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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 a proper spread of history while 1914-18 is simply a load of battles on numerous fronts, on land, and sea, and in the air.

Fine Art works painfully slowly towards a credible portfolio course of Sussex Arts Club (life drawing 6 days a week) and Charleston. Had my late mother had her way I would have completed an MA in art 15 years ago.

I write and edit First World War 'news', and am a 'mentor' on the Coursera course on Photography?! This, sports coaching and writing a fictionalised history of HRH Prince of Wales' WW1 adventures, turning vegan 6 months ago, seeing kids out of the nest (their mum isn't around much either) and sailing. 

l am mentally predisposed to learning online: being back in the lecture hall, regular seminars and reading out essays fills me with quiet dread. 

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Things I am learning this week

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Part portrait of Jonathan Vernon prepped for copying to canvas

     Fig. 1. Prepped for canvas: Self-portrait

 

Some new, some from scratch, I am on a learning frenzy:

  • Race Sailing a 'Streaker' (Wednesday evenings and Sunday)
  • Life Drawing (choices of classes in Brighton 6 days a week)
  • Life Painting (choices of classes in Brighton 3 daysa week)
  • How to put in a raised bed in the garden using sleepers (if it stops raining)
  • iMovies (painfully!)
  • Converting a VOB file to an MP4 file (Grrrr)
  • Fixing my long lost AOL account. (It has taken me years to get around to this. In 1996 I got JFVernon@Compuserve which was converted to aol. I had Jonathan@aol.com for a while)
  • How to be a 'Mentor' on Coursera's 'Learning How to Learn' MOOC
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Coursera Mentor

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Little by little I'm gaining credentials as someone who understands how we learn online and can help others to do the same. With several Coursera courses completed I am now a mentor on 'Learning How To Learn'.

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How we learn online

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 16 May 2016, 22:29

In my last post I featured Gilly Salmon: great video isn't it? But is it still current. I rather think three things have caused a major shift in the kind of 'learning design' that Gilly Salmon suggests:

1) There is next to now need to have human interaction from the course team, or moderators in the form of PhD or MA students making a contribution to discussions. 

2) Her 'Five Stage Model' works for an Open University 'distance learning course' where a group of 12-16 students are assigned an 'associate lecturer' to watch over things, mark assignments, answer questions and act as a catalyst to discussion. However, this no longer works where there are 10,000 students (or a lot more) on the course.

3) Who is paying for it? There are two key considerations regarding students paying for the course they do: a) by paying a fee (always relative to their ability to pay) they are more likely to complete the course b) a model that is designed to be 'free', and free of other long term funding or cash flow is doomed for a myriad of business reasons.

This is how the model works. Self-explanatory? This student blog platform is a piece of the 'Green' - it is a technical response to allowing students to share and discuss stuff. Yellow is anything you are asked to do as part of your course: watch a video, read some text, answer some questions. collaborate on a paper. Blue is your associate lecturer. In truth it also includes your fellow students. I found back in 2010 that those on their last module of the MAODE were, with a couple of exceptions, happy to engage, point things out and explain a concept. You get to play this role when three years later you are on your last module.

Here's how I've re-interpretted Gilly Salmon's five stage model;

Flow chart using coloured bricks to explain Gilly Salmon's Five Stage MOdel

My version of this, based on the many MOOCs I have done, not least through FutureLearn, but especially through Coursera, is that the model in 2016 needs to look more like this:

An idealised flow chart for a module of online learning that uses coloured building bricks

This is what I feel works:

Testing almost from the start. This could be just TWO questions in a so called 'multi-plechoice quiz' but it is a start and it established a precedence. This builds to maybe 8-12 questions at the end of a week of learning (say 2 hours) where participants are expect to get 80% right before they continue. Why not? Where's the value and what is the point in continuing with a course where you already don't understand 60% of what has just been taught. A 40% pass mark is far too low. 

In reality, in a MOOC, there is no, or next to no 'blue row or column'. It is quite impossible, for not impossible, for a member of the course team to be engage in the learning experience. There are exceptions. If you happen to be online at the same time then it is cool when the author of the learning drops in: there words are hung upon, as happened with Barb Oakley in her 'Learning How to Learn' from Coursera.

A vital row, or column I am missing - perhaps I should replace that blue row, is, of necessity the moments when the course creators need to be persuading those who can pay to purchase the course and a certificate, say £35 ... especially where a course has another five weeks to run. In part, it is this payment that engenders some greater commitment to see it through to the end. 

There are always options to complete the MOOC for free: typically by offering your skills as a voice spotting errors or suggesting improvements. 

There are other ways to 'monetise' a MOOC: the author having 'the book of the course' and the platform having some percentrage rights to the sales. A MOOC that gets 140,000+ participants will get a lot of books sales. Barb Oakley's books went to the top of the New York Factual Books charts.

 

 

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How we learn online keeps me up at night!

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 May 2016, 06:39

Ideas that are encouraged to fester mature at the most inconvenient of times

Often I find that I am up in early and keen to put my thinking into practice

Currently I am trying to develop a simple notation to show, share, explain and develop online courses. During the MAODE I completed in 2013 we often used flowcharts, one with an OU software package - these could become a bit tricksy. My answer was to set up plans of MDF shelving in the garden and get out a chess set to try and show the relationships between the required