Friday, June 29, 2012

What's in a Name?

My prickliness regarding how my name is spelled is well known among my colleagues and friends. For years, nothing ticked me off more than seeing my name being spelled as Pooja. But living in this part of the world, there are other bigger distortions I have to contend with. I have been called many things- from Piju to Punja to even Paju- each making me see red. 

Yesterday, I received a mail from someone who addressed me as Puju, but instead of being upset, it made me happy. You see, it's the name my dearest daddy used to call me by affectionately.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Morning Walk to Work

Every morning, I walk from Labrador train station to the office and in the evenings, take the same route back. It is almost 1km each way. The walkway is covered, so one can walk even when it rains.

I enjoy the walk immensely, watching all kinds of people doing their thing. I notice how people dress, and how they talk and interact with others. I pay attention to those who appear confident and try to deconstruct the source of that image (it’s mainly in their purposeful stride).  I have also come to appreciate how well Singaporean women dress and how almost everyone wears heels.

Various eateries line the walkway as it zigzags its way across an overhead bridge, a new mall and a couple of office complexes. People can be seen eating at any time of the day- that’s Singapore for you. Luckily for me, I have no appetite in the mornings and so am not tempted to join them. In the evenings, I sometimes stop by a bakery and pick up something to munch. 

There are two water bodies along the way, a small Koi pond and a large one with a huge sculpture in it. Both are cleaned by cleaning staff almost everyday. Often I see a group of toddlers sitting by the koi pond, supervised by their daycare aunties, chattering and looking in fascination at the colorful fish. I always have a big grin on my face as I walk past them- that’s what kids do to me.

The other bigger pond is another story. Men and women stand around it or sit on benches smoking. The whole stretch along that water body is full of acrid smoke. I dodge whoever I can, but it is almost impossible to avoid breathing in their second-hand smoke. I find it distasteful and disgusting and give lots of mental gaalis to these inconsiderate enslaved people. Hard to imagine I used to light up myself when I younger and lost.

The very last part of my walk is through a car park into the back entrance of my office building. It is almost industrial- no gloss or polish. I like it because the air is cleaner and there is almost no one around. I have this last 200 meters or so to collect my thoughts and get in the mindset for work. 

This morning routine is a big change for my impatient in a hurry to get to work personality, but it didn't take much effort to get used to it. In fact, on days I take a cab or have an offsite meeting, I miss it. Strange but true.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If I Won a Lottery- by Arya Majumder

It has taken me over three weeks to post this essay by Arya after I sought and received permission from his mother to post it. It should have been easy to post someone else's essay- after all I was not doing the writing right? Wrong. 

The author is not just any someone. He is, was, the son of a dear friend whom I worked with at IIT Delhi a long time ago and then lost touch with. Arya passed away in 2010 at the age of 12, after battling cancer for four years. He was 11 when he wrote this. 

How do I introduce to everyone a child I myself had never known? How do I write a preface that will do justice to the context in which this essay was written?  

I finally figured that regardless of whether I can do justice to it, this essay needs to be shared because it shows a young boy's dreams, his compassion and his honesty. Isn't this exactly what this world needs more of? Thank you Swati for sharing this treasure of yours. 

If I Won the Lottey
By Arya Majumder

If I won the lottery what would I do with the money? Would I be selfish and keep it all to my self? Well think again. I am not selfish and some people say the money won from a lottery is too much for one person. One thing I would do with most of the money is give some money to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My second choice is to give some of the lottery money to the homeless people. Another thing I can do is start Bone Marrow drives all over the United States. I won’t give all my money away I will keep some for my self. This is what I can do with most of my money from the lottery.

Why do I want to help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society? Well, I want doctors to find more curers for the cancer and plus I had Leukemia for three year. I also know how hard it is to go through the cycle of loosing hair and getting all kinds of chemo and feeling sick all the time. It’s really hard to go through the cycle as I said, but it is even harder for adult. It’s harder for adults because most of the time younger patients get cured faster then older patients. This is why I want to help find curers for Leukemia and Lymphoma cancer.

Why would I want to give money to homeless people? The reason I will give some of my lottery money to the homeless is because they have no job, no home, and most of the time no family. When I see a homeless person I feel that I need to help them find a job and a home. If I could give five million dollars to the homeless and help them build homes and then all of the homeless people will be happy.

Why would I want to give money to start bone marrow drive? Well, I would use the money to start bone marrow drives all over USA. The reason I will use the money for bone marrow drives is because I got a bone marrow transplant. I know that if more people go to drives more sick kids and adults will get a transplant. I want more people to go to drive because I know that there is a three out of ten chance that people find a match. I got a ten out of ten match with a donor and people from my town did a drive for me.

What will I do with the money that is left over?

First, I will buy a big twenty first century house with things from the future. The second thing I will buy a Porsche 911 turbo and Lamborghini Murcielago. Also, I will get a Butler and my personal cook. The reason I will get a cook is because I don’t know how to make Japanese food and I love Japanese.

Finally, I will buy a motorcycle in fact a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

This is how I can help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Homeless, and help start Bone Marrow Drives. This is what I will do if I won the lottery…

Monday, June 18, 2012

Being Single

The other day, someone asked me a question that I am sure many people have wanted to ask me but don't because of my apparent aloofness. We were talking about my being a single parent and she said "But don't you ever feel like being with someone? Why didn't you marry again?". Usually quick to respond, I floundered. I couldn't find the right words to tell her what to wanted to- that I am complete as I am and very happy too, even though my completeness and happiness is very different from hers, a happily married woman. I don't seek that kind of companionship at all, perhaps because I have other very fulfilling relationships, or because I have been burnt...who knows for sure? Whenever I have tried to say this to anyone, it tends to become a one lifestyle versus another issue, which I am not interested in.

Then last week, I read this poem and liked it for its simplicity. But it kept calling me back for some reason and I found myself reading it again and again. Today when I read it, I realized why. The poem explains my completeness in singlehood. Here's 
the poem first, then my interpretation.


Thorns are my language.
I announce my existence
with a bleeding touch.

Once these thorns were flowers.
I loathe lovers who betray.
Poets have abandoned the deserts
to go back to the gardens.
Only camels remain here, and merchants,
who trample my blooms to dust.

One thorn for each rare drop of water.
I don’t tempt butterflies,
no bird sings my praise.
I don’t yield to droughts.

I create another beauty
beyond the moonlight,
this side of dreams,
a sharp, piercing,
parallel language.

by K. Satchidanandan
from Vikku
DC Books, Kottayam, 2002
translation by author

Here is how I relate to this poem.

By being single, I created another beauty, beyond the moonlight, this side of dreams, a sharp piercing parallel language, softened somewhat by motherhood. I may not tempt the usual butterflies anymore, but I don't yield to droughts either! 
My world may look deserted, but it is clean and beautiful and harmonious. My thorns may repel, but they also preserve and protect. Poets may have abandoned the desert, but I resound with poetry. No birds sing here, but my life feels like a song- in a single mellifluous voice. 

The Great Big Tree

Here is one of my favorite poems. I could even say the most favorite because every time I read it, I feel it was written for me and, sometimes, by me. Of course it wasn't- the author is Kiyoko Nagase, a Japanese poetess who wrote this way back in 1947 in Japanese. This tree is what I want to be. I am far from being it, but having this vision grounds me and gives me tremendous solace. 

May I be a great big tree
so big I can’t see those taking shelter under me,
a deep green conical figure wrapped in serenity
Just as I dangle my bare feet in the water
may my roots joyfully draw
from an unknown subterranean current

May I be such a great big tree
that those who look at me
will naturally feel peace and repose

Yet may my luxuriating branches and leaves
whisper to a breeze like stray hair
May they awaken before anyone else in the rosy glow of morning
May their blue shadows be cast on earth
spreading like a trailing lace skirt
May my thoughts be kind
May my thoughts be refreshing
The tree will not move
The tree will not speak
yet may it be a ladder heavenly children ascend and descend

If someone comes and rests by me at the height of day
I will provide deep shadow and infinite comfort

On a stormy day
I will be even greater, more stalwart
I will firmly anchor my roots in the great earth and will not sway
Yet my sap will flow smoothly
even my incised wounds will issue forth a refreshing scent
Soon I will whisper a smiling song
When night arrives I will dissolve into darkness
unbeknownst to people
may the song alone become invisible ripples 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Aloka's New Vocabulary!

Daddy's E-mails- Part 3

This is the last part. There is so much he didn't write about. Perhaps all the typing tired him, perhaps he was just a private person. But I value every word he wrote more than anything else in my life. I love you daddy. Even though you have gone, your legacy lives on, in our hearts and lives. And in Aloka.

First Job
In 1955, I joined the medical dept of JK Govt and was posted to Srinagar hospital. Everybody had left Srinagar by this time and I was alone. I was put on night duty. I had a small dog I left it home when I went to Hospital. The dog cried the whole night and on my return the landlady was full of complaints. Naturally! (Computer has been set right last evening so I am trying to write further.)

The dog would cry the whole night so I had no option but to carry it to hospital on my cycle. On the route all the street dogs would start barking and run with our cycle. It was quite a scene but I gradually got used to this funny scene. I worked in the hospital for 8 months and was transferred to the Mobile hospital. In this outfit, I had to tour in remote rural areas near the border where no medical facilities existed. We would camp at a place for a month and move to another location. I was able to see all the beautiful areas in this job. Many times Bhapaji would accompany me and pose as a senior doctor and ask the patient about his problem and then order me to write the medicine.

Marriage and Kids
Baoji had moved to Gurgaon as postmaster as he was nearing his retirement. He built the LJ house and settled after retiring. These days I was working in Medical College Srinagar. I went to Delhi during vacations and suddenly I was married to a girl selected by Baoji and Bhapaji. It was Feb 60.

After finishing the house-job Chandrama joined me in Srinagar. Both of us decided to move to Delhi as job opportunities were limited in Kashmir. End of 60 we returned to Delhi Chandrama joined Lady Hardinge and I CGHS. We lived in LJ for over 10 years produced 3 children one after another. Anu was born in Lady Hardinge, Arun at Holy family and you at Ganga Ram hospitals. The hospital was decided by Dr S Ghei, Raj’s classmate and friend. You children kept us very busy. Then we moved to Moti bagh.

Daddy's E-mails- Part 2

This part deals with his teenage and early adulthood years. You can sense his subtle humor in his writings. I like it so much that he writes as if he is talking to me. 

In 1946, Bauji was transferred to Srinagar. I had done my matric exam and managed to pass also. In Srinagar I joined S P College in FMC medical. Raj also joined with me although she had already done 1st year non-medical but she decided to do medical. So we were in the same class. She was a very bright student. In our class test in Physics she secured 81/100 and I managed 18/100. She had the highest and I lowest. Our professor who used to live in the next door announced in the class that between the two of them they are holding the whole class- one from top the other from the bottom. I felt very bad and at this stage and started giving more attention to studies.

Baoji was posted as inspector post offices Leh division. He would go on tour to Leh once a year. It would take him 3 months to finish the circuit as he had to inspect all the post offices on route. He would return by an air force plane.  

End of 46, one morning we got up it was snowing heavily. We had never seen such a wonderful sight earlier. We ran out and played in the snow like mad. Our Grandmother was alive. She was a very fine lady. Every morning she would do Puja and sing bhajans. You perhaps don’t know that she lost her husband when Baoji was 6 months old. Grandmother was looked after by her brother who used to work in a rice mill perhaps as a laborer. Somehow Baoji was able to do his Matric exam and got a job in post office as a clerk. This was a big achievement for a poor boy (Note by Puja: mom tells a story about what Bauji wrote in his application. I will dig that out and add here). Soon he was married and transferred to Kishtwar in J&K. Bhapaji was born there.

Baoji had two sisters: the elder one was Boota Ram Suri's mother and the younger one was Indervati's mother. When Baoji moved to Kishtwar, he took Boota Ram with him. En-route Boota Ram fell in a khadd and was saved by Bhabiji who jumped after him in water. This reminds me that once Boota Ram's son RAVI fell in Dal Lake and I jumped after him to save him.

Pakistan was created in Aug 47. Baoji was transferred to Rewari. We stayed back in Srinagar to complete our studies. In Oct 47, Pakistan invaded Kashmir. (Note from daddy: I think it is enough for one sitting more tomorrow). 

The raiders very quickly reached outskirts of Srinagar. Maharaja had fled to Jammu there was no army or police. All of us were at the mercy of raiders who were killing all non-Muslims. It was a very horrifying time for all of us- poison was arranged for ladies. To cap it all our grandmother was diagnosed to be having cancer of liver and was very sick.
The Indian army flew into Srinagar when Kashmir acceded to India. Gradually, the Indian army took control of the situation and the raiders were pushed back. We were evacuated by Air Force planes to Delhi as refugees and lived in front of Birla Mandir. Local people would bring cooked food for us everyday. We were there for 5 to 6 days till we arranged for a taxi to go to Rewari. When we reached Rewari, Baoji had left for Srinagar to bring us back. Ultimately he came back and joined us. Grandmother died after a few weeks.
For completing our studies we got admitted to Govt. College Ludhiana. Baoji was again transferred to Srinagar and we joined him waiting for our result. We did rather well. I got admission in Amritsar and Raj at Lady Hardinge, New Delhi. Bhappaji joined a bank at Srinagar. As baoji had to educate both of us, he started touring the whole month to make extra money. Mohan got selected for army and joined military academy, Dehradun. So this time Raj and Mohan and myself were all in professional colleges. With time, we came out as doctors and an army officer.

Daddy's E-mails- Part 1

My dad was a quiet unassuming man, never the kind to talk about himself easily. Whatever stories we heard about his early years were triggered by incidents and usually narrated by others, with him piping in to add a detail here and there and to laugh. Whenever I heard these stories, I remember feeling he belonged to a different world, a simpler better world than ours. 

Many years ago, perhaps in 2003, we asked daddy to write down what he remembered of his childhood. He, as always, surprised us by taking our request seriously and plodded on the computer (single finger typing and losing data because he forgot to save it) for several days to write his memories in two or three emails. Before that, he had never used the computer or sent emails, and so you can imagine how happy I was to receive these from him and how precious they are to me. I present them in three installments. 

I will start from Sialkot where I was born in 1930. It is in that part of Punjab now in Pakistan located close to Jammu. I don’t remember any thing of this city as I was too young. Baoji was in postal service and would get frequently transferred in the northern zone Punjab + J&K. We moved to Gujarat and I don’t recollect any thing of that city as well.

1n 1934, we moved to Gujranwala about 40 miles from Lahore. Baoji made a beautiful house in Gujranwala costing RS 5000 WHICH WAS A LOT MONEY THOSE Days. He got loan from his office and all the gold we had. In this house we always kept a buffalo and there was lot of milk butter and other products. Every morning, Bhabhi or my grandmother would churn it to take out butter. Baoji had a green fodder field and he would cut and load fodder on his cycle to bring it home where it was cut and mixed with dry feed. All of us were sick of so much of milk and its products.

Another thing I remember is that we had a big dog ...tiger and also a few hens and a big cock. Once the dog tried to scare the hens. Our mighty cock gave hard peck to the dog ...from then our tiger never ever dared to go near the flock of hens.

Baoji bought a radio- it was a great novelty those days .The second world war in full swing....1935...36. All the residents of mohalla would gather in our house to listen to the news. I used to wonder what they are up to. Chacha Jagan Nath (do you remember him? He died only last year) used to live in Karbla near Lodhi Road ...he was Baoji’s cousin. When we made the house at Gujranwala, he also made one. Chachaji‘s son was killed in a truck accident. It was big shock for them.

I studied from class 1 to 4 at Gujranwala. The school was one mile from our house. We had to walk daily up and down. Our school had rows of TAT to sit and we had wooden pattis to write on. Every week our teacher would give us home work. We had to write 10 pages. These were never checked- instead were sold to buy peanuts. We were very happy with this arrangement as we never got any punishment...we were punished if we did not give the work sheets. Our dress was a shirt and a long kachha.

When I finished class 4, Baoji was posted to Loyalpur. It was a new city planned and raised in a modern fashion. Because of canal irrigation, this area became very fertile and rich. The land was given to the loyal subjects by British rulers- that is why the name Loyalpur. Now the name has been changed to Faisalabad after king Faisal of Saudi Arabia. I studied at Loyalpur from class 5 to 10. Our house was just in front of the school, so as soon as the bell would ring we would run to school. Baoji would cook meat every Sunday on hard coal fire. It would be great feast for all of us. Baoji had been promoted as inspector post offices- he had to tour in all areas inspecting rural post offices. He would go every where on his cycle. He would go out for days to earn money through TA and DA.

Mohan was in a junior class. We had mastered many magic tricks and would regularly perform on stage- it used to be a big attraction of our annual day functions. The most popular magic trick we would perform was mesmerism where Mohan would go in trance on my command I would ask audience to show any thing and Mohan would tell them the name of the object. We had mastered a code system and tell him the name of the object. Many times we got cash prizes as well. Details of the code I will tell you when we meet.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good is Good

For everything you do, there will always be a person with a better idea, a better product, or just a better sales pitch. This whole concept of fighting to be #1 makes little sense to me. And people going on and on about who is #1 even lesser.

I want to be good in everything I do, but I have no wish to be the best. Good has longevity and absoluteness that best doesn't. Good doesn't automatically belittle others. Good is not self seeking and aggressive. Good can be kind.

Good is good.

Not Really Me

I feel I am living in a limbo, waiting for something to happen. As if this life that I am living right now is temporary and just a way of passing time. As if my feet can't find their ground and so I float and hover. As if these feelings and emotions that I feel now are not worthy of deeper reflection. As if this person breathing the same air as me and thinking these very same thoughts is not really me, but someone else. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Third Mom!

Before I had started this blog, I used to write down my thoughts and store them in a folder called journal on my laptop. I discovered this piece while looking for old poems in my journal folder yesterday. I added some pictures and here it is, a post on Aloka's third mommy. 

When I first talked to Mallika about the possibility of a baby coming to our house, she grinned from ear to ear- she was almost as gleeful as I was at the idea. Later, I asked her to go to India to help mom with Aloka because I had to be back at work and Aloka's passport was still awaited. Once again, there was not a second thought or even a momentary doubt. She went happily and full of excitement, and spent the entire month of January 2008 with mom and Aloka in freezing Chandigarh.

We soon realized that Mallika knew many baby tricks that mom and I didn’t know about, like applying vicks in a certain way for slight colds and the masterful hand position on the baby's head while bathing. As it turns out, she has looked after about 10 babies in the last 15 years and is quite an expert.

But being an expert is quite different from having endless patience and love for a baby. Mallika surprises me most by her ability to play with Aloka anytime and all the time. Her patience with Aloka when she is fretful and cranky is remarkable. I lose patience and get tired, but not Mallika. She is happy to take over Aloka anytime I ask, and even when I don't ask!

In fact, I have to fight hard to keep Mallika out of my room and away from Aloka- she is always on the lookout for me to lose patience and hand over Aloka to her. It’s a funny game between us. 

Another very funny thing that Mallika does is ask Aloka to identify me. “Aloka, where mummy?” she keeps saying. The little girl looks here and there and by mistake takes a look in my directions also. Immediately Mallika will say “See Puja, she knows who mummy is!” For some sweet reason, Mallika keeps wanting to make me feel important, more important to Aloka than herself. 

In reality, there is no difference in Aloka’s feelings for me or Mallika. She is equally happy with either of us and knows no separation anxiety for one if the other is present.

This sweet baby has not one, not two, but three loving mommies! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Low-Carb High-Fun

Here are a few of my favorite things to eat when I am avoiding carb cravings. 

 Baked Veggies in White Sauce

Baked Chicken and Asparagus, Red Peppers, Onions and Pumpkin 

Lamb Shashlik with Baked Veggies

 Sausages, Egg, Asparagus, Mushrooms with Sour Cream

Another Version of the Same Dish (with Boiled Egg this time)

Egg, Mushroom, Onions and Asparagus- Another Breakfast

Baked Chicken with Pumpkin, Carrot, Tomatoes, Zuchini and Onions
 Baked Chicken Wings: For Evening Snack Time

 Zuchini, Asparagus, Onion with Lamb Sausage

 Chicken in White Sauce (I took little sauce, which is Aloka's fav)

 Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Beet Root, Feta Cheese and Sunflower Seeds in a lemon and olive oil dressing (Inspired by a similar salad at Ridah's)

Spicy Moroccan Meatballs in Tomato Salsa and Salad

Monday, June 4, 2012

I, Learner!

Since my first day at work, I had been hearing about this dreaded Excel worksheet (let's call it b5z) that people in my role need to use when preparing budget. In the very first week of my starting work, I saw a colleague working this sheet diligently. I recall being in meetings where his sheet was the topic of heated discussions and questions by the Finance team. I didn't understand the half of it, although the inputs to it were mostly provided by me. All this confirmed my fear of the sheet and the skills needed to use it.

Later, I looked up an online course on the topic, which was basically a recording of an expert talking as he navigated a very complicated-looking b5z. I watched it for five minutes and then gave up, even more convinced that this stuff was beyond me.

Last month, I once again came face-to-face with b5z, but now I was expected to work on it and own it. The same colleague was asked to teach me how to use it. It took me about a couple of hours with him, spread over 2-3 sessions, to get confident about using it. I spent another 8-10 hours tweaking my entries and by the end of it, I was buzzing with a high that comes from learning new things and overcoming one's fears.

Being a learning designer, I am used to analyzing what helps people learn, so here is an analysis of what worked for me in the process of learning this new skill. 

Urgency of a Real Problem
I had an urgency to learn because there was a real live problem to solve. Learning was critical to my success. This made me focus and absorb everything I was being told. I was fully attentive and the topic couldn't be more relevant.

A Coach
I had an experienced practitioner walking me through the sheet, highlighting portions that would be most relevant to me. He was aware of the simple self-constructed Excel sheet that I had been using the past few months and could relate that sheet with b5z (constructivism!). He used language I understood and shared his own lessons learned along the way. Having him around took away my fear of trying and gave me confidence that I could succeed.

Tips and Tricks
The coach not only walked me through the sheet, he also shared some tips and tricks he had picked up over the last few months, like how to do a "goal match" every time I did a major change to the sheet, how to look for problem notifications and the most important of all, when to know that a problem was not fixable and the sheet needed to be trashed and started all over again!

Quick Feedback and Success
Lastly, it was knowledge of success that egged me on. I mentioned the simpler sheet I was using earlier. Having that open in another window and seeing numbers more or less matching was a great boost to my confidence. Of course, the correctness of my entries was confirmed later as several people reviewed it, but that came later in the process.

Now to the hard part of this article. Since I am from that world, how would I teach someone to use this sheet in an online virtual environment? How would I make that experience as effective as mine had been? Here are my thoughts based on my experience as a learner, not as a designer. (There is a big difference between the two. The designer in me just wants to dip her hands into her repertoire of tools and techniques and prescribe what is best for this type of content because she knows best, whereas the learner in me questions every overused technique and seeks real value from it.)

Provide an Introduction
I would provide an introduction, but instead of a long-drawn soliloquy extolling the virtues of this mother-of-all worksheets, it would be short and direct, focusing on these three messages only.
  • Why this process? This would be presented in the simplest of words, avoiding all jargon. 
  • What if it wasn't there? A short story of how things were before this sheet was standardized would be powerful here.  
  • What is the scope of activities you can perform using this sheet?
Nothing more, nothing less.

Teach According to Need
The b5z sheet is complex because it caters to the most complex of situations. However, not every user uses all the features of the sheet because not every situation calls for it. I had perhaps used only 25% of the features the first time I used it. There may be situations in future when I would need to use more features, but for my current need, I didn't need to know it all.

Building upon this personal experience, I would design the online experience based on increasing levels of difficulty. There would be several scenarios, from simplest to the most complex, that learners would be able to choose based on their current needs.

Break Down the Process 
I would break down the whole process into key things one does when using the sheet, such as calculating direct and indirect costs, overheads and depreciation. Every concept and activity that follows would be tied neatly to these activities.

Show Them How To
Seeing someone do the task is a great confidence builder, as I experienced first hand with my coach. So I would certainly show them how it's done. But instead of running a mindless "do this do that" demo animation, I would make the most use of each screen, highlight why I am doing what I am doing and the consequences of mistakes. 

I spent some time thinking if a series of clearly-labeled screenshots would be better than an animated demo in this situation. I finally concluded that an animated one would be useful only because learners need to jump between several worksheets in order to accomplish one task. This might be lost in stills. And yes, I would have simple narration supporting this animated demo.

Practice Practice Practice
I would make the learners practice every task using two different ways. The first would be via a simulated sheet, which would be like the "Let me Try" mode of a Captivate simulation. Although this mode allows for some practice in a safe environment, it is too restrictive to provide the kind of experience I had.

To provide a richer experience, I would include practicing using a real b5z sheet. Since it's Excel we are talking about, everyone would have easy access to the software. In each practice session, learners would have to fill in the data in their sheet and compare the results with the sample solution available in the learning material. This would serve as "quick feedback and success" of my own learning experience.

This is where I struggled. Do I really need to test these learners on the skills needed? Aren't the practice exercises enough? Would some quiz questions really help this learner? The answer to this was, once again, based on my own experience as a learner. While I would not like to be tested on my knowledge and skills, it would be good to know what experts consider as most critical to success skills/concepts while using this sheet. Answering these, and getting feedback on them, would certainly enrich me.

So, I would include some highly valuable questions here and there to highlight key facts and mistakes. For example, I could show an error message and ask learners to identify what could have gone wrong. Each question would be well researched and thought-through to add value to the learners' learning experience.

Finally, this experience and thought experiment left me with some annoying questions. These are not new and have been voiced by others in the past too, but they are very real in the context of this experience. Perhaps another post is needed to delve into them, but here they are in brief. 

Most e-learning courses are an outcome of collaboration between a content-agnostic ID and a content expert or SME. However, the course strategies I have described above would never have come about had I not been in the learner's shoes myself. 

Can IDs really be in learners' shoes when designing a course? Aren't they too caught up in their techniques and strategies to deeply think about what a learner really really needs? Are SME's the best people to support learning program development? Aren't they too caught up in their knowledge to even understand those who don't? Mind you, the person who coached me is a practitioner, not an SME. (I dread to think how an SME would have taught me!)

Is there a missing role or roles in the design and development process? 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

An Extra Hour

"It's a Saturday and my lady has to wake up at 7am!" was the first thought that flashed across my mind when I saw Aloka lying wide-eyed next to me, playing with her witchy aunty's frayed hat. I really wanted to catch an extra hour of sleep to rest my weary body, but seeing her wide awake dashed those hopes. I closed my eyes with a sigh.

When I opened my eyes, she wasn't next to me on the bed, but sitting at her table, bent over some paper and pens. Was that a skirt she was wearing...I blinked. Where were her pajamas? How had she changed so quickly? What time was it? I couldn't believe my eyes- it was NINE O'CLOCK! I had slept for over two hours since she woke!!!

She told me that she didn't want to disturb me (exact words), so after relaxing with witchy aunty for some time, she had read a few books, played with play dough, then quietly climbed up the shelf to take her coloring book and pens and colored many pages. The reason for the skirt was simple- after using the toilet, she couldn't get the pajamas back on right, so she had pulled out the skirt from the laundry basket and put it on (inside out).

Two hours is a long time for a four-year old to be on her own, but she had managed it well and without a complaint, all because she didn't want to disturb her mother!

This is my doll, my princess, my daughter, my care taker! She is the reason that on some days, I don't question the mindless ride and feel I have found the answer!.