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Cycle touring around Copenhagen

December 6, 2016 in Health & Fitness

Few sensations are more soothing than the reassuring feel of a mild breeze on the back and the sound of tyres caressing a bicycle path as it meanders through the outskirts of beautiful Copenhagen. 

Before this summer’s holiday to Denmark, the last time I had climbed aboard a bicycle coincided with the last time I fell off one. Despite this mishap, I was eager to explore Copenhagen on two wheels.

The Danish capital remains the benchmark for cities around the world as they try to figure out how to take the bicycle seriously as a mode of transport.

With the beautiful medieval city centre streets and the unlimited access for cyclists to ride on, Copenhagen continues to inspire, but where did the Danish cycling craze start?

History

Denmark is the epitome of a bike-friendly country. The opening of the city’s first bike lane in 1892 saw cycling become hugely popular, and in just 15 years the number of bikes on its streets rose from 2,500 to 80,000.

By 1960, however, using cars had become the norm, which brought with it pollution and traffic-related accidents.

The real problem, however, was the international energy crisis in the early 1970s. For a country which at the time depended on imported oil for 92% of its energy, this was a major issue.

This meant that much of the country went green and bikes now seemed more than just a cheap exercise.

Throughout the 1980s, Denmark saw a bicycle renaissance. Individuals lobbied for the introduction of bike lanes in cities and since Copenhagen began to observe its cycling rates to see how many individuals were using bicycles in 1995, the continuous rise has been spectacular.

In 2004, 41% of Copenhagen commuted by bike and by 2010, it had reached 50%. Today, the country sets a gold-standard for renewable energy and efficiency.

Cycling in Copenhagen 

Copenhagen is a cyclist’s dream. Throughout my week there, I biked to restaurants and famous sights such as the Little Mermaid statue, and through the city’s most elegant parks and attractions like Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second oldest amusement park.

Biking around in Copenhagen is so relaxing, it almost felt like meditation. People in Denmark obey cycling’s etiquette, so an obvious factor in feeling assured and pedalling at a safe pace.

After hiring out my bicycle, what really struck me about cycling round Copenhagen was how seamlessly one could weave through the city without feeling vulnerable. Sometimes the ride to a new destination in the city was as enjoyable as reaching the destination itself.

Difficulties 

Despite the highs of my cycling experience in Denmark, I did experience moments of frustration, mainly down to my general unfamiliarity with the city. Being someone who doesn’t speak Danish apart from the word ‘Hej’ – hello – remembering street names was a difficult task.

Parts of the city were a bit of a labyrinth, too. This is, of course, mainly a problem for visitors, and there were plenty of times when, seeing my confused looks at road signs, helpful locals asked if I needed help. There is a reason why Denmark is officially the happiest nation in the world.

Danish drivers were very patient with minor cycling indiscretions that would have caused road rage in London. Nothing in the city was hurried, and the main difference I observed from cycling in London is that in Denmark, cycling is an incredibly social way to get around.

I came across many friends and families cycling with one another and this is important for making a mode of transport more appealing.

The country’s wide cycle lanes mean people can ride side by side and despite the overcrowding at times, it is one of the most amazing things to witness.

Cycling and pollution 

It is common knowledge that cycling in polluted air is harmful to people’s health, but does that mean you shouldn’t cycle because of pollution?

If there is a cleaner alternative the answer is yes, but if the alternative is to drive or use bus, cycling is not necessarily the worst alternative.

Cyclists are exposed to pollutants more than car drivers – however studies have shown that the concentration of pollutants at rush hours is substantially larger inside cars than outside.

The reason for this is that cars’ air intake is close to the exhaust of the car in front, so depending on the relative speed and volume of air taken in per minute, cyclists may not be exposed to a higher amount of pollutants over the same distance.

Health benefits

If the thought of experiencing a capital city on two wheels is daunting, Copenhagen will help you conquer your fears, and as the cycling craze intensifies, so do the health benefits.

Cycling may save money and help the environment, but its biggest benefit is for health, and as a low-impact form of exercise, it is easier on the joints than running.

My view of cycling across central Copenhagen

The capital region of Denmark estimates that the city’s high cycling levels save one million fewer sick days per year and regular bike riding contributes to increased cardiovascular health and decreases in stress and obesity.

Visit Denmark 

If cycling is your thing, you would be hard-pressed to find a better-equipped destination than Denmark. With over 12,000km of signposted cycle routes, eye-catching scenery and short distances between amenities, the place is made for pedal-powered travel.

Copenhagen leads the way and the rest of Denmark follows. Cycling networks have allowed cities such as Odense to reinvent themselves as eco-friendly destinations, while Bornholm has made a huge transition from a simple beach escape once, to a place that boasts 150 miles of cycling routes.

Denmark has many cities to visit and cycle from and it is safe and great fun. So get on your bike and pedal away to take a cycling holiday in Denmark because it will be the most enticing thing you will ever try!

Click here to learn more about cycling in Denmark.

Getting hooked on table tennis

October 26, 2016 in Participation

Glued to my sofa on a drab Tuesday night, having earlier consumed a kebab, I wasn’t necessarily in the market to try out a new sport.

However, my table tennis fanatic friend Junaid worked hard to convince me to come and give his game a try at a local sports club in Slough, Berkshire.

Despite my initial lack of eagerness, once we arrived I had a funny feeling in my stomach. At first I thought it might be something to do with that kebab, but it wasn’t.

It was more an adrenaline rush and a feeling of nervousness mixed with enthusiasm.

Being competitive by nature, I was filled with tension because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of experienced players, but in hindsight that tension ensured I was motivated to have fun and try something new.

Popularity 

Having become an Olympic sport since 1988, table tennis has been in the limelight for many years.

Its origins go back to the 1880s as game-makers tried to emulate the popularity of lawn tennis by developing indoor versions.

“As I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…”

The sport is simple. It is played by two players (singles) or four players (doubles) on a 2.7m x 1.5m table.

They repeatedly hit a 40mm-diameter ball made of celluloid and plastic over and around the net by using rackets (also known as bats) made out of wood that are covered by pimpled rubber.

The object is to score 11 points before your opponent.

In a game where each player has two serves, they hit the ball back and forth and must only allow a ball played towards them to bounce once on their side of table, and the opponent must return it so it bounces on the opposite side.

If the score becomes tied at 10 points each, the first player or pair to gain a two point lead will be victorious. In addition, a match will consist of winning the best of any odd number of games such as: 3, 5 or 7.

Serve it up 

As I prepared myself in the changing rooms, the noise inside the hall was pretty deafening. You could hear balls being rhythmically knocked back and forth and the anguished cries of those  struggling with the pace.

There was certainly a competitive feel to the atmosphere, even though – like me – not all the people present were seasoned table tennis hitters.

Finding a spot and table wasn’t hard due to the impressive facilities at the club.

My friend eased me in at first but as I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…

Junaid found an experienced partnership who were no doubt feeling smug about their prospects of victory, but I warmed up thoroughly, determined to not to be embarrassed in my first competitive table tennis game.

Surprising myself 

It was time for the showdown. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of when Mike Tyson the huge favourite, lost to Buster Douglas and it just gave me the confidence to surprise the other pair.

“After believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat”

I served first but my nerves got the better of me and it went straight into the net, but Junaid was quick to push me on and said ‘Continue doing that, it will pay off, trust me.’

As I got into the flow, I started to put my stamp on the game and alongside Junaid, we caused our opponents plenty of problems.

They were on the backfoot for most of the contest as our youthful energy paid dividends. My confidence grew and I unleashed a destructive hit that startled the opposition. I was here to play.

However, experienced eventually told and they rallied to earn a 3-2 victory.

But afterwards they came over and said ‘We didn’t think you had it in you, that was a good workout. You better be here next week – we will certainly have a rematch.’

Those words gave me so much encouragement. At first, I thought I would be a disaster and there was no hope, but after believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat.

Try it! 

Football is my main sporting passion, but table tennis was tremendous fun. Despite it being a challenging sport to master at first, it’s one people of all ages and abilities can enjoy and it also gives you a really good workout.

There will almost certainly be a club in your area that welcomes newcomers, and if you are feeling spontaneous you could even try it at home!

Just watch out for your mum’s best dinner service if you do decide to give it a go on your dining table.

By deciding to give up my sofa for a strenuous cardiovascular work out, I not only improved my endurance levels but I enjoyed doing something different and I would recommend everyone to give the sport a try.

To find out where you can give table tennis a go, visit the Table Tennis England website.

Sustainable systems and positive human agency

November 6, 2015 in PGcert

I spent the majority of time on this topic wondering what ‘sustainability’ actually means.

I did three pieces of reading, which first made me feel perplexed, then a bit annoyed, and finally slightly more comfortable.

1) Perplexed

An enhancement guide for Sustainability in the Curriculum

This guide doesn’t explain definitions of ‘sustainability’. It says that sustainability is not just ‘related to our physical environment’, but what is it related to? The closest thing to a definition is the quote from UAL’s strategic aims, ‘To create a culture of social and environmental awareness in order to develop and integrate sustainable and ethical practice throughout all aspects of our life and work.’ (University Strategy 2010-15)’.

2) Bit annoyed

Dawe, G., Jucker, R. & Martin, S. (2005) Sustainable Development in Higher Education: Current Practice and Future Developments. York: Higher Education Academy 

This goes through different definitions of Education for Sustainable Development (EDS). There are variations on three factors: environmental, social and economic.

Dawe et al present different criteria for EDS. One is ‘Acceptance of limits’, related to the idea that ‘we are living within a materially non-growing, closed system’. This is based on a model called ‘The Natural Step’, accompanied by a picture of a person draining too much water from planet Earth via a tap. The tap represents technology (not cutting edge technology, given taps were invented in the 1800s!).

The Natural Step

I react against this definition. I think education is about not accepting limits. Are we really living in a finite, closed system? For example, fossil fuels might be limited but what about the other ways we might be able to create energy?

There’s a great book called ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ which is all about dispelling the assumed limits that we place around ourselves and going beyond them. I think we should want students to be proactive, innovative and taking action, and not see themselves as consumers who are fearful that our resources will run out.

In the workshops I deliver, there is a focus on empowering the individual. (Dawe et al do talk about the ‘empowerment of the learner’.) Developing speaking skills is not just about better communication, it’s about your agency as a human being and doing something that matters to you. It’s about breaking limits, taking risks and helping create a future that is better than some of the dystopian futures I hear about in the context of sustainability.

3) Comfortable (ish) 

Sterling, S. (2013) Future Fit Framework: An introductory guide to teaching and learning for sustainability in HE

Sterling gives much clearer context for ‘sustainability’. More importantly he relates it to ‘graduate attributes’ and how graduates should prepare themselves for the world. He sums it up here:

‘In a nutshell: sustainability education prepares people to cope with, manage and shape social, economic and ecological conditions characterised by change, uncertainty, risk and complexity.’

A German view of sustainability literacy seems the most practical to me. This checklist (Michelsen and Adomssent 2007, p22) includes: the ability to deal with uncertainty, working in an interdisciplinary way, being participatory, the ability to plan, feeling empathy, motivating yourself and reflecting on wider concepts.

All of these things I understand in relation to developing enterprise and employability skills, and particularly to speaking skills. For example, being participatory (something I explored in Topic 2, Equalising student participation) and feeling empathy (when giving feedback, there is a need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes).

Sterling sums up: ‘..the sustainability learner will be characterised by such qualities as resilience, resourcefulness, creativity, systemic and critical thinking, enterprise, and a co-operative and caring outlook.’ (p 23)

This is exactly the kind of skills that I want to help students and graduates develop. Though I do still wonder if sustainability is something that can mean what you want it to mean.

I thought about sustainability when I designed and delivered a day of workshops this week on collaboration and presentation skills. I worked with two year groups on the Documentary Film MA at LCC. In the morning, the graduating students acted as mentors to the new students, and gave feedback on their presentations. In an afternoon workshop, the new students gave feedback on the graduating students’ presentations in return.

This ecosystem and reciprocity will carry through to next year, when the new students will be graduating and will act as mentors to the next intake of students.

In these sessions, the students are:

  • Resourceful (reflecting on ideas and articulating them)
  • Participative (each person speaks)
  • Supportive (give constructive feedback to peers)
  • Collaborative (two year groups working together)

There is a circular sense of sustainability about it. But I also feel that these skills encourage positive human agency, with the voice helping turn thought into action).

Sustainability and innovation

Equalising student participation

October 16, 2015 in PGcert

The big question for me this week is: How do you get every student in your class to participate?

I really enjoyed reading Psychology Teaching: Working in Small Groups written for the Higher Education Academy by Caprice Lantz. It’s great summary of different ideas, combining theory and practical advice. She talks about ‘Encouraging and equalising student participation’ which seems important.

I found that I am already using some of the other techniques around working with small groups, which I think are essential for helping students speak more comfortably:

1) Small groups. The presentation skills workshops I run ensure each student speaks, partly achieved by using small groups. Each student has an allocated time to prepare and present a short presentation in a pair, before joining another pair to practice again, and then moving into a bigger group. This snowball method means that it feels more like a conversation rather than a presentation, even when speaking in bigger groups. Lantz’ survey of literature suggests that small groups should be taught in a maximum of 6 (Bennett et al., 2002 Small group teaching and learning in Psychology).

2) Peer feedback. The workshops are centred around students giving each other feedback on their presentations. Lantz talks about the ‘traditional master-apprentice view of lecturers and students’. This model means the teacher dominates. This is apparently more commonly found among teachers who identify themselves as ‘experts’ (Silver, M. & Wilkerson, L. A. (1991) Academic Medicine). This equality and two way-learning is something we discussed a lot in Topic 1. Small groups ‘establish a more intimate and dialectical contact with academic and teaching staff than more formal methods permit’ (Jacques, D., & Salmon G. (2006) Learning in Groups: A Handbook for face-to-face and online environments)

3) Fostering familiarity. As the students talk first in pairs in my workshops, then gradually add people to their groups, there is an opportunity to get familiar with the others in the group. Lantz says that Giordano and Hammer (1999) and Jackson and Prosser (1985) both advocate fostering familiarity to help ‘reticent’ students to become more participative. As one student said in my research for Teaching and Professional Fellowship at UAL, “I found giving presentations about my work very difficult at the start but as I’ve got to know people, it’s more like talking to your friends.’

4) Circles. The students in my workshop always sit or stand in a circle when they are giving feedback to their peers. Lantz says that circles are widely considered best in facilitating interaction (Bennett et al., 2002)

What matters the most to me is that everybody speaks. This is not about some people being the best speakers, it’s about each student finding a comfortable way to express themselves.

One question that preoccupies me a lot is: How do you equalise between dominant students and quieter students?

Lantz writes: ‘When groups convene, roles are sometimes ill-defined and dominant students have a tendency to take control while reticent students struggle to contribute or fade into the background.’

I don’t really like the word ‘reticent’ as it suggests that the students are unwilling rather than feeling unable to contribute in some way. But it’s true that some people dominate.

Jacques (2007) has advice around verbal and non-verbal ways to discourage excessive contribution: ‘…you can discourage a dominant student by slightly frowning, using a stop hand gesture and making eye contact with other students’. I might try this but wonder if it’s a bit too obvious?

Victoria Kelley, in her PgCert project, describes a technique using playing cards. Each person has 3 cards and puts one down when they speak. This is interesting. My concern would be if you are a quieter person there could be even more pressure on you if you’re the one left with 3 cards in your hand.

Often when people talk about presentation skills, the emphasis is on individual confidence. In fact, there are many other factors that contribute to someone being able to speak comfortably. These include the physical environment (eg is it formal/informal) and whether the group well-faciliated (eg is the group structured so each student is contributing equally). I think allocating roles is a useful idea, and I will do this when we are doing a group presentation exercise.

I’d be really interested in any other thoughts about how you can equalise participation, encourage participation from quieter students and discourage excessive contribution from dominant students…

Word cloud based on people’s responses to the question ‘What makes a great group?’ in our online seminar discussion, Tuesday 6 October 2015. Interesting how much the word ‘leader’ features, especially given the comments above about equalising participation. (I like the way ‘booze’ creeps in there!)

Wordle pgcert

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