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Digital Memory - false prophets, commercialisation based on limited knowledge, an inevitable shift ...

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 8 Sep 2014, 10:43
From E-Learning V 

 

"It's as radical as looking at the difference between the roots of a tree and the petals of a flower".

 

Thanks for the Memory, In Business.

Peter Day Thursday 4th and Sunday 7th September

BBC Radio 4 

The power of serendipity.

At 21:33 last night my wife called from a rural train station. Apologising for being 'like my late Mum', she said there was something on the radio that might interest me. And so, 12 hours later I am about to listen to this for the FOURTH time. This isn’t because of its academic value per se, rather for its irritation factor. Going by the online monnica of ‘MindBursts’ for the best part of a decade hints at where my latent, longterm interests lie. What a mess and joy ‘natural’ memory can be; I’m yet to see an algorithm deliver credible serendipity. When did my mother last call me in this way? She died exactly two years ago. It would have to be about three to two and a half years ago and most likely would have been Samuel Pepys dramatised for radio, or the hints then of the content that is now flooding the airwaves on the First World War.  Letting that memory fizzle, reform and sink back into my brain. Does this programme trivialise or simply ignore the complexity of the brain? No neuroscientist was interviewed. Shame. 

Very often the BBC and Peter Day et al get it right, but here the researchers and writers have got horribly lost, like a kid on their first visit to a fairground they have run about picking up hifhafultiing fag ends, being impressed by trivia, while occasionally calling in an academic or business big hitter. My concentration lapses on each time of listening after 15, then 20, then 25 minutes. The FIFTH and SIXTH listening my start in the middle. What these programme need, regardless of accessibility needs, is a transcript. I could have got this in a couple of sittings by listening to Peter Day while reading the transcript.

There is value in imperfection. There is value in being irritated by a programme. Had this been a lecture I would have had a list of questions at the end, I may even have heckled or muttered my annoyance along the way.

What a hotchpotch.

There are problems of audience, intent, journalist sensationalism, taking such a random and ranging set of examples and setting them as if they warrant or deserve to share the same platform. 

It begins with something that would have a live audience listening to a stand-up comic nodding in agreement: our no longer having phone numbers in our head. Why would we try to recall the complex and the trivia, an area code as a name with and three digit number, say Wideopen 3119 (my home phone when I was a kid) is easy; not so easy, especially after repeated additions and alterations are the lengthy and multiple contacts we have today. And what was wrong with the pocket address book in its day? It wasn't a case of remembering a phone number, so much as remembering where we'd put our address book.

Technology is there to manage our memories. Luciano Floridi

"It's as radical as looking at the difference between the roots of a tree and the petals of a flower".

This is the man who should have carried the programme; instead we get a soundbite at the start and another at the end. As bookends his profound thoughts barely tether this piece. Perhaps it just tries far too hard to cover everything in a myriad of ways and ends up trying to catch smoke rings in its fingers?

We hear from:

Evernote: set up six years ago, a series of digital tools to help people remember everything. Research. Communicate. To visually communicate what you mean. Phil Libbin,

Timehop set up by Jonathan Wegener. The idea is to milk what people put into Facebook. He has big financial backers. Timehop replays a day at a time a year ago, ten years ago, drawing from Facebook. He suggests that ‘old is awesome’. Aimed at getting users, not revenue. Will make money ‘when the time is ripe’. I find it dubious and ethically immoral, even inept naive views of how people want the serendipity of forming and reforming their own memories. His game plan can only be to sell to Facebook. I quit Facebook recently and doubt I will ever return. Far, far, far to invasive and exploitative, and for me, distracting and addictive.

d3i, set up by Oliver Waters. He used to keep a ‘journal’ from ten up to university. So what. Millions do and many for far longer, and in a directed way, say keeping minutes of business meetings led to Linkedin. The key, he thinks, is not keeping the diary yourself. WRONG. D3i is dependent on the nonsense and ephemera that people put into Facebook. a) this Facebook dependence is dangerous and limiting b) a fraction of people are digitally literate or even care, or care to use social media very much c) students, by way of example, are shown to distinguish between their social, digital and student academic lives. My tip is to perhaps keep a dialy log, or diary. Perhaps restrict to a learning journal if you are studying. Or write a travel log for a trip. I have great fun looking at a diary I kept just for a French Exchange I did in my teens. Another for a gap year job in the alps for a season. 

Memoir. Lee Hoffmann. He suggests there is value in the trivia of social media. Such as sitting with a grandchild and they ask how you met and you show them rather than tell them. This is horrid. Far better to learn to tell stories and learn to listen to the story teller. Snapping away at the trivia of the day. Gross failing to understanding the nature, quality and accruing and sifting quality of storytelling. A few memories as a child of sitting on my grandfather's knees while he talked about the First World War would be reduced to ... her son, watch the video while I go and do something more useful with my time. Poppycock. If you take the human out of memory then it is counterproductive.

Rather

Improve what we have. All text with voice, all voice with transcripts, all video with text and audio grabs …. I’m unconvinced that the commercial operators have much understanding of how memory works. The company they failed to spot is QStream, which in a far more tailored, and valuable way, works with our propensity to forget to aid memory creation in the brain - which is where you need the information if you are to do anything original with it. 

The Problem

The need to filter and forget, far better to enhance or support memories that have value, rather than those that do not. So much is missed in this programme. The fundamental background understanding of memory and how and why we forget. 

We hear from:

Peter Baron, Google. He's asked to talk about European Court of Justice ‘take down’ law and the legal and social need to forget things like spent court convictions. 

European Data Protection Law

Then there's a thing called 'Chronicle of Life'

Facebook and Flickr, so long as they are profitable.

And someone called Milan Chetti, of Chief of Research at HP, Boston Maschatucets.

If I can spell these names correctly I'll find them online, see what the have to say and re-invent this piece for my own understanding of the situation. I ought also to revisit anything I've tagged: life logging, memory, forgetting and so on in here.

All this will take time that I'm prepared to put in to write an article, if not a paper. 

One of the profound impacts is that the memorisation process of the human brain has been altered already … constant reliance on mobile devices has hurt our short term memory as mankind, while digitisation of events over time can help recall and improve out long term memory. So short term memory being carried by devices, while long term memory is enhanced. So we forget directions and phone numbers as our devices do this for us, storing contact details and getting us from A to Z and home, while deeper.

Ki Commenenti - Chronicle of Life. To store data forever.

Spelling anyone?

What about life logging, what about problem solving, such as dementia, even assisting at school and in the workplace. The answer is smarter, personalised and mobile and AI.

If it can be done, it will be done.

Luciano Floridi (misspelled on the BBC website) again ... 

Innovation, Legislation … but understanding lagging behind

Reshape huge chunks of our lives in ways we haven’t understood.

From E-Learning V

 

Floridi uses the metaphor of sediments and layers, a better analogy, as it starts to create in the minds eye a complex environment, though as connected information, digital content changes as associations, reviews, use and comments accrue. I made the connection to Hjulstrom's Curve as I was helping my son get his head around this for A' Level geography last night. I dug out my own Geography text books but found nothing on Hjulstrom. This came from a considered search and selection online. I started to teach my 16 year old son how to do a more academic search online. His approach lacks so much finesse it is shocking. A few minutes of my TLC and we find a brilliant short video from an Irish Geography teacher that put it all so very well.

The programme annoys me because from Peter Day and the BBC you expect a far higher degree of scientific even academic certainty rather than something that is part the One Show for radio. Luciano Floridi of all those we hear from is the one to track down as he does what the very best academics do; they take the  complex and try to explain it based on sound research and a depth of experience that few of the others have.

A memory isn’t static, now is it tangible, it is a chemical construct of the moment that the human brain reinvents every time we recall a memory. All that we have experience since that event formed a memory impacts on how we recall it. To preserve an aspect of such an event digitally can never be a ‘memory’ : a photograph of your child’s third birthday doesn’t include the smell of candles and chocolate cake that reminds you of your own eighth birthday, or in my case that my father never attended a single birthday, not my birth, not my 21st … he turned up to say he was leaving. No figuring that. And immediately indicating how a memory is a shifting entity and if you think about it for long enough it is probably very personal.

Just because you can, does not mean it has value. For centuries people have kept diaries, but how many are a Samuel Pepys or an Anne Frank? It is the record of events so much as the interpretation and voice of the author sharing memories and consequences of these events. 

My rant not over. This is a subject that fascinates me. 'Mind Bursts' as a thought has been my external blog for seven years and with hints of something on the horizon I bought the dot com last year. 

The problem now, compared to ten years ago, is finding amongst millions people to talk to about this. Finding like-minds used to be so, so much easier before the Internet got out of hand and now deluges us with stuff, with too much commercialised and gamified content that gets in the way. 

If you listen to the end then perhaps 2020 will be the end - there won't be enough electricity generated in the world to store this digital content anymore. Hopefully it'll all implode, there'll be a massive clear out, and no doubt there'll be a healthy re-invention or return to books and photo albums.

Meanwhile, my memory-support system called this e-learning journal, blog, portfolio thingey offers up the following. The value of these tagged posts is that they are my interpretation of ideas from months or years ago that will trigger an aggregation or assimilation of fresh ideas and thoughts, something that can never occur simply by grabbing new, unknown stuff produced by others on the Interent. It matters that saved content connects with your soul, that intangible part of the brain that nothing digital can ever reach or approach at mimicking.

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Extensions

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From E-Learning V

In my experience if you ask for an extension for a TMA you will always get one; I've occasionally asked for a couple of days and got a week. With EMAs the deadline is sacrosanct. I've asked on the day and a week back; I guess the earlier you see the problem the better. It depends on the problem. Never really meeting my online tutor it took me too many modules before I'd pick up the phone, yet nothing has ever worked better than a short chat. If your request for an extension is genuine, like the kind made of hair, you'll want and probably need a helping hand so take what is on offer. 

The problem with an extension is that it could simply be delaying the pain ... you continue in the same vein, blocked, muddled, reluctant to start, or finish or submit; or you haven't done the work and know it.

If you've done the work but are having a mental or academic block then ask here, ask in your student forum (too often quiet) and most certainly talk to your tutor. Often some focused advice will say you are on the right track, press on, talk it through, now write it down and send it in, or that you are trying to write a chapter rather than an essay, to narrow it down, to think strategically.

If you haven't done the work then use the extension to figure out how you can put in enough hours, strategically, to cover enough of the ground and do it. If that means a few late nights or early mornings that so be it.

And shit happens - I've lost parents. The worst. And I've been made redundant. In fact both happened together in my first module and I quit ... I sulked instead of talking to someone. The OU would have been understanding. Anyway, you may have to drop everything for a week or more. Everyone will he hugely sympathetic.

Otherwise, like teachers with decades of experience, the tutors will smell a rat if you simply haven't done the work and don't intend to. If this is the case then personally I'd just knock off a submission and send it in. You may still pass. You may be asked to resubmit. The assumption will be that you've done your best even if you haven't. Or perhaps you have? Honesty is always heard with sympathy.

I'm reminding myself that however distant distance learning might be you are always a phone call away from your tutor. I always regret not taking up the offer of talking it through. They won't think you're an idiot; they'll admire you for caring about wanting to try to get it right. In seven modules I think only once did our tutor group have such an active online presence that we could sort out each others' problems, another the tutor didn't just say they were available, but they proved it by being online moderating and 'seeding' conversations rather than waiting in the background (or just absent). And then a time when I kind of buddied up: she was great at one kind of thing, I could help with another - she was an 'adapter' I was the 'innovator' I guess. 

Have I had a reprieve? Not exactly. I have, or thought I had a 10th September deadline - actually thats for resubmissions for April !? So I have until the 24th September. I have worked my way into a corner so will take a day off, then see what I can write in exam conditions, see if a fresh approach can produce something more fluid. It's a relief to be able to step away from a disaster. 

I am so envious of people who turn mountains into molehills. I turn mountains into a range of mountains and usually get lost until someone drags me out. TMAs are foothills, EMAs the one mountain. They all count, so press on.

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Too much coffee? Its a product of too many TMAs

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 6 Sep 2014, 13:45
From E-Learning V

 Fig.1 The effect of drinking too much coffee

With an assignment, TMA or EMA or exam deadline comes the inclination to get up earlier and drink stronger coffee, in larger doses over longer periods. Easing off the caffeine in take comes at a price: headaches. This isn't a drug you can come off in an instant ... or in my case, at all. 

I'm trying to stick to water after breakfast; the problem is that I may have had a jug of expresso by then. If I get a headache later in the day what do I need? Paracetamol and caffeine. 

My symptoms:

  • Ringing in ears
  • Heart palpitations
  • Gut rot
  • Dehydration
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness

NONE of this is conducive to getting much done. I need to put in a couple of hours a day for the next four days at least. 

Quitting coffee is on the cards. Done with alcohol, meat might be cut back to the weekend or cut out entirely. Quit Facebook. Cut back on Linkedin. Off on retreat in a couple of weeks when I plan to leave all gadgets behind - let's see or prove how productive that can be. Five days with pen and paper.

 

 

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A terrifying realistion

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 5 Sep 2014, 06:37
From E-Learning V

Writing an assignment takes time and requires focus.

Not rocket science, but never before have I been quite so aware of the time it takes to achieve something. Prep over the writing has begun. I use an hour glass to hold my focus, but what do I achieve in an hour? 400 words.

At this rate it'll take another ten hours just to complete the first draft. My only hope is that the preparation will have paid off and that these 4000 words with some spit and polish will do the job.

We'll see.

Suddenly time feels finite and the deadline like 'The Wall' in Game of Thrones looms on the horizon. Just so long as the next series isn't released in the next few days. When is it due out by the way?!

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How to plan an essay

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 4 Sep 2014, 12:02

 

Fig.1 A mindmap using the App 'SimpleMinds'

You try all kinds of different approaches, software and apps. You can any of this on paper (I often do), even working on a mindmap on a whiteboard. Practice, and pain, taught me the way that works for me. Ahead of the deadline with the bulk of the reading done I assemble and sort 'the facts' and 'issues'; I'd liken this to taking a large bundle autumn leaves and sorted them out by colour and leaf type. Then I create a mindmap.

SimpleMinds is free - the basic version does more than enough.

My habit is to keep it under 12 'themes' so the 'clock face' is a starting point for the mindmap, not best practice according to mindmap aficienados but what works for me. Six to eight 'tendrils' is probably about right. If I can be bothered to so so that I'll re-order all of this to that in chronological order I have the topics to write about. Any set of these links can be 'closed', which in effect means that you are looking at the introduction. It is no more than a doodle so few of my mindmaps are finished: the above is enough to work from, it's not going to illustrate the essay.

Of course, talking about 'how to write an essay' is one thing: sitting down and getting on with it is quite another.

The first draft is always the hardest. Get them out of the way and hopefully it's then just a case of editing. It takes far longer than you could imagine. I repeatedly used to run out of time and wished I'd got down to it earlier. If you're really brave you might write a version under 'examination conditions' - you, three hours and a blank sheet of paper. You can be surprised at how much 'the Muse' will deliver to your fingertips and there'll be little else that you write that will be so fluid.

Bonne chance.

Various tips, hints and guides on this kind of stuff are hereabouts on the brilliant OU Student platform

Yes, it does help to read the thing out loud! The pain is to listen back and realise that at times you're not making sense sad Re-writing is pain, pain, pain. 

The final thing (click the link for a larger version)

From E-Learning V

 

This can also be exported as a wordfile with the sub-menus creating a set of logical sub-headings. Depending on the density of the mindmap you may end up with too much, or too little information on which to build an essay. It also rather depends on the length of the assignment.

The other thing I do is to TAG content here from a module that could be used in a pending TMA. When you select that tag you may then export the assembled notes and entries you've gathered over a few weeks - with comments too. Again, you can end up with 8000 loose notes for a 4000 word assignment, but its a start.

Any kind of engagement with the content is better than none?

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Loving this!

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Thanks Gillian. 

My kind of read. Often very funny, and smart. It carries you along. An escape. My treat THEN I must write a 4,000 word essay. 

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What's the science?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 1 Sep 2014, 09:07

Fig.1 Orphan Black

You take on an OU degree and there is one thing you need to steer clear of - TV, especially these compelling series. It took a couple to become hooked. Yes, the TV equivalent of of page-turning plot means you blink and someone has died but there are many reasons to be drawn in: the idea of the many ways a life may spin out, or in this case, out of control; the ethics, dangers and possibilities of cloning, the delicious acting and tour de force from the lead Tatiana Maslany who conjures up many, extraordinarily different versions of herself and dips back and forth between various accents: US East Coast, Brixton UK, Posh Brit, Ukraineian, Ditsy Dish ... 

Is the science credible?

Distraction alert.

The solution is to earn it ... get the hours of studying out of the way first!

 

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Dying wasn't what bothered them, so much as how they might die

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From First World War

'A man left the front line wounded slightly at dusk on 12th and on the morning of the 13th was discovered stuck fast in a shell hole a few yards from where he started. Repeated efforts were made to get him out with spades, ropes etc: At one time 16 men were working at once under enemy fire. But he had to be left there when the Battalion was relieved on the night of 13th/14th'.

Such stories were common place during 'Third Ypres' or 'Passchendaele' July-November 1917. They'd then suffer the further ignomony of being recorded as 'missing in action' and as their body would never be found listed on the walls of the Tyne Cot memorial or at best placed in a grave marked 'Known only to God'. 

It's become the inspiration for a science fiction story.

 

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Don't preach to the converted!!!!

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From E-Learning V

Richard Attenborough. A life in film

An extraordinary life and a surprising documentary - here's someone who packed in such a huge amount into his 90+ years. Worth viewing and reviewing. The phrase that currently rings in my ears is 'don't preach to the converted!' as the opposite of this 'preach to the converted' was exactly what I had rammed down my throat from the advertising industry. Attenborough did the opposite and in so doing challenged the unwary and disinterested to take to make the effort and to take an interest.

This does have a bearing on learning: can we make it all too easy, too forgettable, too tailored to well manicured personas that it risks being bland, part of the fog, familiar and so easily digested and forgotten?

Teaching will always be an art, before it is a science. 

BBC Desert Island Disks

Moving to be married for close to 70 years, though we've had people who have made it to 80 years married featured recently. 'She is always right' say the husbands. 

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Here we go then, again

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 28 Aug 2014, 12:01

Fig.1. The opening page of Book One (or Livre 1)

A modest package of three text books arrived this morning. I'm starting Ouverture:Intermediate French. No more DVDs (or VHS cassettes) - that's all online. With trepidation therefore I look ahead to the new academic year and a BA module in French. The idea is to complete the task I ought to have undertaken 22 if not 37 years ago ... dreadful at school French I still did an exchange and have worked in France on and off. Getting a 'proper job' in the early 1990s I ought to have done a course and brought my written French up to scratch. I never did and not surprisingly my work prospects were limited. 'It's never too late' my wife says, not realising what I am about to embark on. Hopefully I'll come away both reading, writing and speaking French rather better. I may yet get to apply it longer term if I end up back in France working later this year.

On verra (We'll see)

From a distance learning point of view, and having had six out of seven modules over the last four+ years almost entirely online with little in the post but an EMA grade and assessment it does already feel, in a tiny way, that there is a modicum of direct contact. Though familiar with the online platform and having studied 'Personal Learning Environments' it is valuable to see it applied, and spelled out in book form.

I'd be unlikely to get porridge on a computer screen though. Flicking through the pages over breakfast I got porridge on page 2. Over the next year there might be many more spillages as I get through this stuff.

Scary? Yes. It took me twenty years to get my written English to a reasonable standard. I struggled with languages at school - spoken fine, I'm a good mimic and enjoyed 'immersive learning' when staying with a French family and later hitching around France in my teens with other French teenagers. Written French? Ouch. 

I know from experience that at some stage the fog of incomprehension clears: that a language can become second nature and therefore fluent. Why? I guess I love France and it's easier to try and fix a language I know rather than learning a new language, such as Spanish, from scratch.

Next up, and complementing this, I have some history books on the First World War to read in French. Also applying to a number of opportunities in France. In a few months time I may be doing 'L'Ouverture' from France itself ... though working too hard to manage this? 

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Gamification of the First World War

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 28 Aug 2014, 08:45

 Fig.1. The BBC's First World War 'game'

Powerful. Rich. Fast. Makes you think. The perfect morning opener to a history lesson - though the 'F***!' word would not be welcome. I'd question its use. Many soldiers were 'God fearing, church-going Quakers'. And it will be a barrier to its use in many schools. 

The idea of having linear drama interspersed with choices is a 'cross media' or 'multi-platform' gold standard that was dreamt about, even proposed, a decade ago - but quite impossible except at huge expense and on DVD. It offers an interesting way into narratives such as 'Sliding Doors' or 'Back to the Future' where you as the viewer and protagonist could make choices about what you do and how you respond. 

A detailed report in Creative Review

Watching Horizon last night on Allergies I was tempted to go online. Try transcribing what is said in these programmes and you might not fill a couple of sides of A4: they don't say much. For me this is a simple example of how video is often the last thing you need as a piece of learning: a TED lecture would be better, a dozen TED lectures better still.

For all the buzz and excitement around distance and online learning I wonder if the connectedness of the Internet and the gargantuan levels and variety of content is the e-learning legacy - creating the environment in which people can travel virtually rather than prescriptive learning.

More WW1 games from the BBC 

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A radical thinker who gives many academics a run for their money

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From E-Learning IV

Fig. 1. Malcolm Gladwell - Desert Island Discs

A fascinating insight to someone who connects the latest thinking from all kinds of disciplines and often gives senior academics a drubbing. He challenges anyone who suggests that the Internet is damaging the brains of the connected youth to come up with the research; actually, between them, the OU and Australian Universities have thus far shown that as far as their brains and our brains are concerned it's business as usual.

Like so many episodes of Desert Islands Discs a magical way to learn something new or to gain a deeper insight into someone.

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On knowing exactly where your grandfather or great-grandfather was day-by-day during the First World War

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014, 19:23

Fig.1 35th Division, July-August, 1916. Battle of the Somme

This is from a minutely detailed 'Tartan': a 1916 sheet of squared paper carefully coloured in to show where every division was day by day from July through to October 1916. It interests me as although my late grandfather never kept a diary nor did his letters home survive, he recorded with me over three hours of memoir. He remarked once that he had no idea where he was on his 21st Birthday: I could now tell him - he was on the move from the night before, coming out of Corps Reserve and heading back into the Front Line on the Somme. Here he would keep his machine gun 'in action' while having the misfortune of finding a head in a Piklehaube helmet he dug out thinking it would make a nice souvenir.

 

Fig. 2. Mapping the First World War: Battlefields of the great conflict from above

Fascinating how so much information, here placing hundreds of thousands of soldiers day by day on the western front. 

 

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Decorating war memorials to mark the centenary of the First World War?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014, 04:26

Fig.1 A USSR Second World War memorial in Bulgaria

While the above in Bulgaria is considered by the Russian Embassy in that country to be graffiti, I rather think that it brings the memorial to the attention of a contemporary audience. I know of and have photographed many such monuments around the UK which could be brought to life.

From Oxford

Fig.2. A coloured-in plaster-of-paris replica of a Roman Statue

See how Roman statues originally looked. How about applying this approach to our statues and memorials too? Many are already getting 'walk-by' voice over tracks. Why stick with augmented reality. Go the whole hog. 

From First World War

 Fig. 3. Lewes War Memorial

A golden angel with silver wings perhaps?

Imagined your local war memorial in gold leaf? in silver? 

From WW1 Memorials

 Fig.4. Sir William Goscombe's 'The Response' - Newcastle City Centre

Imagine painting these figures in vibrant natural colours and lighting it at night? That would get the attention of the crowds going out on the town (Newcastle) at night.

 

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Oh cripes - another August Bank Holiday gets washed down the plughole

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From E-Learning IV

Fig. 1 Wind and weather chart courtesy of WindGuru for Seaford Bay, August 25th

  • Day
  • Date
  • Time
  • Wind Speed (Beaufort Scale)
  • Wind Gust Speed
  • Wind Direction
  •  Temperature
  • Wind Direction
  • Cloud cover and forecast density at various descending levels (High to low)
  • Forecast precipitation in millimeters

Stars - the degree to which those who love strong winds will love it. Three stars is an unmissable opportunity for windsurfers and kite-boards.

Too wet, too windy - but perfect for the diehard windsurfer or kiteboarder: I'm neither. I'll be standing on the shore looking at the waves breaking on the beach in an hour or so. The sailing club's Race Officer will decide if sailing is on or not. The serious issue is if we start a race heavy weather could make bringing dinghies in treacherous. If it goes ahead, as Saturday, I will be drenched to the skin helming the safety boat - a RIB we bring out of Newhaven Harbour.

Lessons learnt lately?

The opportunity to improve sailing skills is made all the more swift courtesy of downloadable eBooks and YouTube. After earlier trials inland on a lake yesterday became my first outing helming a dinghy on the sea, and my first race - we had three. Before I took to the water I checked a few items off from a guide to dinghy sailing and at lunch I followed up further tips on YouTube. Is there a limit to what the Internet can tell or show you? The list of tips and insights given by fellow sailors would be long: fixing bits of the boat, getting it off the trolley and into the ocean ... getting it back.

Late onto the water I was a good 30 seconds off the start of the race and never made it up in the Club Laser. The second race I was in the thick of it as 22 dinghies josled for position - two years of crewing a Fireball payed off and sneakily I managed to be one of the first Lasers into this race and for the first lap of three led the fleet - it felt like by some fluke I'd got around the first lap of a F1 Grand Prix in a Citreon 2CV. Staying upright is about as far as my skills go for now. The third race was scuppered from the start as the tiller handle came off; this might be like a fisherman dropping his rod in the water and having to resort to a hand-line ... or a jokey losing his stirrups at the start of a race ... or doing a cycle race without any handlebars: sort of.

However, it is remarkable what you learn and how much more you learn in adverse conditions. My 'skills' have been plagued for weeks by my a clumsy swapping of hands when you tack between the mainsheet and the tiller, every time you tack your hands have to swap duties, the lead hand taking the rope on the mainsail (main sheet), the rear hand taking the tiller ... well, my tiller-handle was gone, which turned every tack into a drill. It worked. I'd liken it to any sports coach giving competitors a challenge in order to fix a problem, or to speed up 'adaptation'.

Trial and error, mistakes, dealing with the unexpected and a challenge ... being pushed. Learning works best when it is anything but 'plain sailing' - we learn so much from mistakes, from figuring things out, by asking for help ... and giving help in turn. How do we keep the human context alive in e-learning? Are we not like astronauts on a lone mission a million miles from earth?

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On the value of reading and re-reading the same quality book

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 24 Aug 2014, 06:52
From E-Learning IV

 Fig 1. Essential reading on British Forces on the Ypres Salient in 1917

I take back what I said a couple of days ago about a module (not OU) that comprises a reading list and set of essay questions. Sometimes I feel the OU modules I have done are too prescriptive, that all of us are passengers on a learning train that will not permit anyone to leave the service. You work from and are assessed on the content given - excellent, succinct and contained. This does not suit everyone; never does the scary freedom to read from a reading list. In many cases the variety seen in both approaches, with overlap, is how and when one comes to understand something.

Back to formal reading

It matters that you are directed to the right book. This is the right book on Passchendaele to understand from a general strategic, to operational, to tactical level what took place.

I read 'Passchendaele: the untold story' first in May for a presentation in June.

The purpose was to lay out the chronology of events and compare two battles within the Passchendaele or 'Third Ypres' conflict relating to command. I took notes: highlighted in the eBook which I then typed up in a Google Doc before creating a presentation. Over two months later I read the book again as if I had never seen the book before; on the one hand I worry about my sieve like brain, on the other I am intrigued to understand what is going on.

From E-Learning IV

Fig.2 Notes taken in Google Docs from the highlight sections in the eBook

On second reading, with the tracks and sleepers of the general chronology becoming established and retained knowledge, and with an essay title ringing in my head, the highlights I make in the eBook are, with a few exceptions, totally different. I am reading the same book, but taking something very different from it. I have a highly selective, easily distracted brain - nothing sticks if it doesn't have to. I know a few people with a photographic memory: they appear to read something once then have the entire contents at their fingertips to apply to a problem. My memory is the opposite - nothing at all that I don't deem of importance to the task at hand will be retained. I have, side by side, the notes I took in May and the notes I am currently taking - they could be from different publications; I struggle to find any common ground. 

There will be a third reading

This third reading will have different purpose as in due course I write a comparative history between Third Ypres: Passchendaele and the First Gulf War to fulfil a desire to respond to something my late grandfather said in 1992 'That's nothing compared to Passchendaele' he said as he watched the First Gulf War unfold on TV. He saw the differences between foot soldiers as unrecognisably different, whereas I saw the prospect of having a leg blown off or being gassed as more than faintly similar. Had the generals used the tactics of 1992 in 1917 they would have gained more ground and lost fewer men; something had been learnt in 75 years of war then.

Fig.3. The mud of the First Gulf War

Visualising the above I imagine a desert; the state of my brain before I read, that over time acquires an invasion of cacti, followed by ground cover plants, until eventually there are established trees and a rich ecosystem.

Hardly surprising, but on second reading you pick out more detail; you see things that you missed, or couldn't take in the first time round. I'm the kind of person who would apply this to entire modules: that the student who wants to should be allowed to, for a considerable discount, to re-sit a module they have already done. Why not even a third time if your goal is to master a subject? A' Level students with poor grades will 'cram' for a year to improve on these. Through-out life things we want to do are achieved as a result of tackling the problem repeatedly until we crack it. 

Finally, I conclude, that given how complex we are, so learning needs to offer a similar level of variety; there can be no perfect system, or learning design pattern. We learn in different ways, and educators teach in different ways. E-learning isn't a panacea, it is simply another approach the complements ones we have always adopted, not least learning directly from experts themselves through talking things through.

More of us should be able to or should have been able to retake classes we flunked - with a different teacher, if not in a different institution. It shocks me to see how a student at school can be put off a subject they enjoy as they don't relate to or get on with the teacher - so change the teacher. 

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Must see TV

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 23 Aug 2014, 10:38

Fig. 1 Episode 3 of 'Our World War'

There are many reasons to watch this 45 minute drama made by BBC Documentaries:

1) It is a gripping piece of entertainment that incorporates modern music to help evoke the feelings and tone.

2) The sense of what it meant to take part in this conflict to Britain then, and today, is palpable

3) For a piece of screen writing I can think of little that is so sharp, so succinct, so remarkable ...

4) You don't think of it as a documentary. This isn't docu-drama, so much as drama that seamlessly includes a few animated maps and subtitles as does many a movie or TV series these days

5) You too will be recommending that people watch it.

6) The series so far is excellent, this episode stands out as brilliant - I was left weeping in sadness and joy, while reflecting the violent conflict, though not on this scale, is still very much a contemporary issue.

7) You have this week to watch it. (What seems to happen then is that towards the end of the series it will be offered as a DVD)

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Does the OU provide the very best distance learning environment?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 24 Aug 2014, 06:19
From E-Learning IV

 Fig 1. Read a book ... several times, then submit an essay from a list

This is 'learning design' or 'instructional design' written on the back of a fag packet by a loan lecturer. An occassional lecture and student gathering may be meant to add some variety. One sheet of A4 provides the year's curricullum while a second sheet provides a reading list. And all this 'at a distance' - in my case over 200 miles using a Virtual Learning Environment that makes a beginner's guide to DOS written in 1988 look friendly. NOT the OU. Not dissimilar to my undergraduate degree except that it at least had a tutorial most weeks: one to one, or a small group with a 'subject matter expert' is a privileged luxury that works - though yet to be achieved on a massive scale, even if there is a trend this way with massive, open online courses (MOOCs). 

I can compare a variety of institutions as I have studied with so many: Brookes has a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that is simple and easy to use- it's a Mini Cooper to the OU's Audi Estate. Birmingham's VLE, ironically as I'm studying the First World War with them is like a deep, impenetrable bank of barbed wire. I've given up on their library and so use Amazon ... not always cheap, but I hope to flog off my substantial WW1 library in due course. 

From E-Learning IV

Fig. 2 SimpleMinds (App) mindmap on 'bite and hold' tactics in the First World War

Meanwhile I'm back to the thrilling conclusion as I plod through the mire of a 4,000 word essay that by reading the above at lead three times I will have an answer. Here it adds variety to read it in print, on a Kindle and as an eBook: each reveals something slightly different. I take notes pen on paper, annotate into the eBook and build a mindmap as I go along. But there is no one to share this with, no 21st century 'connectivity', no tutor as online cataylst and guide, no student forum or blog (not for the want of trying).

Or is learning ultimately always you and your soul working in focussed isolation at Masters level without the distraction of others or the tight parameters of a formal module?

Should you feel inclined to take an interest in Passchendaele then this is the most lucid, objective and reasoned contemporary explanation of how and why the chronology of events turned out as they did.

From E-Learning IV

Fig.3. Sir Douglas Haig, Command in Chief of the British Army

Haig and the politicians of the day can and should be held responsible for the unnecessary slaughter of Third Ypres. What was gained over four months in 1917 was lost in three days in 1918. The depth, detail and objectivity of current scholarship shows absolutely that Haig was profligate with the life of his soldiers, flipped and flopped his policy and would not listen to criticism while Lloyd George having gerrymandered his way into the top job as Prime Minister could not get rid of Haig and so failed in his role to supervise his generals. 

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Oh Feck!

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 22 Aug 2014, 16:07
From E-Learning IV

Fig. 1 BBC Weather

Blame the pesky jet stream. It feels odd to be wearing socks and a jumper after so long. There is a bonus: I become the hot water-bottle my wife snuggles up to smile Until she decides the dog sleeping across her cold feet might be less hassle.

"If you're up very early on Sunday you might find frost on your car!"

When will the first snow fall over 'high ground' i.e on the tip of The Shard, Snowdonia, the Lake Distric, Cheviots and Highlands ...

 

 

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The stench of failure is soon covered by the smell of success

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 21 Aug 2014, 09:53
From E-Learning III

 

Fig.1 Education and qualifications. The fun of it. True or False? 

I paraphrase, no doubt from someone else paraphrasing, but it was said in relation to the results our children picked up last week and are getting today. I'm a parent in the camp of having one of each. We want them to do well, we want them to move on from. 

Results are always relevant to context and so often scrambled by personal circumstances; where you are 'at', family life, health, maturity and so on. 

The worst advice I got age 12 or 13 was to keep my options broad; I became a magpie, rather than a specialist. Whilst it is hard to expect a young person to know what it is they want to do, once they know it is this focus, having a goal, that motivates them to do well.

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Happy Grampa Day

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 20 Aug 2014, 20:20

Fig. 1 Jack Wilson MM with his daughter, Tyne Cot Cemetery, August 1992

I'm sure everyone has a date when they recall a close family member: my late grandfather would have been 118 today. He was born on the family farm in Dalston, Cumberland on this day in 1894. Now that would have been something to get the attention of the news and social media: 118 years old. The oldest man alive celebrated his 111th yesterday and there's a character who still goes into work four days a week in New York - he's 104. If I am not mistaken the oldest person ever to live was a French woman who made it to 126 and only died in the last year or so.

From E-Learning IV

 

Fig. 2. The oldest man in the world ... with more than just one foot in the grave?

Twenty years in a care home? It must depend on the quality of life you have: bed ridden, or like the late Norman Wisdom the life and soul of the party. From about age 86 onwards my grandfather would say, 'I've had a fair innings. His wife had recently died. A decade later he was still coming to 'ours' for Christmas lunch with three sisters in law who in turn were 98 96 and 92 ! They were long livd, frugal, non-alcohol drinking Quakers who kept themselves engage and busy. My late great aunt Mary was doing home visits to 'her old ladies' who were ten years younger than her. This all in the North East (Fenham, Gosforth, Ponteland). 

So, no more 'grampa' (as we called him as children), and no more mum either: she would have been 83. So much for expecting to outline the Queen.

How we mark the passing of a loved one, and what record we have of their lives fascinates me. Who could unscramble the mass of data that we create, or is created on us and digitised in 2014? Has the nature of an personal archive changed? Who has time for it? Can we rely on or get value from an algorithm that seeks out patterns and narratives in a life story as it occurs and once it is over?

In a dozen posts or more here I look at 'life logging' and what it means: for supporting those with dementia, for example, to supporting and gathering a record of value to family and others.

 

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Must see TV

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 18 Aug 2014, 08:39

Fig.1 Great War Diaries

This series, each episode an hour long, features six or so characters per episode, most from episode to episode drawing on their diaries and letters. A lifetime interested in the First World War I am still amazed and thrilled at the stories that are told and the quality of dramatisation. Without any doubt in my mind THIS is the series that our generation will remember in relation to the marking of the centenary of the First World War.

Elfriede Kuhr, featured above, joins us as a 15 year old developing a crush on a German trainee pilot. Born in what is now Poland she went on to marry a Jew and perform in ante-war performances, having to flee Germany in 1933. 

Inspired stuff; though the four universities offering free courses sadly offering little that relates directly to any of this series at all. A lost opportunity. There is a need for a module on the First World War, not niche parts of it, nor a one hundred year sweep from the 1860s to 1960s.

This stunning production, with the highest production values and a budget to match will see many of the actors appearing in movies and TV, with the director surely moving on to Hollywood.

Brilliant

 

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All change on the weather front

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 17 Aug 2014, 10:16

Fig. 1 Sailing on Seaford Bay

Here we go - autumnal weather, socks for the first time in two months, even a jumper and when out on the water waterproofs, spare clothes and a towel.

This squall sent half the fleet in - to shore that is, only one capsized repeatedly. The first race included many cadets, the youngest crew 8 and 11. 

Out on RIB so drenched through. The sea on the other hand is a balmy 19 degrees. Felt like a bath. Time for a dip?

 

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Beware of Phishing ...

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 15 Aug 2014, 12:33

You'd think I'd be more savvy. Recently I've had an authentic looking email and webpage link from the Inland Revenue suggesting I had a small tax rebate ... only on clicking on links from this that looped back to the same page did I realise something fishy was going on. The recent scam of emails from 'me' came about as I succumbed to what appeared to be an email from AOL saying the storage on my account had reached capacity - plausible having had an AOL account since they took over Compuserve in 1996. WRONG! This was the breach which has seen several hundred emails going to my contact list. AOL have now blocked this. If in doubt phone or text me and judge for yourself. Asking some question like, 'what did we call strawberry sauce on an ice-cream in Beadnell in the 1960s might do it!!'

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New blog post

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 14 Aug 2014, 08:38

Fig. 1 Amongst the many official tributes a personal commemoration of three brothers killed in the First World War

Lewes memorial remembers some 360 names; they've been pinned to specific addresses within walking distance of the memorial. In Southover Ward for the 75th anniversary a book was published detailing the lives of each person - their school record, photo and home and other information, such as playing cricket for the local team or where they worked.

 

Fig.2. Lewes Town Hall War Memorial

Will anyone remember us a hundred years after we have died?

Just as it is important for us to forget as a learning process and challenge, should society forget, filter or edit? Does commemoration in glorify war with its nationalistic, militaristic and religious connotations?

 

 

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