My first international tour- India to UK- 1

It was an year ago when I had to visit UK from India. I knew it was going to be really boring as I was supposed to travel this long way, all alone. But there was somewhere a kid inside me, which was jumping higher and higher because of the reason that domestic flights always ended within an hour or two but this was going to last as long as ten hours which I always wanted ;). So I will have a lot many countries to visit from the sky (I was a fool in thinking so, as I forgot the fact that the longer distance flights will fly higher too, so hardly anything will be visible and I was travelling during monsoon, so half the way would be covered with the dark clouds). But any way this kid inside me was happy to be above the clouds and having lot many pictures this time because the earlier ones have gone with the lost mobile :(.

Any ways the day had come and I was at the airport. i reached really very early today, because I have already missed flight twice once due to heavy traffic and another due to over confidence that I will make it ;(. But they were domestic so it was okay, this time I could not afford to be late. So flight was at 1pm but I reached at 6am only. Now I was waiting at the airport waiting area outside the port. Calling my friends in Delhi to come if they are free, but ofcourse the place it quite outside and they were getting ready to go to their offices, I did not inform them earlier as I thought I would just reach around time only as buses generally get slow after crossing Alwar due to long line of big transporting trucks, but today the way was all clean and bus reached two hours early than the estimated time.

Finally one of my friends was free today and she came and I am really thankful to her, because I could go for the nature’s call, only after she visited me, otherwise it would have really been hard for me. Anyways ,We had a lot of chats. Revisited old memories and then I went into the airport. Just checked in, luggage was taken to the other-side and we were free now. Now I was just roaming around in the waiting area and this was the shop which attracted me the most, due to the traditional touch.

Then while going to sit in the plane, this was the view from inside, (I know you all know it all as it is nothing new for you, but it was exciting for me since it was my first international visit).

And I was in the flight, finally… I was excited right now, that journey is so long and I will get to see so many things down, from the window. Excited to enjoy different colors of nature. Though there were many thoughts, questions, ups and downs of feelings were going on, but I was trying to concentrate more on enjoying it, otherwise it would have been really really hard to keep sitting in one position for so long.

In between, all these thoughts… the plane starts its journey… the following.

And the flight takes off, finally… Delhi view.

Next is the Delhi View from the sky… though experience with indigo was not great but I was trying to focus more on the scenery down there rather than hospitality of crew members or behaviour of some of the fellow passengers or food quality.

And talking to the clouds now… while the rivers flowing… I think it was somewhere over Pakistan…

Then somewhere over Afghanistan… as I tried to match with the satellite map…

The above scenery continues for long I think entire Afghanisthan now onwards is covered with this kind of hills. In Afghanistan some ice kind of white thing was also visible but later in Iran it converted into greenary somewhere and also colonies were visible as the following picture.

In Iran this kind of landscapes are visible around settlements for long distance.

Some where on the way after passing through long way without any visibility down, therefore relaxed with a nap.

Again seems to be landscapes near Caspian Sea visible, in the north just before the sea, the Garabogazkol Basin can be seen.

Then while crossing over the southern part of the Caspian Sea.

Here, it is either Iran or Turkey. Similar landscapes in both the countries for long distance.

And then Turkey is there… time for interval.

Some landscapes of Turkey near Istambul.

Somewhere near the Istanbul International Airport.

These boats are running in the Sea of Marmara, which falls between the Istanbul coast one side and Aegean Sea on the other side. In the above picture you can see a drain coming from the other side that is Bosporus Strait, coming from the Black Sea visible on the extreme north of the picture.

Actually, Black Sea is connected to Mediterranean Sea through Aegean Sea. Sea of Marmara is connected with Aegean Sea with Strait of Dardanelle, and the way from Black Sea is navigable to Atlantic Ocean.

The Kucukcekmece Lake (Turkey) is visible here, near the Sea of Marmara.

And finally we landed at the much awaited (because I was too tired to imagine) mid-destination Istanbul International Airport.

The story continues in the next post. See you friends!!

Copyright: Rachana Dhaka (both pics and write up)

The Unproductive Debate of Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

Like millions of people around the globe right now, I am practicing social distancing. One valid point that has been brought up online is that the term should really be physical distancing rather than social distancing; Of course self-isolation and quarantine separate us geographically, but the psychological space between us doesn’t have to be so vast. These days we have online tools that can connect us socially in ways that can mitigate the loneliness that comes with physical separation.

In the field of instructional design for online learning, this is not a new concept. Transactional distance theory (TDT, Moore, 1996) is a useful theory for online course design that proposes that the distance during instruction is transactional, not spatial or temporal (Gorsky & Caspi, 2005; Saba & Shearer, 2017). TDT suggests that if we work to reduce the psychological space between participants and instructors through pedagogy, it will likely lead to higher learning outcomes.

While traditional TDT includes additional components that can be used to reduce transactional distance between learners and their instructors, I think all teachers teaching online during the Coronavirus online learning period should pay particularly close attention to the TDT’s core constructs of dialogue and structure.


A good online teacher facilitates a variety of forms of interaction between participants and instructors, such as instructor-learner and learner-learner interactions (Huang, Chandra, DePaolo, & Simmons, 2016). Even though online students are not in the physical classroom to engage in discussions, teachers should use the discussion and collaborative tools in their learning management system to increase dialogue and interaction. Teachers should update their profile pictures, post video greetings, and stimulate dialogue between students through the use of written, audio, and video comments. I recommend checking out this older post about the advantages to using online tools to elicit student responses over raise your hand in physical classrooms.


Structure refers to the level of guidance and direction provided within the course design, as well as the level of responsiveness of the course design to accommodate individual learners’ needs (Huang et al., 2016). A rigid course structure may disrupt organic and creative dialogue, but novice learners dealing with novel information may require higher levels of structure than experts (Benson & Samarawickrema, 2009; Huang et al., 2016).

Teachers should attend to the complex relationship between structure and dialogue (Saba & Shearer, 2017) in order to reduce transactional distance. We can measure how transactional distance is perceived by students in their courses by surveying them (Elyakim et al., 2019). Recent efforts by researchers (Benson & Samarawickrema, 2009; Huang et al., 2016) have revealed that courses with high structure and high dialogue (+D+S) tend to be the most effective in reducing transactional distance and that courses with low dialogue and low structure (-D-S) will likely result in the most transactional distance, with +D-S and -D+S falling somewhere in the middle.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning

One of the weirdest debates (to me, at least) that has raged in education as we wait for our schools to reopen is over whether we should be focusing our efforts on delivering synchronous or asynchronous learning experiences, as if this was an either/or decision. Fueling the debate are teachers reporting Zoom and MS Teams horror stories on Facebook and Twitter, and parents, like in the video below, who are so frustrated by course designs that they are just about ready to give up on distance learning altogether.


The thing is, there is nothing inherently wrong with asynchronous learning, nor with synchronous learning. Each is suited to solve different instructional problems, under specific conditions, depending on the goal of the learning, the characteristics of the learners, and the course format. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I hear of school leaders prescribing 100% synchronous learning during this time period, I can’t help but cringe. Besides synchronous learning tools being notoriously unreliable and difficult to use with a large number of young students, prescribing 100% synchronous learning violates two key principles of instructional design for online learning:

  1. A direct copy of a face-to-face classroom using online tools will surely fail
  2. You should never completely eliminate a useful instructional strategy from your toolbox

While it works much, much better for the learning context that we’re in at the moment, we probably shouldn’t prescribe a 100% asynchronous format for an online course either. Students can benefit from a synchronous dialogue session via conference call once in a while, if only to reduce the feeling of isolation between peers and instructors. For what it’s worth, if I had to depict my own views about when to use synchronous or asynchronous learning as a graphic, it would look something like this:

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 5.56.09 AM

Instead of having an unproductive debate over asynchronous or synchronous learning, one way we can improve our practice during these unusual circumstances is by attending to the design components of dialogue and structure, as proposed by transactional distance theory and other online learning theories, to reduce transactional distance and improve learning outcomes. While we may have to continue this physical distancing for some time, when teachers design well-structured courses that enable students to ask questions, engage in discussions, receive and give feedback, and actively participate in class activities (Joksimović, et al., 2015), we bring our learning communities closer together.

– Zach Groshell


Benson, R., & Samarawickrema, G. (2009). Addressing the context of e-learning: Using transactional distance theory to inform design. Distance Education, 30(1), 5–21.

Elyakim, N., Reychav, I., Offir, B., & McHaney, R. (2019). Perceptions of Transactional Distance in Blended Learning Using Location-Based Mobile Devices. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 57(1), 131–169.

Gorsky, P., & Caspi, A. (2005). A critical analysis of transactional distance theory. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 6(1), 1–11.

Huang, X., Chandra, A., DePaolo, C. A., & Simmons, L. L. (2016). Understanding transactional distance in web-based learning environments: An empirical study. British Journal of Educational Technology<

Joksimović, S., Gašević, D., Kovanović, V., Riecke, B. E., & Hatala, M. (2015). Social presence in online discussions as a process predictor of academic performance. Journal of Computer Assisted Learn

Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view, Belmont, CA: Wad- sworth

Saba, F., & Shearer, R. L. (2017). Transactional Distance and Adaptive Learning : Planning for the Future of Higher Education. Milton, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge. Retrieved from


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So much to learn about emergency remote teaching, but so little to claim about online learning

The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by Jonathan Zimmerman on March 10 arguing that we should use the dramatic shift to online classes due to Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to research online learning (see article here).

For the first time, entire student bodies have been compelled to take all of their classes online. So we can examine how they perform in these courses compared to the face-to-face kind, without worrying about the bias of self-selection.

It might be hard to get good data if the online instruction only lasts a few weeks. But at institutions that have moved to online-only for the rest of the semester, we should be able to measure how much students learn in that medium compared to the face-to-face instruction they received earlier.

To be sure, the abrupt and rushed shift to a new format might not make these courses representative of online instruction as a whole. And we also have to remember that many faculty members will be teaching online for the first time, so they’ll probably be less skilled than professors who have more experience with the medium. But these are the kinds of problems that a good social scientist can solve.

I strongly disagree with Zimmerman’s argument. There is a lot to study here. There is little to claim about online learning.

What we are doing right now is not even close to best practice for online learning. I recommend John Daniels’ book Mega-Universities (Amazon link). One of his analyses is a contrast with online learning structured as “correspondence school” (e.g., send out high-quality materials, require student work, provide structured feedback) or as a “remote classroom” (e.g., video record lectures, replicate in-classroom structures). Remote classrooms tend to have lower-retention and increase costs as the number of students scale. Correspondence school models are expensive (in money and time) to produce, but scales well and has low cost for large numbers. What we’re doing is much closer to remote classrooms than correspondence school. Experience with MOOCs supports this analysis. Doing it well takes time and is expensive, and is carefully-structured. It’s not thrown together with less than a week’s notice.

My first thought when I read Zimmerman’s essay was for the ethics of any experiment comparing to the enforced move to online classes versus face-to-face classe. Students and faculty did not choose to be part of this study. They are being forced into online classes. How can we possibly compare face-to-face classes that have been carefully designed, with hastily-assembled online versions that nobody wants at a time when the world is suffering a crisis. This isn’t a fair nor ethical comparison.

Ian Milligan recommends that we change our language to avoid these kinds of comparisons, and I agree. He writes (see link here) that we should stop calling this “online learning” and instead call it “emergency remote teaching.” Nobody would compare “business as usual” to an “emergency response” in terms of learning outcomes, efficiency, student satisfaction, and development of confidence and self-efficacy.

On the other hand, I do hope that education researchers, e.g., ethnographers, are tracking what happens. This is first-ever event, to move classes online with little notice. We should watch what happens. We should track, reflect, and learn about the experience.

But we shouldn’t make claims about online learning. There is no experiment here. There is a crisis, and we are all trying to do our best under the circumstances.

Coronavirus diary: the Virus that did a no-deal Brexit on our food supply

It seems inconceivable that it was only a year ago (tomorrow) when the UK was due to crash out of the EU under a no deal Brexit. Thankfully that crisis was averted. Leading up to that momentous non-event, I wrote about what might happen to our food supply in the event that our smooth trading relationship with the EU broke down utterly. One year on, we find ourselves in a remarkably similar position – thanks to a Pangolin, or rather thanks to people wanting to eat Pangolins & turn them into medicine. Don’t blame the Pangolin.

Our food supply is part of a small number of “essential” things on which life depends. Food, water, housing (and the means to heat it when it’s cold). That’s it. Anything else we might like to think are essentials – well, we are just kidding ourselves. That includes mobile phone signal, the internet, even twitter. It wouldn’t be much of a life, but those are the things which ensure we remain alive.

While we have a plentiful supply of water (far too much in some places after the record breaking rainfall of the winter) and increasingly our electricity supply is provided by reneweable energy sources, we are still dependent on fossil fuel gas to heat our homes. Some of that comes from the North Sea still but much is pumped to the UK from Norway or, indirectly, Russia. The supply lines remain intact and there’s no reason to think that will change for the foreseeable future. There is no shortage of housing either – its just that like so many other resources, it’s allocated very unequally. The Govt, after long doing nothing to prevent a mushrooming in the numbers of homeless people on our streets, has now decided that the homeless must be housed, as a matter of urgency. It’s given the task to Local Authorities, who are supposed to have, by now, found emergency accommodation, in hotels emptied by the Pandemic. That the Government forced those same hotels to place their staff on furlough, before deciding that they were needed, after all, is just another example of the Government lurching from one reactive response to another. That is in the nature of crises though.

Which brings us to food. Previously, in the pre-coronavirus (PCV if you like) world, lots of people eat out, bought take-aways, bought ready-meals and cooked. Many relied on foodbanks. Not because of a  shortage of food, but because of poverty. Food was plentiful. Supermarket shelves groaned under the weight of it. Want to buy an apple? Here, look at 15 different varieties from all over the world.

UK farm produce went to supply factories producing ready meals, to supermarkets (though only a few apples were UK grown), but it also went into the foodservice sector. Foodservice is, or rather was, a massive sector using UK farm produce and imports. I’ve been trying to find figures for how much UK farm produce ended up in meals provided by everyone from MacDonalds to the Roux Brothers. It’s tricky. For dairy, AHDB estimated that foodservice took 8M litres of fresh milk a week, 8% of total UK production. conversely, of course, domestic demand for fresh milk has soared, placing additional pressures on suppliers and the supply chain. Large dairy business Mueller, which recently laid off staff, is now desperately trying to recruit 300.

The beef in beefburgers, the potatoes for chips in fish and chips, the Lamb going into Indian restaurants, all of these supply lines have stopped, practically overnight. Some of this will be redirected into the delivery trade (deliveroo etc), but PCV 80% of the foodservice  sector was eating out. You just can’t redirect that much food into hom e delivery.




For some food products then, there’s a big surplus being built up, because people are not eating out any more, but the supply chain is yet to be reconfigured to convert that produce into a form in which it can be transported and packaged for supermarkets. This is happening now, but under pressure from a number of sources. The main one being lack of workforce. We’re already hearing about shortfalls in the workforce because of sickness and self-isolation. This applies across the entire supply chain, from farm workers, pickers and packers, delivery drivers and shop workers. That our food industry was already so dependent on overseas workers (both EU and non-EU) (again remember Brexit?), who are now stuck unable to travel due to coronavirus lockdowns, has only further exacerbated an existing crisis.

So for some domestically produced food there’s a surplus and a blockage in the supply chain. As a result Lamb prices have collapsed, because people are not eating out, and exports being disrupted. Under a no deal Brexit, it was predicted lamb prices would drop 30%. Coronavirus has seen them drop 36%. For the lamb industry, Coronavirus is no-deal Brexit by another route. I’m going to make a prediction here. People are not going to start buying up the surplus of lamb to cook at home. It isn’t going to happen, even if there was a big campaign to get people to buy and eat lamb ( because there have been many over the years). Even if lamb was being given away free with every pint of milk, it probably wouldn’t make much difference. I think the nation has fallen out of love with lamb.

Anyway we aren’t going to run short of meat. We’re more than self-sufficient in beef, lamb, chicken, pork. We may have to change our habits and start eating chicken brown meat, instead of demanding that we must have white. Again, all of this was predicted in the context of a no deal Brexit. It’s almost uncanny, as though Coronavirus has come along and said

“you know all those predictions about a no deal Brexit screwing up your food supply chain? Well predict no more. I’m here to show you how it plays out.”

But, as well all know (or almost all of us anyway) meat is not an essential part of our diet. We do have to eat fruit and vegetables though. And this is where it gets really tricky, because we import around 75% of our fruit and veg. Much of that comes from Spain, the Netherlands and Italy. So while we will have potatoes for a while (they were lifted last Autumn), we rely on imports for things like tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, lettuce, courgettes and cucumbers. Tinned tomatoes from Italy.

And again, as if Coronavirus was some spectre of no-deal Brexit, the two countries hit hardest by the virus in the EU, are Spain and Italy. Exports of fruit and veg from Spain rely on workers being supplied to the vast acreages of horticulture in southern Spain. workers driven to farms in minibuses. Shared minibuses, full of Moroccan workers. Morocco is now also suffering a large CV outbreak. Morocco has closed its border with Spain.

This is happening across Europe. Seasonal workers, which are the backbone of the food supply system, are unable to travel, or unable to work through sickness and self-isolation.

Food policy experts Tim Lang and Erik Millstone have already called for food rationing to be introduced, not by the supermarkets, but by the Government. They are usually right, and they are right this time. Rationing needs to be combined with a voucher system that ensures those in greatest need (and the poorest) have access to the most nutritious food, regardless of income.

Rationing is needed for three reasons – firstly because the food bank system providing food to those who cannot afford it, has been overwhelmed and the Government must step in to stop people going hungry. This has been exacerbated by schools closing, preventing free school meals from relieving some of the hunger pressure.

Secondly because the supply chain problems I have described are rapidly coming down the line towards us and essential supplies of fruit and veg are going to dwindle.

Thirdly, perhaps most importantly, is because everyone has to have as healthy a diet as possible and we need to ensure that food is distributed fairly and equitably. A healthy diet means a healthy immune system, which helps people to cope with illness, like novel viruses. Fruit and veg provide our bodies with the vitamins, minerals and micro nutrients which keep our immune system functioning properly. Oily fish is also essential for the same reasons. At the moment, food is not flowing to where it’s needed; it’s still flowng according to who has most access to the system and that’s partly down to income. While the Government has gone some way towards guaranteeing people’s incomes after the income they previously derived from work has disappeared (almost overnight), there are still huge holes and delays in the system.

A rationing and voucher system would ensure that everyone was able to get the food they need, without having to worry about whether they could afford it.

What else can we do, as individuals? Those of us lucky enough to be in a position to do so, need to crack on and grow as much food as we can, as this will reduce pressure on the system. And, until rationing comes in, everyone else needs to make sure they don’t throw away any food that can be eaten, which means only buying food that’s definitely going to be eaten.



Please, Let’s All Stay Positive Now. Don’t Panic

There are so many posts that I’ve been recently reading about Corona Virus. And I see many people sharing more posts on it. Look, it is severe and devastating. Agreed. But the more you look or read such posts, the more fear it will cause within you. Not just you but aslo within others. Updates are fine, but going so deep into it is for no good. I heard few people saying they avoid to see/hear news on Covid-19. When you share updates about it, it is causing a greater inconvenience as it tries to alter someone’s confidence with more fear. Instead of spreading negativity, let us calm down for a while, stay home, hope for the best, and pray. Or otherwise belive that the world is getting better. I don’t believe much in God or prayers, but the least I’m doing is to believe for something good to happen around the world. The Universe has a deeper connection with each of us and our thoughts. When you continuously fear about something bad is going to happen, it will. Living in this situation right now, it is high time we must feel grateful for being safe at home. Thank the place you live in, thank the food that you eat, thank the people around you for being with you. Because, being isolated will be more equal to death. Please avoid having thoughts like “What if it increases? What if it spreads so fast?” or any kinds of What-ifs. Expand your mind to develop positivity. Surely and confidentially say that we’re coming out of this, we will succeed through it. One negative thought blindfolds thousands of positive mindsets around you. It’s time for us to strongly believe that we, together, are going to be happy again.

© Yashica Priya

The Leader and His Team

It’s been a tough week for everyone; especially that “young, energetic and diverse team with deep experience” that Jason Kenney (his words by the way) appointed to Cabinet.

Health Minister Shandro took it upon himself to turn up at a Calgary doctor’s house and yell at him for reposting a Facebook meme that suggested the health minister was in a conflict of interest position because he and his wife own a supplementary health benefits company called Vital Partners. Minister Shandro also told another private citizen that if she didn’t stop sending threatening emails to his wife (they were sent to Vital Partner’s corporate web page and weren’t threatening) he’d refer the matter to “protective services”.

A Minister of the Crown yelling at citizens or threatening to send “protective services” to their doorsteps is not the way to allay their concerns.     

Education Minister LaGrange issued a press release this weekend informing 25,000 teachers and non-certificated staff they were fired, at least temporarily. It’s okay, she said, the Feds will take care of you and besides we’ll re-allocate the money saved from this cut to Alberta’s COVID-19 response.

Premier Kenney

Economist Trevor Tombe called this a cut of “massive scale” and said it was “false” for the government to say the savings were being reallocated to COVID-19 because the savings will impact Alberta’s debt, not its health spending.        

And while we’re on the topic of so-so cabinet ministers, what happened to Sonya Savage, our Energy Minister? She’s completely faded off the scene, replaced in all but name by Mr Kenney. Yesterday he was urging the federal government to go after Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries for predatory dumping (“we cannot let them win”); he also said he’ll be speaking with American politicians and administrators about a coordinated plan to defend the industry. 

The only thing he didn’t say is that he’d shut down the $30 million/year war room and reallocate the savings to fighting COVID-19.  

Deep experience?   

No one is expecting the Alberta government to fix COVID-19 and its impact on our social and economic well being overnight. However some of us would argue that the “young, energetic and diverse team with deep experience” appointed by Mr Kenney is coming apart at the seams. Either that or Mr Kenney lacks the confidence in them to let them do their jobs.  

Which leads us to wonder whether Mr Kenney’s characterization about the competence of his Cabinet is valid.  

Albertans have no way of checking whether Shandro, LaGrange or Savage have the experience necessary to do their jobs at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic and global economic downturn, because their biographies do not appear on the Alberta government website.*

This is peculiar given that the descriptions of the remaining 17 cabinet ministers, 3 associate ministers, 3 parliamentary secretaries and one military liaison include their biographies. (Even the 27 deputy ministers have biographies for god’s sake).

So what gives?

Health Minister Shandro is responsible for the government’s response to the biggest public health emergency Alberta has ever faced; Education Minister LaGrange is responsible for K-12 education which is experiencing unprecedented upheaval as a result of COVID-19 and Energy Minister Savage is responsible for energy, the mainstay of Alberta’s one-trick pony economy; is it too much to ask for a modicum of transparency so Albertans could view their qualifications for the job?  

They say a leader is only as good as his team. Unfortunately, the Kenney government has chosen to hide the biographies of three critical Cabinet ministers.  

Given the performance of his team over the last few weeks of escalating crisis, this is deeply concerning.

*NOTE: A reader tells me he can see Sonya Savage’s bio. I’ve check on a few different browser, but still see nothing but a button marked “Learn More”. In any event, the question still remains, does Jason Kenney’s Cabinet have the bench strength necessary to lead Alberta through these difficult times?

Day of Prayer

Our governor has declared today, March 29, to be a special day of prayer for our state and for our nation, particularly in regard to the current virus pandemic. In response, I offer three timely prayers as written in The Lutheran Hymnal (published in 1941). I considered modernizing the pronouns and verbs, but chose to leave them as written.

Prayer for the sick: “Almighty, everlasting God, the eternal Salvation of them that believe, hear our prayers in behalf of Thy servants who are sick, for whom we implore the aid of Thy mercy, that, being restored to health, they may render thanks to Thee in Thy Church; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.”

A second prayer for the sick: “O Lord, look down from heaven, behold, visit, and relieve Thy servants for whom we offer our supplications; look upon them with the eyes of Thy mercy; give them comfort and sure confidence in Thee, defend them from the danger of the enemy, and keep them in perpetual peace and safety; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.”

This third prayer might spark some thought and conversation: In time of great sickness: “Almighty and most merciful God, our heavenly Father, we, Thine erring children, humbly confess unto Thee that we have justly deserved the chastening which for our sins Thou hast sent upon us; but we entreat Thee, of Thy boundless goodness to grant us true repentance, graciously to forgive our sins, to remove from us, or to lighten, our merited punishment, and so to strengthen us by Thy grace that as obedient children we may be subject to Thy will and bear our afflictions in patience; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.”

I posted these on Facebook an hour ago. It will be interesting to gauge the reactions. J.

An Ale of Two Cities–bookish at its best

An Ale of Two Cities

by Sarah Fox

An Ale of Two CitiesI found some relief from the pandemic news in An Ale of Two Cities by Sarah Fox. It is a fun, serious, puzzling cozy mystery with some action and excitement included. Although setting and atmosphere usually take a backseat to plot and characters in this kind of mystery, all of the elements are important here. The bookish setting is the Inkwell, Sadie’s pub decked out with bookshelves, literary decor, and special cozy rooms such as the one dedicated to Agatha Christie. Special literary-themed drinks are offered and, with two chefs, food has been added to the menu. Sadie has organized genre book clubs that meet monthly as well. All of this takes place in Vermont where our Tennessean main character has to adapt to the snow and cold weather.

The deadly mischief begins at the Winter Carnival’s Ice Sculpting Competition. Mel, one of Sadie’s employees, is competing and discovers a minor crime in the theft of her tools; but the plot turns deadly when Freddy, an unpleasant former denizen of the tourist town, is found dead in the snow. The evidence initially points to Mel, but there are lots of people with motivations to cut Freddy’s life short. Sadie investigates hoping to find the murderer thus clearing Mel’s name. In addition to the trauma of discovering dead bodies, Sadie has to deal with her growing attraction to Grayson who owns a local brewery. Winter Carnival appeals to her competitive nature as she organizes a hockey team representing her pub in ugly, mustard-yellow sweaters and learns how to snowshoe in preparation for the big race.

I highly recommend An Ale of Two Cities for its humor, plot, and all-around good reading fun. If you love books, then you’ll probably give this mystery  bonus points for its bookish nature.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery


 1. #2 in the Literary Pub Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone.

  2. Recipes are included for some cocktails as well as Paradise Lox.

Publication:   November 26, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

When my cat wanted his breakfast, he wasn’t about to let anything get in his way, especially not five more minutes of heavenly slumber for his human servant.

I had to take a long, hot shower and drink another cup of steaming coffee before I could declare myself completely thawed out. Once I no longer felt like a close cousin of one of the ice sculptures out on the village green, I headed downstairs to the Inkwell to get ready for the workday.

Spreading rumors was her superpower. It didn’t matter if they were true or not. As soon as Gretchen got hold of some tasty tidbit of fact or fiction, there was no stopping its spread through town.

Ballad’s of the Balcony

I took inspiration this week from the videos of people sharing music on their balconies during the quarantine in Italy. I saw these videos on my Facebook newsfeed and I found them so moving and thought that they really celebrated community spirit.

On the Facebook group of our apartment block, there was a request to do something similar at our shared home. So, George and I said that we would be happy to get involved. One resident was worried that as everyone has different tastes in music that we should be careful not to disrupt the normally peaceful atmosphere. Our small community has families with young children, elderly residents and homeworkers so I thought this was a very thoughtful comment and so I suggested that we limit the live music time to after normal working hours and pick a date so that there is as little disruption to everyone as possible.

So last Friday, 27th March at 18:00 George and I were gearing ourselves up to take our electric piano onto the balcony and sing three songs:

  • Somewhere Over The Rainbow
  • Somewhere (West Side Story)
  • You’ll Never Walk Alone.

I must admit that I was a little nervous, I didn’t want to upset anyone so I tried to pick songs that I thought most people could connect with, whilst still sending a message of hope and togetherness. After all the people I would be singing to are my neighbours. But we thought it was time to be brave and try to do something nice for our community using the skills we have.

We set up and let rip. One by one, we saw windows open. People came out onto their balconies. One young woman in the courtyard who was on the phone began to share the experience with her loved one during their FaceTime call. There was a father dancing with his daughter. After we finished the first song, there was applause. It gave us the courage to continue and we started to perform our little hearts out. After the three songs, we were surprised to hear people ask for more and we said that we will try and perform again next Friday if the current situation doesn’t improve.

We were then surprised that our performance was filmed and shared by a few of our neighbours on our community Facebook group and this has allowed me to share this short video with you. Please continue to stay safe and healthy and know that you are each loved.

The Beatles

In April 1973, Apple Records released two double albums (eight sides in all) containing fifty-four songs that had been recorded and released by the Beatles between 1962 and 1970. Officially named The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970, the recordings quickly became known as “The Red Album” and “The Blue Album” because of the color of the album covers. (A double album of new material from the Beatles, released in November 1968, had been named The Beatles but is usually called “The White Album.”)

Other compilations of Beatle music had been released before 1973 and have been released since 1973, but for many Beatles fans the Red Album and Blue Album are the definitive collection of Beatle songs. Fans can easily debate the selections. I, for example, would have included “If I Fell,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Here, There, and Everywhere,” “I Will,” and “Sexy Sadie,” among others.  With the coming and going of compact discs and the current availability of digital recordings, the red and blue albums are likely irrelevant to newer fans of the Beatles. But in the history of Beatle fandom, those albums have an important place.

A few days ago I tested my memory to see if I could recall all fifty-four songs included on the red and blue albums, as well as the order in which they appeared. Some sides I remembered easily; others were dimmer in my memory. Finally I had to pull them out of my collection and fill the gaps. (Yes, I still have my vinyl albums that I bought in the Seventies and Eighties.)  Interestingly (to me if to no one else), the songs I had forgotten were largely from the Rubber Soul and Magical Mystery Tour eras. “In My Life” and “Hello, Good-bye” are both songs that I like, but for some reason I had forgotten that they are included on the Red Album and the Blue Album, respectively.

Last year’s movie Yesterday imagined a world in which the Beatles had never existed and almost no one had ever heard their music. One man could remember and reproduce the songs of the Beatles, and he introduced them into the world. At first he found it difficult to get people to listen, but eventually the songs made a big impact. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t like how the Beatle music was scrambled together, not showing the development of their musical styles and interests. But I then realized that younger Beatle fans know the music of the Beatles exactly in that fashion—all one package, without context of years and albums and formative influences. My children grew up hearing the Beatles music at home, and they probably remember some songs by album—Abbey Road, for example, or A Hard Day’s Night. But even for them, hearing “And I Love Her” side by side with “Oh, Darling” would probably not strike them as essentially different songs—just two of the many great songs written and recorded by the Beatles. J.

Transferable Skills Are Cool. But Do They Transfer?

There is a widely-held theory that by learning an instrument, playing chess, or even swinging a Wii remote around in P.E, students’ cognitive abilities and academic skills will increase, which will help them be better thinkers across the subjects. This isn’t a new theory; people used to think taking Latin unlocked something inside you so that you could learn other things easier. As a teacher, I hear claims all the time that this puzzle app or that brain-training scheme will help my students to become creative, critical thinkers, problem-solvers, you name it. Research from Sala, Gobet and others (2016, 2017, 2017, 2019), however, continues to cast doubt on whether or not we should give credence to any of this.

The reason why music training won’t make you any better at solving math equations, and why playing chess won’t make you a better point guard, stems from the issue of near- and far-transfer. Some areas definitely share common elements and so learning the skills in one will help you greatly in the other. For example, learning to drive an automatic car will probably help you to drive a stick shift, as well as a golf cart or a driving simulation. This is considered an occurrence of near-transfer because the overlap between the elements in the areas is strong. When the relationship between two areas is weak, we are referring to far-transfer (Sala & Gobet, 2017).

“Transferable” Skills

As a rule, far-transfer is rare and it is difficult to achieve (Sala & Gobet, 2017). Nevertheless, because time is short with students, it is natural for teachers to want to kill two birds with one stone by teaching things that can be applied not just to one specific situation, but to a multitude of situations. Workshop “gurus” and non-educators in business settings have long assumed that placing an emphasis on “21st century skills” to the exclusion of domain-specific knowledge instruction will result in skilled, flexible performance across completely unrelated tasks and areas. In a way, the justification for teaching these putative “21st century skills” is similar to the appeal of teaching Latin or chess to make you a better thinker in other areas; If we just teach kids problem-solving and creative thinking strategies, they will be ready for anything that comes their way! They do not question whether generic-cognitive “transferable” skills can even be taught (Tricot & Sweller, 2014), and they ignore the critical role that domain-specific knowledge plays in the development of expertise (Tindall-Ford, Agostinho, & Sweller, 2019).

Trying to teach generic-cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving in isolation, such as through a course or a unit, by having students apply generic strategies to unrelated activities will likely result in poor learning outcomes (Huber & Kuncel, 2015) and limited evidence of far-transfer (Willingham, 2019). If we think more about it, and ignore the unsubstantiated arguments from business leaders and charlatans at education conferences, this makes logical sense. Stephanie’s father is a programmer who can think critically and creatively with the coding language of PeopleSoft, and would likely succeed at a near-transfer activity working with Java. But his problem-solving skills in programming will fail to transfer to a plea bargaining scenario if he were to practice law; He has not developed the domain-specific knowledge and skills of that domain. My dad, however, is a retired lawyer who demonstrated excellent problem-solving ability in the courtroom, but who has zero coding skills. Would teaching my dad generic heuristics to enable problem-solving and critical thinking help him to code? Of course it wouldn’t! He needs to be taught the domain-specific knowledge and skills of coding – the tools that he will think creatively and critically with. 

As appealing as instruction in generic-cognitive “transferable” skills feels, if we want students to learn the skills of math, we should use math instruction, not chess instruction, or any other kind of instruction. Teaching students to debug a robot will not result in generic problem-solving ability that can be transferred to the field of anthropology or carpentry or business management, only the ability to solve problems in robots. As teachers, we should be content with teaching domain-specific, biologically secondary knowledge and skills because, perhaps counterintuitively, this is what they need to be successful thinkers in the 21st century.

– Zach Groshell

I’m on Twitter, @mrzachg


Huber, C. R., & Kuncel, N. R. (2015). Does College Teach Critical Thinking? A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 431–468.

Sala, G., & Gobet, F. (2017). When the music’s over. Does music skill transfer to children’s and young adolescents’ cognitive and academic skills? A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 20, 55–67.

Sala, G., & Gobet, F. (2016). Do the benefits of chess instruction transfer to academic and cognitive skills? A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 18, 46–57.

Sala, G., Tatlidil, K. S., & Gobet, F. (2019). Still no evidence that exergames improve cognitive ability: A commentary on Stanmore et al. (2017). Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, (2017).

Sala, G., & Gobet, F. (2017). Working memory training in typically developing children: A meta-analysis of the available evidence. Developmental Psychology, 53(4), 671–685.

Tindall-Ford, S., Agostinho, S., & Sweller, J. (2019). Advances in Cognitive Load Theory : Rethinking Teaching. Milton, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge. Retrieved from

Tricot, A., & Sweller, J. (2014). Domain-Specific Knowledge and Why Teaching Generic Skills Does Not Work. Educational Psychology Review. Springer New York LLC.

Willingham, D. T. (2019). How to Teach Critical Thinking. NSW Department of Education.

How to Recapture the Muslim World’s Lost Hope

Understanding the events of 1979 is crucial for those trying to figure out a better future for today’s Middle East.

What happened to us? The question haunts us in the Arab and Muslim world. We repeat it like a mantra. You will hear it from Iran to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, and in my own country, Lebanon. For us, the past is a different country, one not mired in the horrors of sectarian killings. It is a more vibrant place, without the crushing intolerance of religious zealots and seemingly endless, amorphous wars. Though the past had coups and wars too, they were contained in time and space, and the future still held much promise. What happened to us? The question may not occur to those too young to remember a different world, whose parents did not tell them of a youth spent reciting poetry in Peshawar, debating Marxism in the bars of Beirut, or riding bicycles on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad. The question may surprise those in the West who assume that the extremism and bloodletting of today have always been the norm.” SOURCE: The Atlantic

This opinion piece is a somewhat controversial, but that is part of its value.  The core of the author’s thesis is that to understand the modern Middle East, especially if one is searching for a way to create a more democratic Middle East, we must look to the past to see how we got there.  1979 is seen here as the pivotal year that changed the trajectory of the Middle East, in large part because of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, but for many other region-wide changes.  A nice pairing would be to also read this discussion from the NY Times about the rise of MBS as the key prince in Saudi Arabia, looking to reform society and reform movements in Saudi Arabia while crushing his opponents.  Both are articles are book excerpts.

Questions to Ponder: What were the big shifts that occurred in 1979?  What are things that you think that the author gets correct about their historical analysis of the Middle East? What are some positions where you disagree with the author?

GeoEd Tags: Middle East, political, Iran, Saudi Arabia.

Source: How to Recapture the Muslim World’s Lost Hope