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Time to reflect on 'Start Writing Fiction' with the OU and FutureLearn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 19 Dec 2014, 09:33
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. The writer's path ...

The eight week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I have just completed 'Start Writing Fiction', with the OU, through FutureLearn merits, like all learning experiences, a period of reflection. How do you look through posts across some 80-100 'threads' with anything from 143 posts (final thread, final week) to over 7,500 posts (fourth thread, first week) ? You have to filter, but these filters are dependent on your participation throughout because the key filters are: 'my comments' and 'following'. These in turn, isolate from a massive thread, the comments you have left, starting a thread to the main discussion or commenting on points made by others. While 'following' picks out those, all of them, whose thoughts and contributions you have enjoyed. You can also pick out 'most liked' - though with likes ranging from 0-4 with 1 like the median, this sift hasn't anything to offer. And you can prioritise 'Activity' i.e. select in reverse order across all posts in an activity those that are most recent.

Thus armed, if you can give it the time, you can work back over the battlefield of minds that has been this last two months; it feels like a 60 degree credits 7-8 month slog packed into a very, very long weekend - it has been that intense (I've let it be so).

Whilst the activities could be done in three hours a week at a fast jog, what takes far longer is a) writing a piece for peer review - 300, 500 and 1000 words were the lengths of submission and b) reading, replying, following and learning from the mass off comments in what are sometimes huge discussion threads with thousands of responses where some of have skipped through the entire 8 weeks course in a few weeks, and others, like climbing onto a moving walkway, are still, just joining. 

I can write 1,500 words in an hour. However, 500 from a day of writing, takes ... all day. And it is generally this 500 which is worthy of keeping and could lead to publication.  I have learnt the value of reviewing the work of others - all standards (I've been at all standards and can migrate with ease between them). I am reading fiction strategically -I did this with efforts to write TV series and Film scripts (I have a writer/director credit for a short film on Channel 4). It is so useful, as you get a feel for the genre you are writing, to read some of the very best in that genre. It makes sense really. How have other authors successfully tackled time-travel, war, fairies ... horror, romance or sex. And then writing itself. Setting time aside, focusing on that for hours uninterrupted to give you creative side a chance to come out. And then, from that, edit ruthless to those ideas, phrases, descriptions and characters that meet a set of criteria. It's tough. If it wasn't everyone would be a published author.

I may forget to take my phone with me, but when I go anywhere I have an A6 size notebook and pen. Like Louis de Bernieres I take a bath and use this time to read fiction! No iPad. Fewer showers. Currently reading 'The Time Traveller's Wife' and 'Never Ending Story'. 

When I get up, very early, I flick over two hourglasses: one is 30 minutes, the other an hour. I like the 'reward' of getting 30 minutes in. I may forget where time is going after an hour or so. 2,000 words a day ought to be about right. Less happens. More happens. Then the rest of the day takes over - often until the early hours of the following morning. I read over a few pages before I go to sleep and sometimes the Muse rewards me in the early hours ... or torments, or deserts me. 

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I'm taking a look forward on your subsequent put up, I'll attempt to get the dangle of it!

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I've had some odd, 'machine-generated' comments in my time but this one takes the biscuit!

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Is Amazon becoming the educator of the Internet Age?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 25 Feb 2014, 10:36

Fig.1. The debate on this book in Amazon comments is turning this into a self-directed, open module on the outbreak of the First World War

Amazon is going way beyond selling and reselling books to aggregate conversations. The sophisticated way that discussions are offered might be a lesson to educators - reviews aren't simply stacked, but are offered in a variety of ways: contrasting arguments, newest first, based on rating for the publication or likes from other readers. While simultaneously, playing upon serendipity multiple alternative reviews are offered in a 'side bar'. You can begin to pick out types of voice, from the academic to the belligerent, to those who have yet to read or complete the book, to those that have read it more than once. Innovations here are seeing Amazon becoming a social platform in its own right with recently launched platforms inviting discussion and group forming. i.e. Amazon gains in stickiness and frequent visits and revisits. 

(First posted in OpenStudio as part of H818: The networked practitioner).

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H818 Activity 1.1 Reflection on how collaboration works and fails

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 4 Dec 2014, 07:47

Collaboration amongst strangers is a tricky one. I've seen it work and I've seen it fail.

either

1) It requires scaffolding in the form of rules, or guidelines, mentor or leaders, and incintives in the form of punishments and rewards i.e. the risk of failure as well as recognition and some kind of reward (which might be a qualification, a monetary award, or part of a completed artefact, or pleasure of participation).

2) It requires people with an obsessive common interest; I don't believe having a common interest is enough. There needs to be an obsession, which means that the level of expertise can be mixed, indeed, thinking of the John Seely Brown concept of 'learning from the periphery' this might be best as invariably the natural human response IS to support those on the edge. The classic example is the young and eager student or junior employee keen to learn from his or her elders.

My concern with the role of collaboration in a module on e-learning is that the above don't fully apply. We are not GCSE or A'Level students. Most are MA ODE students who need this towards their MA, but I'll stick my head out and say the pass mark is, in my opinion, too low. I believe that it matters to be paying for it out of your own pocket or to have a commercil sponor expecting results. I know that some working for the OU do these modules almost on a whim because they are free and they do the minimum to pass - I've seen this on various courses,  seen it myself and have had it corroberated by other students. Anyone who is along for the ride in a module that relieson collaboration is a weak link - of course plenty of OU people do take seriously, but some don't and no line manger is looking over thre shoulder. At Carnegi Melon they ran an MA course where students gave each other, on a rolling basis, a mark for collaboration - those with the lowest mark risked failing that module. In fairness some people are not born collaborators, whereas others go out of their way to be a participant, potenially at the expensive of other parts of their studies.

To my tutor group I've posted too long a piece on a collaborative exercise I have been doing on and off for the best part of twenty years - I'm researching and writing my grandfather's memoir from the First World War. The Internet has exposed me (in a good way) to several sleuths.

I can however give an example of the learning design MOOC earlier this year that whilst having a good deal of scaffolding and human support relied on strangers each coming up with project ideas then joining forces to complete one. In a rush of activity, with some big name e-learning folk and too much formal theorizing, reading and activities to groups formed. I had no takers and joined a group of three that became five, but very quickythis became two of us ... we gamefully pressed on but at some stage felt we were missing out on the real action so eventualy pulled out as active participants.

Then there is a two week exercise in a subgroup of an MA ODE module where circumstances brought a magic bunch of strangers together - this has proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

Amateur dramatics, even volunteer cricket, to take a couple of examples, work because the show is the collective reward. We have bonfire societies here in Lewes that rely on volunteers too - though the complaint will be that it is always the same handful of people who do everything. In a work or academic setting should everyone be rewarded and recognised in the same way? It depends very much on a group dynamic or bond, a common sentiment that comes from working together in the flesh.

I believe that the First World War, now that I am an active member of a society and studying it on a formal course, is largelly of the type 2 participant. We are 'trainsporters' in that nerdy, glazed eye way - with specialists who know everything about uniforms, or tunnelling, or submarines, or dental decay on the Western Front, or a particular general, or like me - a grandfather, or greatgrandfather who was a combatant.

My worry about e-learning as a collaborative arena is that it is the process, so we are a cookery or gardening club. However, there is significant variation in each of these - vegetarian cooks, cupcake bake off specialists and Heston Blomenfal wannabes - amongst the gardens their are PhD research students growing dwark barley and weekenders who've keep an allotment. Whilst we have interst and the module to sustain us, only in a conort of 1000 or more would for some, there be enough likeminds to form a team.

I'm off to the School of Communication Arts in London. It operates from a workshop like open studio. Students are put into pairs to work. There is collaboration here between an art director (visualiser) and copywriter (words). Whether students are forever looking each other's shoulders when they are working on a competitive brief is another matter. I've noticed how one creative brief given to the whole studio has now become three. What is more, the 'collaboration' as such, comes from a couple ofcfull time tutors, principal and then a 'mentors' who go in as a sounding board cum catalyst cum different voice or perspective. What these people are doing is 'creative problem solving'.

Why, historically, does one band stay together while another falls apart? Collaboration is a tricky business - and maybe only in a business setting between employer and employee, or between contractor and client can it be sustained?

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27 Reasons to blog

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 20 Mar 2012, 05:14

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I've forgotten a few, not least the ones that got me started here:

  • As an ice-breaker (introducing ourselves by way of holiday snaps and pets ... not to be recommended for setting the appropriate tone).
  • Reflection (and learning how to do this correctly).
  • Stream of consciousness
  • A Writer's Journal
  • As an e-portfolio

So I've missed out some important ones sad Visiting Channel Flip I was treated to a screening of Lee Hardcastle's new stop animation horror short. Is this blogging, or having your own TV channel?

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H800:8 Missing the bus

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 18 Oct 2014, 16:25

Fellow students are expressing understandable views regarding the way forums work; I wonder what the answer is?

If everyone is an active participant you could miss a day and find you are 40 thread behind the conversation. If you, understandably, are away for several days (work, holiday, crisis, illness) you could be 100 threads and 40,000 words behind.

I wonder if the approach, using an analogy I've already suggested regarding whether or not you speak to fellow commuters on a train (or bus) might be (or should be) to ignore all but the last 20% of posts, pick up the thread here and continue.

What I know you CANNOT do is try to pick up a thread that has gone cold; you may feel you want to respond to the way things developed since your departure ... but everyone has moved on, may feel the question/issue has been dealt with and may not even come back to look at this page.

Over the year I've commented on lack of entries in blogs and threads from fellow students; the issue (an exciting and interesting position to be faced with) in H800 2011 may be the opposite - along comes a cohort that does Facebook and Twitter and may keep a blog, who can type at a million miles an hour and feel they have something to say.

How therefore to manage this explosion of content?

How about we ditch text in favour of a 3 minute webcam 'update.'

Then again, 40 missed threads x 3 minutes equally a heck of a lot of viewing!

 

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H800 tips on blogging - keeping a diary online

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 27 Aug 2011, 18:50

Tips on keeping a journal

From a blog first posted by this author 06/10/2003 www.jonathan.diaryland.com (Locked. Accessed 4JAN11)

‘When people ask me how to keep a Diary, I refer them to Ira Progoff's Intensive Journal [method]....One cannot help being amazed by what emerges from this skilled inner journey. All the elements we attribute to the poet, the artist, become available to everyone, to all levels of society.’ Anais Nin 1974 (In the introduction to Ira Progoff's book)

Like many young men I came to Anais Nin and Henry Miller through the Philip Kaufman film 'Henry and June.' I was living in Paris and soon found myself buying up hardback copies of Anais Nin's Journals and copies of Henry Miller's opus: Sexus, Plexus, and Nexus, as well as Tropic of Cancer ... All worthy insights on how to blog. Their letters are a good read too.

The key to this kind of writing is to let go, it isn't an exercise book, that's what an e-portfolio does, acts as a more discrete, shareable repository of assessable / gradeable work. Of course, what's the difference between a blog, an e-portfolio and a wiki come to think of it? Very little, indeed if you call them an e-journal, e-portfolio and e-agenda you may recognise that binds them. The are simply compartments within the digital ocean, compartments that allow for some osmis and transfer of e-fluids, which can be e-text, e-video, e-audio, or e-drawings. Can you see why I feel the 'e-' is redundant?

From wikipeadia I learn that:

Ira Progoff (August 2, 1921 – January 1, 1998)

Ira Progoff was an American psychotherapist, best known for his development of the Intensive Journal Method while at Drew University. His main interest was in depth psychology and particularly the humanistic adaptation of Jungian ideas to the lives of ordinary people.

Some ideas on how to start your diary

(For diary read blog. As it is the New Year now is as good a time as any to make a start)

In ‘The New Diary’ by Tristine Rainer.

  • Begin with a self-portrait
  • Begin with a period
  • Begin with today

Each time I come back to this diary after an absence of weeks, months or years I approach it in one of these ways: I assess who I am, go over the previous period when I’ve been away from the diary, and count these musings as my first entry. (Tristine Rainer)

There’s now a National Diary Archive in the US

Someone thinks they have worth.

Will the handwritten diary, like the handwritten letter outlive the digital era? If someone digs up a sealed chest in five hundred years time and faced with some books, some letters and a memory stick which do you think they wil read first?

From Ira Progoff’s 'A Journal Workshop' seven useful techniques for diary writing are offered:

1. List or Period Log

2. Portrait or Life History Log

3. Map of consciousness (Recapitulations and rememberings)

4. Stepping Stones/Scenes from our lives

5. Twilight Imagery Log

6. Altered point of view

7. Unsent letter

8. Dialogue Dimension

Over these days my desire is to reach some conclusions regarding the modern blog, its use in education and how to describe the benefits to the uninitiated and unimpressed.

How about this; whilst it is possible to paste anything in here, keep it live and real.

You may have notes, so paste them in and add. This is not an eportfolio, nor a repository - it is an open letter, more so in the OU Platform as this is being pinned to a digital noticeboard.

That's it. A letter.

If spoken then in the style of Alistair Cooke's 'Letter from America.

And remember, this isn't a letter that expects a reply (for reply read comment) as it is written to its author. The value, take note OU, is barely in the present, but six months, six years even sixteen years down the line.

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Is it a conversation if all you do is nod you head?

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Is it a conversation if all you do is nod you head?

And contributions, whether relevant or not, are ignored?

Sometimes people want to release what is going on in their head, their frustration, anxieties and misunderstandings.

They want to verbalise their thoughts. This is reflection. They don't want you to comment either way. If anything all you can do is nudge them along.

Like a therapist?

Should a peice of reflection be offered publicly where comment is perhaps hoped for?

Does this make an asynchrnous conversation better than the one that's being going on at me for the last ten minutes?

(No I wasn't typing. Yes I'd turned off the TV and radio. Ostensibly I was listening. I made the mistake yesterday of suggesting some thoughts, even inviting a subject matter expert I know to get involved. Mistake. Sometimes after a couple of weeks writing a report you can't help by leak some words.

Wouldn't a mirror do?

Or as the character does in Avatar, just talking to yourself on a webcam?

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