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It is easy to tweet the essence of the advice that Alan Alda shared about public speaking: Share just three ideas, said three different ways, and iterated three times each.

But that distilled wisdom becomes a meaningless tip if you do not adopt the same value system of wanting to create an authentic connection.

Alda took time and care to bracket his three tips with the need to make that human connection. Public speakers and teachers might take that advice as a golden reminder that delivering messages and running the curricular race come a distant second behind making that connection.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

Three is a significant number for me today. It marks my third year as an independent education consultant since leaving my “cushy” role as a university don.

Three years ago, I shared why I was leaving. This year I use the movie title, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, to shed light on the past, present, and future of what I do, though not necessarily in that order.

The Good of being an independent consultant is being able to unpack what I do and only work with who I choose.

As a professor and head of a department, I was pulled many ways (teaching, service, research) and had to take care of teams of people. Now I can focus on what is important , e.g., conducting workshops. Now I need not lose sleep over extended family members who had little idea how much work and love went into taking care of them. I feel no guilt in taking better care of myself even three years down the road.

Oh, and just not attending long, dreary, and unproductive meetings puts a skip in my step. Now I choose who I meet with in order to encourage or be encouraged.

The Bad, if I can call it that, is needing to do EVERYTHING myself. I am my own promoter, administrative assistant, accountant, paralegal, designer, developer, facilitator, speaker, ad nauseum.

The work itself is fun and fulfilling. The administration and bureaucracy is stifling. Sadly, many of the administrative people that I meet who should know what to do range from incompetent to ignorant.

This sounds cruel and insulting, but I do not mean it that way. Mine is a valid critique because it is the job of these folk to enable learning while not doing anything illegal or unethical.

The big Bad is that administration is inherently conservative, often unnecessarily so. It serves its own purpose instead of the people it is supposed to serve. But I take each opportunity to gently educate these administrators.

The Ugly is something I have kept to myself for three years. I left my former work place even though I loved the work and colleagues with progressive mindsets. As an appointment holder, I could not bear with the politics that stood in the way of change.

I had an appointment letter that outlined my role for a number of years. I was also given a new contract offer. Before I signed the contract letter, I was told that my appointment letter was not going to be honoured.

That moment pushed my decision making past the tipping point. I followed the advice and example of ex-colleagues before me and opted not to sign on the dotted line.

I have had no regrets. I choose to ignore The Ugly. I embrace The Bad in order to work for The Good of teachers as learners.

Every day I try to live up to a mentor’s motto: Do the least harm. Except now I have tweaked it to: Do the most good.

Do the least harm. Do the most good.

I am adding to my irregular series on getting connected with prepaid SIM cards while overseas. Other entries in this series: DenmarkSwedenHoi An, VietnamNikoi Island, Indonesia.

My Denmark and Sweden entries get many views every day, so I hope the information I share below on UK prepaid SIMs (Three and EE) is useful.

Three
I was in London in January this year, but did not share my experiences with Three UK (amendment: I did share something about Three UK). Back then the £20 SIM cards were easy to pick up from Vendpoint vending machines at Heathrow Airport.

However, unlike my previous visit, the vending machines were only stocked with Lebara, EE, and one or two other brands. None were as good as the all-you-can-eat data plus 300-minute 3G cards from Three.

As Three SIMs were not available, my family and I made our way to the store on Oxford. Even though the Three staff are friendly, knowledgeable, efficient I would rather avoid the crowds at Oxford!

The process of switching to a Three SIM is straightforward.

  1. Pop out the old one.
  2. Insert the new one in.
  3. Wait for an SMS prompt to restart the phone. If all goes well, you should be connected to Three’s 3G network.

Notes:

  • The SIM is a modern multi-size one. Push out the size you need for your phone.
  • The connection is not 4G, but it is speedy enough. It might be a compromise for having unlimited data. (The new packaging says 4G comes free, but I have no way of verifying this as the SIM was in my wife’s phone while I used EE.)
  • There is no tethering with this plan.
  • According to a sales associate, if you have a dual-SIM phone, leaving the other SIM in might prevent access to Three.
  • Do not expect your phone to work in the Tube as tunnels are so deep underground. A few stations along select lines might have wifi (see EE note).
  • The fastest way to pay for a Three SIM packet from a machine is a contactless credit card, e.g., MasterCard Paywave. Tap card, select row and column code in machine, collect SIM package.
  • If you opt to use cash, you will need to use exact change in the form of £10 or £20 notes.

EE
We arrived late at Heathrow thanks to the airline schedule and an unplanned flight delay. I decided we needed data and texting should we miss the very last Heathrow Express train and I needed Uber to get us to our Airbnb-rented home.

I resorted to getting an EE 4G data-only SIM (6GB) for £30.

Setting up an EE SIM is not as reassuring as Three. On popping it in, you will receive an alarming text message informing you that you have “used up your data”.

The message will include a URL that you tap or click on to register the service. Tip: Provide as little personal information as possible. After registration, you should be good to go.

Notes:

  • The SIM is nano-sized. EE includes adapters in the package for devices with mini and normal-sized slots.
  • I inserted the EE SIM into my phone and it worked fine. It should also work in a slate, mifi router, or USB dongle.
  • When used with a phone, the data can shared with other devices, i.e., you can tether.
  • EE provides a handy site that helps you monitor your data quota.
  • Like Three, the 3G or 4G signal cannot reach trains underground. However, EE cards seem to connect automatically to their wireless network on some train lines. You also have the option of using Virgin Media wifi with your EE creditials.

I did not try other mobile services as they do not offer the same value nor were the walk-in stores as easy to find.

Addendum: Lebara stores were about as common as in Denmark. However, I did not enjoy my previous experience with them. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This announcement is about a week late, but better late than never!

#edsg is not just a Twitter hashtag shared by an assortment of stakeholders. #edsg is an online community whose official birthday is 15 Feb 2012.

We were formed the year before, but we did not document it or tie it to a particular event. I guess you could say that we got our birth certificate a bit late. That might explain why we look a bit older than we claim!

Here is some of its motley crew in a more recent photo.

#edsg broke the sequence of forming, storming, and norming. It was formed online and was normed offline with tweetups. But we are still storming like any modern community. Membership is loose and not worn like a badge. It is utilitarian.

Not many of such online communities can say they have a staying power of three years. But like practically all communities that persist, we do so thanks to a core group.

We do not yet know what we will become when we grow up, but that does not matter. We have a lot more exploring and learning to do.

As we look forward, it is important to look back so that we do not walk into the mistakes of the past. Here is a selection of my musings on #edsg:

If you are not a member of #edsg, join us!

If you are, pour yourself a drink, pat yourself on your back, and toast to the good health of #edsg. Yam seng! Now get off your butt and share something with #edsg!

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This part of my reflection on my visit to London for Bett focuses on travel tips.

Mobile power
As with any trip, I brought a power pack for my iPhone. The iPhone was a thirsty beast when I was getting directions, taking photos, and surfing for information, so it helped to have a portable oasis.

Local prepaid SIM
Before leaving for London, I asked around and did my research online for a suitable prepaid SIM. This wiki was a good start, but its information might not be current.

I settled on Three’s PAYG All In One 15. It might cost GBP15 if you live in the UK and can get a free SIM, but it will cost you GBP20 if you buy it over the counter or from a vending machine like the one below.

The SIMs from the vending machine come in a three-in-one pack (normal, mini, nano sizes). The SIM is set to go; there is no need to activate them by calling a number, scratching top up cards, or typing in codes. Take out your old SIM, put the new one in, restart your phone, and start surfing/using your new number.

This prepaid plan gave me 3000 SMS, 300 minutes of calls, and unlimited data over a month. You cannot tether the phone and thus share your Internet connection. However, you can if you have a jailbroken phone like mine.

The 3G and 4G signal was relatively poor in East London where I stayed and also where the ExCeL Centre was located. I would often get only a 3G, one dot/bar signal. This was often not enough bandwidth to tether. Fortunately, there were lots of free wifi spots at the Centre, museums, libraries, etc.

Finding your way around
Google Maps might be your best friend. It was mine.

The Travel for London (TfL) site’s journey planner is mobile-friendly and fast, but I got more mileage out of Google Maps. It not only provided different options, travel times, and congestion warnings, it also provided greater details like walking directions and which exits to head for.

There is no 3G/4G service underground, so it is important to cache information beforehand. The eastern train lines are over ground so that might buy you some surfing time.

The Tube map and signs underground might look confusing. But they are clear when you realize that you must have TWO pieces of information: Your destination and the terminating point of your train (this also applies to the bus services).

If you are taking a more than 30-minute train journey, it is rare that you stay on one train. You train hop to get from one point to another. When underground, you might lose your sense of direction especially when moving from one platform to another. Often one platform might serve trains going to two or three end points. Make sure you get on a train whose terminating point allows you to travel to your destination.

Accommodation
I opted to go for an Airbnb place because hotels around the conference centre were expensive and filled up quickly.

I stayed in someone’s home for a week and used that as my base of operations and travel. Not only was the deal cheaper, I was able to live like a local and get tips from the couple that hosted the stay.

The following were added after publishing due to a revisioning problem.

Groceries
London is the land of Tesco. There are thankfully more of these grocery stores than there are McDonald’s joints. But I found that some items were cheaper at Sainsbury’s Local.

These grocery stores are great for buying bottled water, snacks, and cheap meals. If you really have to eat on the cheap, Pret A Manger is a chain that seems to be everywhere.

Cash or card
While it is useful to have cash on hand, a credit card that supports wireless payment is fast and convenient. I used my MasterCard’s PayPass at the prepaid SIM vending machine, Oyster PAYG travel card kiosks, and grocery self-checkouts.

 
One of the things that an academic has to do (whether s/he wants to or not) is attend conferences. Conferences are a good way to get a trial paper into a conference-linked journal or a journal proper. It is part of the “publish or perish” adage that academics live by.

Whether academics like to admit it or not, we choose conferences not just as opportunities to network and catch up with friends, but also to travel to cities we have never been to.

Today is the deadline for submission of proposals of one of my favourite conferences. This conference introduced a practitioner track and I was keen on sharing a more elaborate version of my three dimensions of flipped learning. But something stopped me.


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It was not the fact that I will be leaving my job as a university faculty soon. It was more about the fact that most conferences are run more like businesses and cost a lot to attend. I questioned the need to pay airfare, accommodation, and conference fee in order to share something of value that I created that will benefit only a relative few (the few that pay to attend and get the documents).

I did not have to play the usual academic game anymore. I decided that if I am going to share an article, it should benefit those it is meant to reach (practitioners), an in order to do this, I should do it openly.


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