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

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

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

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

Back to formal reading

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

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

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

From E-Learning IV

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

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

There will be a third reading

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

Fig.3. The mud of the First Gulf War

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

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

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

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

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 20 Feb 2014, 08:34

Fig.1. Rescue having failed a 4 tonne whale is dragged from Stinson Beach. 

 What I'm doing here is thinking through a five minute online presentation I need to prepare.

Sharing this, if and where feedback can be garnered, then informs the decisions I take.

My immediate idea, often my best, is to do a selfie-video talking to camera while hurtling around a roller-coaster at Thorp Park. It would sum up the terror, thrill, highs and lows of taking a day long workshop with a class of some 40 year 9s (12/13 year olds) in a secondary school that had/has a checkered history.

The second idea, to change the setting radically, would be a workshop with nine on creative problem solving - the objective was to come up with answers to a messy problem, though the motivation to be present for most was to experience a variety of creative problem solving activities that I had lined up. This nine in an organisation, included MBAs, prospective MBAs, a senior lecture, junior and senior managers and officers: colleagues and invited guests from different departments. This example is probably the most appropriate.

A third might be something I attended as a student - apt because doing this in 2009/2010 in part stimulated me to take an interest in learning: I wanted to know what was going wrong. Here we had prospective club swimming coaches doing everything that was unnatural to them - working from a hefty tome of paper, sitting through a lecture/seminar and expecting assessment to be achieved by filling in the blanks on course sheet handouts. This from people with few exceptions who left school with few or no qualifications - often troubled by Dyslexia. They were swimming coaches to dodge this very kind of experience. It was, you could tell, hell for some. The misalignment could not have been greater. Here the immediate visual image, apt given the subject matter, would be to watch a fish out of water drown - or nearly drown and be rescued. What really grated for me in this course was the rubbish that was taught - too many gross simplifications and spurious science.

Based on the above I should challenge myself to do the video as I need to crack loading and editing.

The 'fish out of water', whale actually, I can illustrate from photographs and the experience this summer of being present as a 4 tonne whale beached and drowned on Stinson Beach, California (See Fig.1. above).

We have surely all felt at some point in our school careers like a fish out of water - when we just don't belong. In fact, I wonder if the child who does brilliantly at everything isn't as troubled, and as likely to struggle 'in the real world' as the person for whom classroom teaching is purgatory.

What I couldn't handle when briefly faced with 40 kids is that despite my best efforts I doubt I could fully engage more than five ... and lost five each at both ends of the spectrum - the ones who naturally found it easy and wanted to be stretched and the ones who were like unbroken horses tethered in a rodeo desperate to get up and kick off.

For the rest it was being put in a room for the day away from their TV, computer and phone. Some were at least with their mates. 

With the 'mature students' it was the gross miss alignment between how we were being taught and assessed and the outcome we all wanted - we wanted to qualify as a 'senior club coach' - for many, simply to 'tick the box' as they had been coaching national swimmers for many years. The only place to 'teach' practical skills is on location, in situ. In this case, as some basic swim teaching rather than coaching skills are taught, you are 'poolside' with swimmers. Even astronauts have simulators.

Historically we have the inertia of the school and classroom. We have shot our selves in the foot too by needing the kids looked after most of the day while we work too. For that to happen schools need to be more Kibutz-like or like a public school ... and teachers or support staff need to be around from 7.30 am to 6.30 am.

Am I going to experiment with my kids though and home educate? Pick my tutors from the very best online?

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H800: 44 Week 8 Activity 2. An approach to learning activity design

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 26 Feb 2012, 06:08

Notes on Beetham Chapter 2 An approach to learning activity design.

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I've found this the chapter on ‘an approach to learning activity design’ from Helen Beetham profound and invaluable.

Helen Beetham is a Research Consultant to the JISC e-Learning Programme. Previously she was a Research Fellow in e-learning at the Open University.

The profound revelations I feel I have had concern three projects to 'reinvent learning' with interactive then web-based learning in the 1990s and 2000s that I am familiar with (I was in the production company or agency doing something else, or know the person and the project's history).

And the sense I wanted from MAODE of the history of education which I sum up as:

1 to 1 the governess and/or then tutor of the aristocracy. 17th century (and earlier, and well into the 20th)

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Samuel Daniel was a court poet and amongst others tutored Lady Anne Clifford. A copy of his miniature was inserted in Lady Annes 1646 'Great Picture' that told her life story/struggle.

1 to many in schools (both private and state maintained). (For wealthy families who couldn't afford the tutors ... the 'public' schools of Britain from the 16th century, followed by the Victorian & Edwardian schools for all).

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1 to 1 or many to many (depending on how you look at it) which brings back a good deal of the 1 to 1 that the likes of Princess Elizabeth might have had in the 16th century, through peer-support you have your time with a subject matter expert (if they will indulge you) ... and time with people with very different experiences and insights that can be better at giving your thinking a jolt ... or if we will indulge each other through 'social educational networking'.

I appreciate the history of education goes back further to Greece, Mesopotamia and even hunter gatherer societies on the plains of Africa.From Marketing to the Social Web. Larry Webber.

My feeling is that technology isn't as novel as we think; in fact it is enabling what used to occur in closer nit learning groups embedded in society.

I wonder if I should be looking at learning patterns from the Bantu in the Congo and apply that to teenagers wishing to learn using mobile devices in the 21st century, the urban jungle and chase replacing the forests, bore hunts and multiple relationships.

There is a lot to think about. I see learning design as akin to designing and growing a maize maze. One this is in place you have choices regarding whether guide an individual around your labyrinth by calling out ‘left!’, ‘right!’ or just ‘hot!’ or ‘cold!’ while others you leave to figure out their own way through. There will be graded outcomes that require exiting the maze, others where they never leave and yet others where they exit where right they came in – all depending on the activities, the learners and the desired outcomes.

The emphasis, from Beetham’s point of view, is that with learning design should be on learners, the activities they do (not tasks) and the outcomes. Beetham (2007).

Activities, not the tools used or the supporting materials, matter the most.

Whatever way you plan, develop and scaffold learners will do the activities their own way - in different contexts people learn in different ways which raises issues for activity design Beetham (2007).

I ask myself:

· How prescriptive should you be?

· How confining should the parameters be?

· What degree of latitude is offered?

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The learning activities may be any combination of associative, constructive or situative. Learners will develop their understanding as a result of consolidation and practice, drawing on their strengths and preferences and a repertoire of approaches. Beetham (2007) e.g. an apprentice learns in an associative way be rehearsing skills and concepts.

REFERENCE

Beetham, H, and Sharpe, R (2007) Rethinking Pedagogy for the digital age.

 

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