Monday, 27 February 2012

Mr Bean and the Mac

It is well known that Martin Bean, the OU Vice Chancellor, used to work for Microsoft. Students and tutors have long complained of the OU bias towards Microsoft and Windows in computing and technical support. This has been eased over the years by software flexibility in Macs allowing dual systems.

It was a challenge marking the first electronic assignments on a Mac. When the electronic marking system was upgraded, I couldn't get it to work and had to buy a cheap Windows laptop for OU work.

Someone told me about Mike Hay and his eTMA file handler.

Mike's free download provided the easiest and most robust bit of software for electronic marking that I'd found. Not only has he compiled a clear manual, but he offers telephone support when new users get stuck. I've found him more helpful than the OU computer helpdesk. Satisfied customers are encouraged to make a donation to charity to show appreciation for his efforts.

I assume that Mike knitted his bit of kit to help with his own teaching.

What does this innovation have to do with Mr Bean? It costs the OU nothing, boosts participation of Mac users and lessens criticism of the technical monoculture at the university.

How about acknowledging Mike Hay's contribution with an award?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Jose Antonio Abreu: visionary leader

Jose Antonio Abreu wanted young people from deprived backgrounds to experience what he had enjoyed through musical education. At the start he had 50 (donated) music stands for 100 young musicians.

Only 11 kids turned up to the first rehearsal. "Do I close the programme or multiply these kids?" He accepted the challenge and made a promise to those 11 pioneers that he'd convert this into one of the leading orchestras in the world.

Today art is no longer the monopoly of an elite, but has become a social right.

"In its essence the orchestra and choir are much more than artistic structures: they are examples and schools of social life, because to sing and play together means to coexist intimately toward perfection and excellence, following a strict discipline of organisation and coordination in order to seek the harmonic interdependence of voices and instruments. That's how they build a spirit of solidarity and fraternity, developing self esteem and fostering ethical and aesthetic values related to music in every sense."

300,000 children are involved from lower and middle classes. El Sistema is a programme of social rescue. The impact is felt in 3 areas: the personal, the family and the community spheres.

The child attains a sense of identity and importance in the world and the music ends up overcoming material poverty. Music is the number one prevention against prostitution, violence, bad habits, bad company and everything degrading to the life of a child.

Here's a rehearsal of el Sistema's world class Venezuelan Youth Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel: