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Extensions - not the bricks and mortar type

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Illness and injury have made their mark this year. As my work commitments are some 20 hours a week and 6 hours travel this has for the most part been easy to manage - I get behind, I catch up.

Having treated an MA 15,000 word dissertation as if it were for a PhD I have unnecessarily burdened myself with too much ‘manner for the mind’ - it’s proving a sod to bring to heel. And now a tight schedule to meet an end of December deadline is being put at risk by yet another ’developing’ illness. Dealing with sinusitis in the past was easy - I took prescribed dosages of Codeine for between 3-6 weeks. However, it no longer works and I had to go through horrible withdrawal symptoms to come off it this summer. In the past my asthma never compromised the oxygen I was taking in - now it can, leaving me overly and easily tired.

Excuses I resign myself to rather than being able to ignore any more.

There are formalities to pass through in order to apply for an extension - less tricky than planning position but requiring approval from the top nonetheless.

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What do Maria Sharipova, Stalin, The Queen, Caligula and Susan Boyle have in common, other than playing at Wimbledon?

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'The Reputation Game' is a compelling read that has you nodding along in agreement, turning the page for another insight and then pausing to take in the academic research. Written by a former Financial Times journalist and PR guru David Waller and a Business School academic Rupert Younger, the blend of the journalism and the academic gives you two books beautifully blended into one.

It is a business book. The kind you can buy for a relative at Christmas.

I find you become engrossed for hours a at time - it has that ‘can’t put it down’ quality, but also as it skips through so many examples and references that any of these can form a satisfying quick read making it good not only for a commute, but to flick through between stops on the underground.

I know a dozen people who should have a copy, one who probably wishes he had written it. On the one hand I can send them this review, on the other I might just buy them copies and tell them why they should read it and how it well both be a pleasure to read and of value to them either because they have a ‘reputation’ to maintain, build or rejuvenate, or because they are in the business of doing this for others, both individuals and organisations.

My review: http://bit.ly/2zBMlZR 

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The delights of research from original sources

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Bundles of letters in the Liddle Archive, Leeds University

Two days spent in the Liddle Archive, Leeds University reading through bundles of letters sent by, and received by the 20 year old Iris Mary Hotblack. These were written and received between 1914 and 1916 and were to and from her soon to be fiancé then husband, a second male 'pal', a friend from school who had married an American and was in California and her brothers. 

They are a fascinating insight into the times, the outbreak of war, the billeting of 10,000 men on the town of Lewes and a developing love story. Iris married the 'boy' she had met on holiday in Norfolk one summer when she was 15 and he had been 18. He was following a military career in the Royal Artillery and was called up straight away in 1914. Alan Morton worked closely with the RAF, qualified as a pilot and was an artillery observer in the air, and on land. They married in June 1916, an ominous time for the war and ahead of the 'big push' that he was aware was coming. He returned. 

Contrary to mistaken popular perceptions most men did return, over 83%. Figures for individual battalions could fair far worse or better. The 22nd Division that appeared in Lewes and was billeted on the town and later sent to Salonika saw over 90% of men return, with casualties split between combat and disease.

47% of men of eligible age did not go into combat. Again, despite popular misconceptions and a press obsessions with photographs of women in every kind of role, there were always a substantial proportion of men deliberately pushed out of the shot when these photographs were taken. They were in the mines, shipyards and munitions factories, they were running essential business and in the civil service. 

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Learning from mistakes

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I don't know about you but I learn best by doing and making mistakes. I want to get stuck in, be guided, give it a go and try again and keep trying. These is harder to do in academia than in just about every other walk of life. We should be knocking out short essays every week in preparation for the longer, tutor marked assignments. 

As an OU student on the MAODE I went 'totally digital': no printing off, books on an iPad, type everything off. No more! It made my brain soft and inclined to lazy ineffective learning practices like highlighting passages or cutting and pasting text instead of taking notes the proper way.

I'm now all paper and pen. Handwritten notes in files like it was 1979. Once I've got a draft written THEN I will go the the computer to type it up, add footnotes, correct, share, fix, correct, adjust and eventually submit. 

What works for you?

 

 

Permalink 4 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 3 Nov 2017, 08:52)
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Knowledge and understanding needs to be earned, not spoon feed

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 7 Aug 2017, 08:08

Medal Index Card for Private Percy Jones 9th East Lancashire Regiment

British World War I Medal Index Card identifying the man, his regiment and the medals he was due. (C) Ancestry, via Fold3

Some people can learn by rote with ease: they are exceptional. We all know someone who has a 'photographic memory'; though of these, some of these you will simply be playing coy over the hours they put in. The 'photographic memory' is exceptional.

For most of us learning doesn't simply require us to feel we have put in an effort - this effort is part of the very process that facilitates knowledge acquisition. 

Moving on from a period of essay writing based on a few lectures and crawling through a reading list I now find myself engrossed in the digitised part of The National Archive. I find I am, of necessity, doing the digital equivalent of thumbing through boxes of index cards. Every so often I make a match with information that the system doesn't have that I need in order to 'triangulate' the record with a specific person. What I am after are relatively rare First World War Service Records of specific men, from specific battalions, who enlisted in the first week of September 1914. When I get a result, and of some 2000 records I've so far identified 262, the information embeds itself in my head like metal-burning Alien vomit on my skull.

I've earned it; and feel confident that I will be able to work with it. The insight is mine.

I find I am able to do no more than sniff at information from prescribed texts and lectures. I make catch a whiff of something that makes sense, but usually I lose it. I have to be told what it was, and why it matters. I end up writing in a prescribed way. This can produce results, but not very good ones. 

Engagement with others, in discussions (online and face to face) and having the kinds of projects we used to get at school when we were still a year or more off an exam, did more for me.

What about you?

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Cathy Lewis, Wednesday, 9 Aug 2017, 20:23)
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The happy face of research

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Archival Research turned into a smile

Engaged in several months of research I find myself working my way through around 2000 records relating to some 10000 men who served in the 11th Welsh 'Pals' Cardiff Commercial Battalion and the 9th East Lancashire (Service) Battalion during the First World War. They all enlisted in the first week of September 1914 and all ended up, at first, being billeted on Lewes, in Sussex, where I live. 10,000 men turning up in a town of 10,000 caused quite a commotion. I want to know who they were. Thanks to extensive digitised Soldier Records, Census Returns and the British Newspaper Archive I am starting to build a complex picture.

However, this is like panning for gold. Of the Welsh Pals I am finding that only at best 20% of the Soldier Service Records survived the Blitz (the warehouse caught fire) while the 9th East Lancashires there are less that 10%. Simply listing all the men took time enough. I am sticking to around 2,000 men. Even this might be too many as it can take anything between 10 minutes and an hour to research each name depending on how scrupulous I am feeling and whether the records begin to hint at revealing themselves too many. From time to time, once a week, some magic occurs where I find a photograph and story in a digitised local newspaper, the full Service Record from when they 'attested' in early September all the way through to being discharged in February or March 1919. What matters to me is who they were in civilian life, so the Census return, 'triangulated' with as much as I can uncover, is crucial. I can then be certain that this man was in Lewes. Perhaps he was billeted in a public building, perhaps he stayed in someone's house - perhaps he even camped out with mates in a racehorse owner's stable and was brought breakfast each morning by the owner's butler. 

Sometimes the scorch marks, tears and decay on the old paper record is an apt reminder of a man's story: killed in action. Though my 'men' of the New Army '22nd Division' who served in Salonica for some 2 years, for the most part returned. Those who died in any numbers did so on an attack in September 1918. Plenty caught malaria, some died from it, and many were discharged with a disability rating of something between 10 and 50% because of the malaria. 

My inclination is to engage with and seek out the stories; the formal research I am undertaking will be more an evidence based barrister's paper putting the case that these men enlisted for a multitude of reasons: the weavers out of desperation when the South Lancashire mills closed in August and they found themselves with only a few days work a week, or none at all, while the men of the Cardiff Pals were leaving secure clerical jobs and the businesses they ran. I have found stockbrokers and architects, solicitors and council clerks who enlisted en masse.

And so the evidence reveals itself. And every so often a record makes me smile.

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Whose benefiting from MOOCs?

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This fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review, with Daphne Koller contributing. Anyone on the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education will have followed Daphne Koller from the days of the earliest MOOCs that she created.

Whose benefitting from MOOCs?

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Are you joining in the Big Butterfly Count?

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This kind of crowdsourcing science is something the OU pioneered. Use the power of US to do the research. Where do you spot butterflies where you live? What do you see? Here around Lewes with the South Downs were are spoilt for areas that have butterflies in abundance.

Brown Butterfly, South Downs around Lewes

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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.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Alessandra Leone, Tuesday, 31 Jan 2017, 20:29)
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Essay Woes

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