'me' in it. Now, that has a lot to do with my real life. I have been extremely busy with the eMentoring and Second Life midwifery education projects and have had little time to think about my personal life, let alone write about it. Actually, truth be told, for the last two months I haven't had a personal life. This weekend is the first time I have had a complete break from either project.

Suffering blog envy
I have always insisted that this blog is about my personal learning and I do not particularly want a blog that panders to a certain audience. If I wanted to do that, my blog would be targeted at pregnant women or people interested in clinical midwifery. At the same time, it would be great to reach a wider audience than I am at the moment. This is especially true as I start to look for another job, and think about the future direction of my career.

I guess the bottom line is that I have been afflicted with a major case of blog envy. I want a blog like Rhonda's. But at the same time, if I try to promote a more personal blog, how effective would that be in attracting a widespread audience unless I have something to 'sell'?

Getting back to my roots
I have dug out a post I wrote at the beginning of 2008 that hopefully will help me to refocus called My blog goals for 2008. My goals were:
  • use my blog for my own personal and professional learning;
  • role model blogging and social networking to midiwves;
  • build a midwifery community that goes on to meet via virtual meetings and conferences.
I have achieved all those goals - indeed, they are ongoing. So maybe the issue isn't so much my blog, but rather my life style. Maybe, I need to manage my time more effectively so that a. I have a personal life, and b. I find time to blog about it.

Where does Twitter fit into this?
In one sense, Twitter has taken over the role of personal blogging. Whilst I have been writing very few personal blog posts, I have been putting out a lots of personal thoughts and maintaining personal connections on Twitter. So maybe, the option for me is to concentrate on building my blog as a professional space, and using Twitter for making and keeping personal connections?

So you can see, I'm in a right old tiss and would love to hear your feedback. Should I have a personal blog as well as this professional blog? How can I make this professional blog more engaging and attract a wider audience? What do you think?

Image: 'It's the hard knock life!' Ruben Bos

Menopause - the final taboo?

Now I have reached my mid 40s I am starting to notice a few physical changes that herald the start of the menopause which has got me thinking about how I am about to enter a new phase of my life.

I have spent so much of my adult life focusing on pregnancy and birth, it has come as a shock to realise I know nothing about menopause. It's not something that comes up in conversation when you're talking to young women who have just found out they are pregnant, or whose boobs feel as if they are going to explore just after they have given birth. But now I have started my own journey into the menopause, I have become a lot more conscious about attitudes to this particular rite of passage.

Needing a comb over
I have found it fascinating that people do not appear to want to talk about the menopause and have been wondering why. For example....

I have noticed that my hair has been falling out. Now I am a pretty pragmatic person and don't worry too much about my appearance, but the thought of going bald has set me off in a blind panic. I was all set to make a mad rush down to the emergency doctors but as I had an appointment to get my hair cut - the hair I have left - I thought I'd talk to the hairdresser about it first.

What the hairdresser thinks
The hairdresser is like the local catholic priest - you can tell her anything. The salon I visit is small so conversations are shared. Customers and hairdressers talk about anything although discussion does tend to focus on relationships and sex. So I looked forward to a good old chin wag with 'the girls' about my hair and what to expect.

When I brought the topic up, the very nice (and very young) hairdresser whispered to me that yes, your hair does thin when you become menopausal. And in an even quieter voice which I could barely hear she told me it's because there is a rise in testosterone levels. Then she gave me a rather pitying look and changed the subject.

Hushed tones
What struck me was that if this had been a conversation about sex, pregnancy or even death, it would have been at a normal volume level and more than likely included everyone who was in the salon. But despite the fact that the salon was full of women, my hairdresser and I were talking in whispers. I wanted reassurance and information. What I was left with was a sense of isolation.

So my question - is menopause the final taboo?

Image: 'window voyeurism' .danica

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reality Bites: How to make a blog

Welcome to Reality Bites Writers' Festival - The what, why and how of becoming blog savvy.


How to follow other people's blogs.
To set up blog with appropriate settings.
Be able to discuss why commenting on other people’s blogs is important and enable people to comment on your blog.
Be able to follow your comments on other people's blogs.
Be able to discuss how to control spam.
Be able to discuss why you would or would not moderate your blog.
Be able to use hyperlinks and upload images.
To write first post.
To set up profile.
To exchange blog addresses with other workshop participants.

Useful information
Sue Waters: Here's my first five top tips for writing better blog posts.
Create and maintain a basic weblog: Getting to the point.
Problogger: 31 Day Blog Challenge.
Sue Waters and Michele Martin: 31 Day Comment Challenge.

Please leave comments and feedback about the workshop in the 'comments' section of this post.
What did you enjoy? What changes can you suggest for future workshops

Thank you.

Image: 'Sunrise, Noosaville, Queensland.' fastskybus

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trip to the Australian outback

Earlier in the week I spent a couple of days in Longreach, which is in the outback of Queensland - three hours flight from Brisbane. I went there to run mentoring and computer skills workshops.

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Outback Australia
The first thing that struck me was just how huge Australia is, and how remote some communities are. Longreach is a warm and welcoming community, but as a city dweller I really don't know why anyone would want to live hours drive away from decent shops and restaurants. However, I was assured that people live in Longreach and surrounding areas because they love the sense of community that prevails as opposed to the less friendly city environments.

Lack of midwifery care
The other thing that stuck me was the lack of maternity and midwifery support people receive in these areas. They have the choice of birthing in the Longreach hospital or driving five hours to Rockhampton. Many make that drive because they do not want to birth in Longreach - something to do with Longreach having a rival rugby team! Yet, to do this, they are required to move there four weeks before the baby is due. There is little to no post natal support or follow up.

It really brought home to me how much work needs to be done to support pregnant women in rural and remote areas, yet at the same time how complex that is. It also really struck a cord with me, and got my midwifery receptors buzzing - how I would love the challenge of working in a rural setting like this...apart from the fact it has no decent shops, MacDonalds.......!

Still no kangaroos
I drove up and down the main highway a few times but still didn't get to see any live kangaroos. But I did see a number of road trains which are another of Australia's icons. They drive so fast and must make a hell of a mess of any kangaroo they drive over.

Hats off
The land is dry and harsh, and very unwelcoming and I take my hat off to the people who live out there. At least today they have modern resources to support their living. How the early settlers survived is a miracle.

At the same time I could see the appeal - maybe it touched the part of me that has descended from generations of West Country farmers in the UK. So maybe my next job is as midwife in rural and remote Australia? Who knows?!