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Study Tips for studying online

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  1. Read the syllabus.
  2. Plan weekly study times.
  3. Log on to the class at least 3 times a week.
  4. Ask questions.
  5. Make connections with your fellow students.

Do you agree? How do you plan your week? How often are you online? Have you made friends with fellow students?

I picked up these tips from the emoderation training course I am doing with Coursera through the University of Leiden - the second such MOOC I have done, the last one being with Coursera itself when I became a mentor 18 months ago (on a photography course of all things).  I have degrees in Geography and Open & Distance Education. 

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Mentor on Coursera's 'Learning How to Learn'

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Join the biggest ever MOOC 'Lesrning How To Learn' and you might get me as your mentor. I did the course 18 months ago and have wanted to be part of  Barb Oakley's team ever since. 

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What learning online can pick up from the gym

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I've been out of the pool and gym for too long. Thinking that walking the dog and ambling about in a sailing dinghy now and again will do. It won't. I'm too heavy to manoeuvre my Streaker and if I fall out or capsize I can't fix it. I aim for a flat walk with the dog.

Last time in the pool or gym? I reckoned two years, in fact it has been five. The closest I have got to exercise has been physio for a back problem (i never did the exercises), and visits to the local dry slope to get fit for a skiing holiday (three years ago)

My local Leisure Centre, all electronic applications and Apps sent me this:

  • You will receive personalised, regular advice from the Leisure Centre team based on information you log to your app(s)
  • You can communicate with us too - simply reply to our messages
  • Your data is safe & very secure - we don’t see non-essential information and only a select few members of the Lewes Leisure Centre team see your data.
  • You're in control - can revoke access at any time, by simply revisiting your profile.

All we should expect from distance learning online, or from blending learning is some personalised, regular advice based on our needs. Why do so many institutions fail even to do this?

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Learning with the OU compared to other MA courses

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Had I known and experienced what I have now learnt and put up with as an MA postgraduate student first with one university, and then two years later having transferred, with another, then I would never, ever have considered alternatives to the OU.

The online support, even, or especially where it has been heralded as 'blended learning' has been atrocious, laughable and quite frankly scandalous both for the platform itself and the ignorance the academics who were meant to support it - they were clueless, blundered along, contributed nothing, got in the way and simply refused to learn what is best practise in a student forum.

Added to which, my subject, with slightly different titles depending on the institution, though the First World War, should have been, I now see, studied in the much broader context in which the OU treats the subject.

I don't expect to be studying an MA in History with the OU in a year's time - to add to what would be my fourth MA. The time is long overdue either to find the strength and sense of purpose to undertake a PhD - or to fret about other things in life.

Politics.

Never much bothered me before, but the last year has allowed me to understand exactly where I stand - bang in the middle.

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Why I have ditched the computer for paper and a fountain pen!

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In my second year of the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education I went all digital and precious about it: no more printing off, no more books, everything on a screen. Armed with an iPad and laptop all bases were covered: notes went online in a blog (private pages) and later into Google Docs, and essays were constructed on the screen too. I did print off my penultimate essay to proof read and correct. The results were never astounding with my averages over three years creeping up from 50/60, to 70/80 with one exceptional and never repeated 92 for a critique of a 'paper' - I do criticism well.

Onwards, a few years later and I take up a more traditional MA first at the University of Birmingham and then at the University of Wolverhampton: 'Britain and the First World War'. My grades sank back to the 50/60 mark. My last effort scraped above the 50 for a pass six weeks ago, so, clear that something had to change I invested in three pads of lined paper, a couple of arch-lever files (I threw my old files out in 2012). I am now taking notes on paper, not an iPad. I will think through, and construct this next essay on paper. I will write several drafts until I am happy with it then turn to the computer to type it up and add references.

No more cut and paste.

Will I be just as confused? Will clarity shine through?

On verra.

What do you do!!!

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Learning online students can switch presentations - the ultimate 'get out' and excuse not to complete?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Jan 2017, 12:17

Completion rates for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) bug their creators because of the massive fall-out. Like the half-life of something in a pond at Sellafield the figures can half in a week, and half again in another couple of weeks and at the end of a 12 week course there are 50 people left out of the original 15,000. 

The excuses and reasons for this drop-out are multivarious: many never planned to start the course - it is too easy to sign up to something that is free; an early poor experience puts people off: it is not for them, too hard, too boring, irrelevant or time consuming. They can have a technical melt down too: the learning platform is pants, or their kit and connection isn't up to it. A course can over promise and under deliver; there is a terribly fine balance and on the side of the creators ignorance of their students who can and will be 'anyone' : digitally literate or not, English their first language or not, lect school young with no qualifications or a professor nosing in on something that is their expertise ... 

Reasons that people stick include: they've paid for it, it should enhance their job prospects or working life (it has practical worth), they 'like' the educator(s), they 'like' their fellow students and/or 'enjoy' the platform, its functionality and experience. The intrinsic rather than the extrinsic motivators work best. 

A responsive 'platform' by which I mean the educational establishment or organisation (The OU, Coursera, FutureLearn, EDx) will identify and fix sticking points: a flood of people quit after the third multiplechoice assessment - you fix it; the 12th too-long to camera talking head of the same person and you jazz them up, get someonelse or look for alternative approaches; and you acknowledge that everyone studying 'at a distance' and 'online' probably never had the time to set aside to study your course in the first time so will need time to adjust - to make time. And life is fickle, they may have setbacks. Great therefore if on a 3, or 5 or even a 12 week course or module that they can 'elect' at any stage to 'switch' to the next 'presentation' - so they pick it up in a few weeks. 

With switching I wonder if there could be a way to discourage multiple switching though. I fear that what can happen is that having switched once out of expediency, then a second time 'because you can' then the third time there is some kind of behavioural pattern established and the person will never complete the course. Were a student physically attending class an aware supervisor would cause the student to think twice on the second 'default' switching and may put 'soft' barriers in the way of the third - after all, the hidden agenda here is about 'completion rates': one indicator of a successful course is the percentage whi make it to the end.

By not having switching, rather like having students paying a fee, you force their hand - gently, and sometimes of necessity. You have to face up to the genuine challenges of learning: you face and overcome obstacles whether they occur in your real home or professional life or because you are struggling 'in class'. Either you have, or develop resilience; you seek help and advice and get it.

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Essay Woes

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It's gone. Do I over think them? Is that possible? I end up with multiple mindmaps, Venn Diagrams and Charts which I then try to put into an essay plan.

Have I stuck to the question?

In this instance did I not only identify the correct factors but but did I prioritise them? I have a tendency to get carried away and may put undo focus on the trivial.

Meanwhile, for the umpteenth time in 3 years since graduating with an MA ODE I am trying to get employed in a field that uses the knowledge I gained. This has proved far harder than I had thought as the practitioner working in a university is where I should have begun this journey, rather than where I had hoped to end up. 

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Writing an essay

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It has taken me an entire MA with the OU, and now into the final stretch on a second MA, via 'Learning how to learn' courtesy of Coursera to realise how many steps it takes to reach 'essay perfection'.

It is like growing a seed, from compost, from food you have prepared weeks before: it all takes time to mature. Or rather, it requires time for your mind to make sense of a thing.

I am still uncomfortable with what I feel is wasted ink, digits or effort: I run a learning journal, I read, highlight and take notes. I may have an e-Book or a book in print. Either way I cover the thing in arrows and marks, then sift this through to a blog. 

In time I decide I have to have a shot at answering the question.

This invariably goes horribly wrong. I realise I am way off the mark, and that I am leaning on old ideas as props that might through light on the subject, but don't fit.

I keep reading. I keep drilling on through references. I keep making lists. I prioritise. I focus. And then an essay or two, an article or book out of the blue pull it all together and the tangled mess falls away to reveal greater clarity.

I have gone from the man with the drone and a microscope looking at a forest, to a forester. I am on the ground with my fingers and eyes. It is starting to make sense.

Time. Sleeping on it. Getting it wrong. Talking it through. Having a go. Fixing mistakes. 

Key for me is 'Talking it through'. I wished it, reluctantly upon my wife for 15 minutes and she, the daughter of an Oxford Don obliged.

What I need right now is a 'tutorial': an expert, and three idiots struggling with the topic. An hour of talking it through and you come away with a set of facts prioritised and a 'narrative' for the argument.

Never leave it to the day before. I am 8 days out from submitting this essay. I am reading for another go at writing it.

I don't care, for now, about the 4,000 word limit. I want to answer the question fully and succinctly, with evidence. I will trim later, or add a growing agent to the roots if it is falling short.

Writing is the last thing I should do. I wish it were an exam. I wish I had to pull in all the facts then turn up for a 3 hour exam. Today I will simply vomit words onto sheets of paper. Prepared for an exam I will have, in my mind, a set of some 32 cards, each with a note or fact or idea on them. I will then sit down, look at the time I have, make a quick plan for my response, then mentally set the 20 or so cards I need into the mix. Then I write. Then I fix. Then the bell goes and I am done.

Maybe I should do it this way? This Wednesday evening I will see what I can write, long hand, in an hour. (A fraction of how much I could type). Sometimes the pen is best - it slows you down.

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Learning in groups of five with one educator/teacher

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 6 Dec 2016, 02:02

Is this the perfect 'Set'?

It feels both odd and appropriate to be writing this at 01.00am and to be treating my first thoughts to mu OU blog rather than anywhere else: there's greater continuity here than anywhere else and my musings may find a readership through any current MAODE students (I met be one again in 2017 to take on the new module on research into online learning).

Context: I am once again a student. I am at the University of Wolverhampton, part-time MA. We learn via a lecture or two with other presentations in a group of 22 once a month. We have a 'blended' component in the form of a labyrinthine and ugly platform that looks more 1999 that 21st century. Think long lists of clickable options in to great a variety of colours: a list lifted from print and jazzed up. Nothing smart about it. No surprises that no one uses it; not the blog, not the Facebook group.

I remain embroiled in learning, and learning online. I am a mentor on a course here at The OU, a mentor for Coursera, and even (face to face seeing students), a mentor at The School of Communication Arts, London. And a swimming coach! In a variety of ways a 'role play' a real educator for want of a proper teaching job.

Serendipity has me at the home of my 91 year old father-in-law. Considerably less active than he once was, he still spends his day either reading from an iPad, or, with considerable difficulty, writing and reading emails. (He is blind in one eye with severely limited peripheral vision in the other). Reading only from a screen about 7 or 8 words fill the screen. A young granddaughter is researching a piece about being a 'war child'. Zbigniew Pelczynski was 13 1/2 when the Germans invaded Poland. He revealed something about learning that I had not heard before.

You'll soon understand the relevance to learning and the relevance of posting it here: I interviewed Dr Pelczynski on the Oxbridge Tutorial system in relation to learning and the MAODE. He is a former Oxford Philosophy Tutor (Hegel) ...  and East European Politics, and the founder of 'The Schools for Leaders' in Poland and other East European countries. Has he retired? Probably. He published his last book four or five years ago and made his last trip to Poland about three years ago. 

One of his grandchildren, just started secondary school, had the following questions for him. 

1). How old were you and your brother at the beginning of the war? 

The war began 1st September 1939. I was then 13 1/2, and my brother was 12.

2). How did the war change everyday life e.g. did shops close?

Shops did not close and in many way life went on as before, however, with time food became more and more scarce and expensive. People who were poor had a very hard time. 

3). What did you do for family entertainment?

(I have read that in Poland things like cinema and football clubs were banned)

Well, entertainment was very much limited to the family and especially to birthday, christmas and Easters which in Poland are celebrated in a very big way. Cinemas were open, but the films were controlled so that one was only able to see that the occupiers, the Germans, wanted us to see. There were some interesting German films, but most of them were propaganda. I remember Jude Ze. about a a cruel Jew in the middle ages who caught children who cheated everybody and murdered children for blood. There was a tail that the Jews used the blood of Christian children for Jewish feasts. This was meant to make us feel very hostile to the Jews who were being greatly persecuted by the Germans at the time, put into Ghettos and later sent to extermination camps.

(The film he refers to is 'The Eternal Jew' =  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eternal_Jew_(1940_film))

There was no theatre, just light music entertainment, but only for the German soldiers who were stationed there and German officials. There were however some concerts in cafés, specially on Sunday at lunchtime which were very popular.  

Sport. The Germans didn’t allow any sport. All football pitches, running tracks and swimming pools were taken over by the Germans and used by their own soldiers or recovering soldiers. 

You were allowed to play handball or netball at home in your yard. Not allowed to play at school. Not allowed to kick a football about a schoolyard. So the only thing we did was play pingpong at school. In the school there were long corridors in there were several tables and you’d sign up to be allowed to play and there would be competitions. There was the Vistula in Warsaw, where we went swimming or canoeing or in a small sailing boat.  

4. Did you have rationing coupons for food & clothes?

There were no clothes coupons, but there were certainly rationing coupons for food. They would change from year to year, even month to mont and they kept being cut again and gain. Each family was registered in a particular greengrocers shop and you went to buy your rations once a week. However illegally food was imported from the countryside and sold under the counter in the same shops or others shops or in open market, but the price was very high compared to the official regulated price of the rations. 

Things were particularly during holidays when it was very difficult to get the various delicacies, for example ham for easter, or chicken or goose for Christmas.  

5. How did things change for children in primary school?

There was virtually no change. Some of the text books were banned as they were thought to be too patriotic of ante-German.  

6. How did things change for children in secondary school?

This was changed. The Germans did not allow any education whatsoever after the age of 16. And only if the secondary education was combined with ‘Fachschulen’ - that is trades school. I for example went to a school that was supposed to train electricians, one of my friends went to carpentry school and another went to gardening school. But very little time was spent on these trades, say a day a week, the other days were much similar to what we had before the war. The exceptions, no foreign language was allowed except German, Latin was banned, Polish history was banned. However, very early in the war, the teachers started organising secret courses called ‘sets’ where five children and one teacher taught Latin, French and Polish history. After age 16, moving to the equivalent of A’Levels there was no school education at all in the ordinary way. Those who continued with these sets of 5+1, would say meet on a Tuesday, and have 3 hours being taught Polish language and Geography, then another teacher would come and teach say Physics … so in this way, instead of studying in large classes, we had what you might call seminars. It was possible, the atmosphere was very informal, made it possible to ask question and disagree. This education was illegal. If the Germans had discovered these the teacher would have been arrested and sent to prison.

I went on like this until 1943 when I was 17 1/2. The Polish Secondary education was modelled on the French and German with four or more subject examination, I did Polish Language, German Language, Latin and Trigonometry. I passed this examination. 

7. What age did you start going to school in secret, tell me about what it was like.

See above 

8. How did children help in the war effort?

It very much depended on your age. Children who were very young did not participate at all, expect  perhaps taking secret newspapers from one family to another. The Polish Secret army told their story of what was happening in the world, otherwise we were limited to German propaganda. Later on you could join a secret scout movement. You were trained in what was known as ‘little sabotage’ for example, painting slogans on public places, ‘Hitler Kaput’ meaning ‘Hitler is finished’. On one occasion we went to church on Easter morning very early, and the whole of Warsaw was covered in these ante-German slogans and symbols of the Polish Resistance (a symbol of hope).

Most Poles are Catholic. During the war people went to church for services and holidays and the Germans didn’t interfere with that. Some of the priests when they preached sermons put in some references to Poland was not free, but the time would come when it would be free again. If caught as there could be spies in the congregation they would be arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

I and my younger brother joined the Resistance Movement in 1943. Even before that he decided to help some friends in the resistance: the people who formed little units in the forests and attacked the Germans, and stole their weapons, and blew up their cars. Kazik had a friend who was very active, and this friend wanted to store submachine guns somewhere so Kazik agreed and would store them in our grand piano which was never used because neither he nor I played. I got suspicious because this friend would come and visit with a violin case. One day, this friend came, and Kazik locked himself in the sitting room, and I listen and realised they were putting something in the piano. I looked and there was a brand new Sten-gun in the grand piano. 

When I was older, 18 1/2 I joined the Resistance Movement and trained as a soldier. We were often asked to store hand-grenades and rifles. We would attach a rifle to a small fruit tree and put straw around it. 

9. What age did children join the Home Army?

There was some military training in the Scout Movement, at 14 or so, maybe 12. Then first of all they were involved in ‘small sabotages’; and then given military training so in 1944 they were involved. 

You joined the underground, the secret Military movement, when you were 16. When the uprising broke, out and the young people were the bravest of all. One friend of mine, who was 16, was awarded two medals. 

Distributing leaflets and illegal leaflets.

Training in the home army, we must in five + one, Meet in someone’s house, once a week, and a military instructor would come and tell us how to use a gun, or blew up houses.

Once a month there was a trip to the nearest forest. It was easy to go for the weekend. Military training was much more serious here, you played at setting an ambush, or crawling under barbed wire or attacking a position. Amazing that the Germans never discovered what was going on.

The point that had me wake in the dead of night having mulled this over was the importance to him of 'the set', or seminar, what in fact became for him the lifelong love for an commitment to the 'tutorial' : not a seminar, a class of students, but a small group, relaxed with tea, coffee (or sherry), reading over each other's essays for the week, being able to falter, make mistakes, received praise and correction.

This works. I believe it works online too. I have had plenty of experiences of it on OU modules where from my tutor group a small 'break-out' group forms. These are never exclusive, but rathe a handful of people usually three or four, who form an affinity and begin to confer, converse and meet regularly online to discuss the course and its progres.

I recommend it. Blog, Use Facebook or LinkedIn or Google HangOuts. Make use of platforms offered by The OU. Be part of a group. Form a group, or what I will now call a 'Set' or perhaps, in Polish 'Zestaw'. 

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The Learning Journey Continues

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Whilst finding it hard to justify keeping a blog again, I do value, as I found here, keeping a 'learning journal'. It helps to have a record of what I am studying, where I struggle and succeed.

This should be interesting as it is the first time I think where work that I do closely relates to the subject being studied. There can be much call for knowledge of the First World War, but it is something I do for an hour or so day.

The next 9 months will see me complete an MA in British History and the First World War. Not with The OU as they wouldn't take the transfer of credits. A shame as I have huge respect for the historians of WW1 at The OU. 

I will attend approximately 9 days of lectures (all day Saturday once a month each team with lectures and seminars/tutorials). I will write as three essays, give a presentation or two, all building towards a dissertation. So, nothing much different to an OU module: a few TMAs and an EMA.

I could get the subject choice for the dissertation so wrong: I'll take advice on it of course, but I have a tendency to over complicate things. 

On verra.

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The Learning Vernon

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 24 Sep 2016, 22:56

MA no.3 will be completed with the University of Wolverhampton: British Military History of WW1. I asked to do this with The OU but they wanted a BA first. There's logic and appeal to this 1835-1945 is