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Learning Technologist

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It is a modest start but at least now the MAODE and practical experience of three years as a Digital Editor will be put to use in a University setting. I will be migrating content to the Web, acting as an intermediary and support for academics wanting to get content online and making the platforms sing.

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Active Learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 6 Mar 2018, 06:59

I wanted to write something about Active Learning.

I gave it 20 minutes of thought, writing it here. But the platform repeatedly failed to save it once I added tags and I lost it.

I've rather lost the will to have another go.

Another time.

Active learning is important.

Engage with you work.

Take notes through the filter of your own mind when reading or sitting through a lecture. Do not cut and paste or write down what is said verbatim. 

It is never too late to get this right. In my case I am completing my second MA and working on a dissertation. I have a habit of indulging unnecessarily a tortuous process of reading, note taking and refining when I could get to the point sooner simply by committing my ideas to paper right away. 

It is these moments that I will lace together into an essay, not a serious of highlighted chunks from the book. 

There is an abundance of material online regarding 'how to take notes'. 

What is the best. most effective way to take notes? 

The OU used to produce an excellent book on how to be a student or some such. 

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7 Years Writing my OU Student Blog

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I remember the first milestone: I wrote every day for a year.

I remember the next milestone: 1,000 views.

Then 10,000 views.

Then 50,000 and onwards to 500,000 and even 1 million.

Having reached over 2.25m views I wonder what the next goals might be?

Blog for 10 years and 5 million views?

Actually, the pattern is that on 6 February I reflect where the MAODE has, or has not taken me.

My efforts to become embedded in an University involved closely in Learning Technology have been thwarted. Just a toe in the door would do - something I had by working for the Open University itself but something that was impossible with my family living too far away to make a commute viable.

I am marking today by getting CVs out to a number of Universities, for a variety of remarkably similar roles, all based in a 'Technology Enhanced Learning' team, some making greater use of my historic skills and experiences as a video and TV producer.



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13 Good Reasons to Go Vegan today

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 29 Jan 2018, 12:58

This all began in May 2016 so I've been tinkering around with Veganism for a while. My daughter would argue that I am 'Plant Based' ... and lack the willpower or evangelism to be truly Vegan. I wear a leather belt and have sheepskin slippers on as I write.

Once in a blue moon, or to be more exact, once in a full moon I may succumb to something with egg, or even ham in it. This is invariably when I am away from home. In the A&E of the regional hospital for the best part of 5 hours I went on a quest for a Vegan sandwich and had to make do with the 'Vegetarian' Salmon and soft cheese sandwich. 

Why go vegan? Take you pick:

1) It tastes fantastic: fresh pesto and pasta, Siam soup, dips and chutneys, risottos and a wide range of burgers and falafels and of course salads and fruit raw. 

2) It's cheaper. This lot cost under £60. Meat, fish, milk and cheese would push this up considerably.

3) It's healthier. We've checked and between the variety of nuts and range of foods we lack no vitamins. Our gut isn't suited to take quantities milk we have become used to. It helps to cut out sugar too. Vegan's can be unhealthy and overweight by living on fizzy drinks and crisps. 

4) It's ethical. If you think this way. I didn't for 18 months. 'Nothing with a face on it' has been raised and killed.

5) It'll feed the planet. It will feed more people and reduce degredation of the natural environment.

6) I'll save the environment. Farm raised meat, poultry and fish, especially if it is on an industrial scale, damages the environment. 

7) It's less messy in the kitchen. No fat and grease on pans, kitchen surfaces or blocking the drain and sink. 

8) Less waste. Waste can be composted.

9) Less packaging. Fruit and veg can be bought lose and put in paper bags. 

10) Grow your own. For taste and convenience. You can grow a good deal of it yourself.

11) Saves energy. Less cooking. 

12) Greater karma. Relax. Love life. 

13) Be part of the movement. The 'early adopters' got there first so taking this on now you become part of the peak uptake. 


Some essentials for the Vegan Kitchen: 

A cookbook that has recipes with cultural relevance i.e. typically every day foods from India, Asia, Africa and some Mediterranean. 

Food blender

Spice Grinder. Great for nuts, pesto and chuntney blending too. 


Red Onions


Garam Masala


Chick Peas (buy dry and soak overnight)

Nuts: Pine nuts, cashew, pistachio, walnuts ...

Seeds: Sesame, mixed.

Soya Milk

And so much more ... 


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Language Learning Platforms

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Several fairly new language learning platforms have come to my attention. None solve the problem of 'will power'. My preference would always to be immersed in the environment of the language and to be living and working it.

Go to Coffeebreakacademy.com

You can pick your level and then have a trial where over a number of weeks you will have three lessons to complete. Each course runs to 40 lessons.

I'll let you know how I get on. 

I've used Rosetta Stone successfully over a few years to improve some grammar and perfect my articulation around the harder to say words for an English gob. 

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Historiography of Enthusiasm for war and the reasons men enlisted in 1914

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I'm still doing MindMaps and still using SimpleMind. Having compiled, builty on and grouped ideas, authors, bullet points and quotes the entire thing can be exported as a Text File. A bit of shuffling about, a few added notes and links and you have a coherent and detailed article, piece or chapter.

In my case this is part I of a three part dissertation on the opening weeks of the First World War in Great Britain. 

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Spaced Learning and more ...

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 25 Jan 2018, 09:38

Innovating Pedagogy 2017 is a free download. Each piece is written in the form of an extended summary making each easy to read with ample references for those who wish to take it further.

My interest lies with 'Spaced Learning', 'Immersive learning', 'Student-led analytics' and 'Learning with internal values' - actually each piece is a fascinating and insightful read. 

'Spaced Learning' for me (see this blog for much more' and 'SpacedEd' which developed into a commercial Pharma Sales Learning tool 'QStream' was a Harvard Medical School e-learning platform developed by Dr Price Kerfoot in 2010. Having taken the unusual step for a medical student to study for an MEd he then applied lessons on forgetting, Ebinghaus, to a simple platform that distributed learning parrot style over days and weeks. Like everything out of America it has to be monetized. 

The Institute of Education has applied such thinking andthe latest neuroscience to apply this thinking to a single lesson broken into sessions 20 mins study with 10 mins physical exercise, then 20 mins recalling what was learent in the first 20 mins and so on. This isn't 'spaced learning' as in defeating the Ebinghaus 'Forgetting Curve' so much as making information stick by having to lay down a memory, or construct a memory either through intermittent testing or through project work to construct something from the initial knowledge intake. 

Here are the contents:



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Applying Multi-Disciplinary Ideas to crack open an historical phenomenon

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 21 Dec 2017, 18:18

Diffusion of Innovations Bell Curve

As the fog clears and belatedly the history dissertation I have been working on for ten months starts to ’show itself’ to me I find I am using insights gained from degrees in geography and in education and from the one OU MBA module I completed on ‘Creativity and Change’. 

I am applying the theory of the diffusion of Innovations to the enlistment of civilian volunteers into Kitchener’s New Army in the first weeks of the First World War.

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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?



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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?

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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 ever