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Where do I start?

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Kineo Presenters discuss how to get students to do work before the course begins

I'm already doing a 7 x 1 1/2 hours studying to finally crack my Google Certification Level 1 and Level 2, wanting to get through to Trainer and Innovator.

Now I find that Coursera and FutureLearn are offering many courses for FREE. I've just signed up to an Introduction to Sustainability from Coursera. Usual cost £38, now free. And there are still plenty of goodies in OpenLearn ... which have always been free.  I'm finding out what else Coursera offer if GBMET (where I work) can be recognised and we share links to students.

Meanwhile I love this 30 Second tip from Kineo on how to get students to do prep-work. Simple. Call it module 1! 



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An Introduction to E-Learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 24 Mar 2020, 10:03

I started my first online degree here. It was one of the first of its kind, the Masters in Distance Learning from the Open University in 2001. A false start, with crude online resources, and my own career in tatters. I picked it up again in 2010. I completed my MA in Open and Distance Education in 2013. Started at that time this blog is fast approaching 5 million views.

I have since completed a further MA (albeit entirely face to face lecture and library based) and between FutureLearn, Coursera and OpenLearn a further 27 modules on one subject or another. I’m a mentor on Coursera’s ‘Learning How to Learn’. I recommend those that have tutor, mentor and student interaction. The human element, at least for me, is a vital component for completion. Not all worked, yet again I quit a course on French (a BA with the Open University). Speaking of which I totally recommend Lingvist as the go-to language learning App (I have tried and reviewed all of them). Also, perfect in a world of social distancing, Tandem, which fixes you up with someone like a dating App. (Not that I have any need for or experience of one of those).

Where student interaction is slight we’ve always started our online groups on LinkedIn. The group I set up 10 years ago for swimming teachers and coaches has 1,600 members and is still active. Most endure the length of the module.

Take a look at these online courses, join up with a buddy (you are more likely to complete). Most are free, though the best, and the business orientated ones may cost between £35 and £300. A degree module is now something like £2,000. 

30 hours a week I am supporting colleagues and students at Greater Brighton MET. Google Suite for Education is our go to platform. Google Meets are frequent with Google Chat live while I’m at my desk. Last night friends did a 8 or 9 person quiz on Zoom. I promise to wake up my contributions to ‘scenario-based learning’. 

I’m keen to get an art class going. I took a set of 360 degree photos in the lovely barn studio at Charleston a few months ago - with the model’s permission to post online. It was a life class so the nudity might result in the thing being barred. I may give this a go ... though any drawing from a flat surface my late mother, an art teacher, would have been against. 

Finally, on reflection, exactly 45 years ago I broke my leg badly skiing. A 13 year old between schools I ended up at home for the entire summer term to prevent me from putting weight on my leg. I was sent a box of books with instructions to read them. Without any other efforts at support at all I didn’t do a thing. Instead I got out my Dad’s Readers Digest book on Gardening and spent the next few weeks pulling myself around the garden on a tea tray. By the end of it I was air-propagating specimen rhododendrons.

Take care. Stay in touch 🙂 

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Does your institution have the right fit for FutureLearn?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 3 Feb 2020, 10:01


Hoping that we may be able to partner with FutureLearn to generate content we have been politely turned down.

FutureLearn is focused on partnering with Top 400 Universities worldwide or nationally/globally renowned organisations backed by strong academic research and with a clear educational remit and capacity, such as UNESCO, The British Council, or the Houses of Parliament. 

Becoming a FutureLearn partner 

Organisations that do not meet these requirements, in order to develop a  course should approach 'one of our existing partners' or a.n.other agency/partner. 

Current FutureLearn partners 

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Why I still blog here

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You blog a learning journal, dump stuff and notes for no one to see, and post other thoughts to share, even do tasks and socialise with fellow students for the duration of your course and you have then a resource that enables you to tap into what you studied, came across and learnt.

Ten years on I am looking back at what I learnt about MOOCs: Coursera and FutureLearn in particular, but other platforms too. Why? Because we have an urgent desire to partner up with a platform and get our learning out the world. Who do we go with? Who will want us? Coursera or FutureLearn? Udex or Udacity/ VirtualCollege or others?

Ten years on I am creating a Top 10 (or top 7) for digital skills. This is my starting point.

I did for a long time migrate content over to my external blog 'Mindbursts.com' but it has become where I have consolidated all kinds of content from different sources and platforms and something of a muddle as a result between elearning, first world war history, swim teaching and coaching and my teen/twenty-something diaries.

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Applying for Research and Development Funding in relation to the use of digital tools in Further Education

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Steps required to prepare a research question

This from FutureLearn @OpenLearn 

Between giving presentations to staff and tutors on the opportunities presented by the educational video platform Planet E-Stream I am also applying for funding to develop the relationship between students and teachers (tutors). This is made easier because of a pool of projects that are bubbling up across the various different faculties and workshops where I act as a 'Learning Technologist'.

This is no academic post that might be reflected by my having an MA in Open & Distance Education, rather it is somewhere between being a Librarian, IT Person and Learning Support. I am confident that this is a role that will either be absorbed by teachers during teacher training or through practice, or it will blossom, depending on the institution into something more akin to a consultant or adviser. I am having to draw on raw technical skills to use new and popular platforms, but also to integrate digital into a course as an Instructional Designer would do.

The timing of putting in our application comes right at the moment when I complete two FutureLearn MOOCs from Open Learn at the Open University: The Online Educator and Blended Learning Essentials. 

With my inability to let go of academic study, research and writing up papers seems a sensible way forward. This may be combined with completing an MEd with the OU if they can be convinced to allow me 60 credits from the two additional modules I took having completed the MA ODE in 2013. This would still require me to take a further 120 units, to two hefty and possibly one substantial and two shorter modules. I feel I am now where I needed to be in 2010 - working in the front line in education, an intermediary between students, teaching and other staff, moving through multiple departments across a number of sites - I even have a toe in mark.

Preferring a busy life, apparently, over the next four weeks I will be assessed to qualify with the Institute of Swimming as a Swimming Coach. I have been teaching for 16 years and coaching for 10, so this is a case of providing evidence of my knowledge rather than having to take part in formal class or poolside learning. Being who I am, I have of course kept a learning journal, or career journal as a swimming teacher and coach which is called simply 'Swim Coach Blog'. 

 

 

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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 components.

Common thinking is that there are three parts to creating online learning: technical, human support and, of course, us students. Technical means the platform, its ease of access and intuitive use; human support means, in the case of The OU, the course chair, associate lecturer and us student (those who are familiar with the setup and the subject matter are encouraged to, and enable to help newcomers to the ways things are done, and to the subject when you get stuck).

 Professor Gilly Salmon presenting a 'how to' video on YouTube for Swinburne University on the 'Five Stage Model' of e-learning

Prof Gilly Salmon talks us through 'the building blocks' of an online course 

Of note is a short, charming and engaging presentation made by former OU Business School Senior Lecturer, and now Prof Gilly Salmon at Swinburne University in New South Wales. Here, like a Blue Peter presenter, she uses a set of kid's coloured building bricks to talk us through the components required to make an online course (OU style) that works.

How Gilly Salmon uses green, yellow, blue and red building blocks to show how to plan an online course.

Green = Technical

Yellow = The students or 'learners'

Blue = Human support (i.e. in OU Land the 'associate lecturer')

Red = Assessment

As I am trying to develop a shorthand, language or 'notation' to be able to compare and create online course, I invested in my own set of building bricks. Once again I set up a length of MDF in the garden to play around with ways to communicate the nature and order in which these components appear.

The results have been enlightening.

It is extraordinary what happens when you start to get stuff out of your head, and especially valuable not to be confined by the parameters of a piece of software: it is so easy, and so necessary, when thinking things through to be able to play around with the pieces.

Gilly Salmon's 'Five Stage Model' revisited 

A colour photograph of a choice of coloured building bricks used to help explain Gilly Salmon's FIve Stage Model for e-learning prepared by Jonathan Vernon MAODE

Gilly Salmon's 'Five Stage Model' for e-learning using the bricks she used in her seminal video

For simplicity's sake, let's say that this 'Five Stage Model' is for a five week module from the OU.

The bottom row of green bricks represents the Learning Management System (LMS) on which the learning appears. The technical side of things includes accessibility, web usability, reliability and good 'design architecture' i.e. it works well, is clear, intuitive, reliable and follows the most common user behaviours for anyone online in 2016.

The middle row of yellow bricks (and one red one) represents learner activities, from a gentle introduction to the platform to engaging in activities, which typically includes nothing more complex that watching a video, reading text and doing research or doing a multiple choice quiz. The red brick represents formal assessment: at The OU, this would be a Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA) or End of Module Assignment (EMA).

The top row of blue bricks represents the human interface between the students and the education institution, in this case The OU. Here, typically, we are talking about live and as live contact via various platforms, though it can include phonecalls, 'online hangouts' and even a residential component to the course. At The OU there is an assigned Tutor or Associate Lecture who 'handles' a group of 8-12 students. It is this practice that is impossible to scale when it comes to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). You cannot employ 2,000 tutors to manage 16,000 to 24,000 students. Some MOOCs of many more participants than this!

It is this component too that is increasingly blended into, or comes out of the technical side of things, or from the students themselves. Firstly, increasingly detailed and easy to use Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) answer typical enquiries that students have, increasingly the ease of use of a platform is such that little to no support from the 'team' or 'Technical Help Desk' is required. At the same time, students are formally enrolled to conduct 'peer review' and when several do this for each submitted assignment a grade is come to in this way. The degree of student interaction, and the benefits of collaborative knowledge construction through this, is far harder to get going and sustain without the proactive role of the tutor or a moderator. When 'classes' are smaller, MA and PhD students are sometimes given a role to act as a catalyst for engagement and to answer enquiries and deal with some problems.

My own take on the 'lay-out' of a 'typical' MOOC is pedagogically different.

I believe that 'assessment', of the micro-quiz and multiple choice variety, is a crucial component of e-learning. This is engagement that obliges participants to think, even to struggle and repeat parts of the content, until the knowledge that matters begins to stick. Gilly Salmon's model is one for 'distance learning' while today, especially the MOOCs coming from Coursera, test you from the start. This might be as simple as interrupting a six minute video piece with a two question 'quiz'. I liken this to a teacher in class pausing, putting a question then taking an answer from one of the raised hands, or picking someone out. It makes you aware that you need to listen. You want to get these questions right even if they don't count towards anything. It is a form of light gamification, while also preparing you for an 8 or 10 or more part set of questions at the end of a component of the learning where the answers need to be right, and are based on these earlier interjections. It matters that these are a genuine challenge, that the pass mark is 80%. An easy ride isn't one that leaves you with much recollection of what you have been studying. A tough ride, as I find, and applaud, however frustrating, requires you to do a the week (typically a couple of hours) over, and sometimes over again ... until you can pass. 

 A colour photograph of a model flowchart of a Massive Open Online Course using a set of coloured building bricks

Jonathan Vernon's take on phases of the ideal 'Massive Open Online Course' where constant assessment is key

Here, drawing on the wide variety of online courses I have done: creative writing, photography, web science, language learning, history, psychology, medicine and the arts, climate change and more, I have tried to envisage an ideal format. Of course, subject matter, subject level and other criteria would immediately causes adjustments to this.

My five phases are:

Technically the platform needs to be solid. This technical side now encroaches on student support, not just from FAQs, but other ways the content and technology can step in to do what a person would have done in the past (and still does in blended courses). There might be video, there might even be some kind of AI to nurture some of the many thousands of students taking a MOOC. There is some kind of testing from the start. This might be nothing more than a check that students have understood some components of the introduction, but it gives them a taste of things to come; they will be doing these 'quizzes' regularly. If interaction between students can be encouraged then here, as early as possible, they need to be online in a 'social' like environment.

The second phase gentle eases students into learning proper. The technology is a solid 'bridge' into the content. Support is done through the platform for the most part rather than needing to call on a person. With many thousands on a course in many times zones around the globe how can a call centre of technical people be expected to be available?

The second phase repeats the second with more learning: the yellow brick. And a touch more testing.

With phase three we are up and running: support for activities, which can be as inventive as the course creators want and the technology and budget permits. Content is delivered in a variety of ways and testing continues in a style and manner that by now, if not a little later, will be formal, requiring an 80% pass rate.

Phase five, which segues into a phase six of sorts, is crunch time: formal assessment with a tough, longer quiz that has built on previous ones and a peer reviewed written assignment too. These need to be constructed with extraordinary skill and care given that students will be marking each other's work, and where many, if not most, will not have English as their first language. As well as testing there should be a chance here to gather one's thoughts, to reflect and even go over some of the learning in the course.This might also be the time for those who have become friends during the course to pick up the conversation on Facebook or in a LinkedIn group. It may also be the moment when you buy 'the book' on which the course was based, or sign up for the next module in the series. 

In future posts I will use this approach to 'strip down' and re-assemble a number of MOOCs. For example, 'Learning How to Learn' from Coursera written and presented by Barb Oakley. I should also look on MOOCs I have done on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), on Photography and a variety of other subjects. 

 

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New blog post

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I'm once again loving an online course from FutureLearn. This time it is 'Behind the Scenes of the 21st Century Museum.' The parallels between the 'theatre' and 'community' value of the modern museum and vibrant websites are tangible: both want to attract, retain, educate and please a wide variety of visitors. Though websites don't have closing hours.

At the end of Week 3 and fascinating roundup of the week, including the myriad of comments, led to a discussion about the worth of a museum creating an emotional response: such as 'pity' or 'anger.'

I now wonder if the experiences I shared created the feeling of pity, but anger is what was required. These were images of the mutilated faces of combatants from the First World War in the 'In Flanders Fields' Museum, Ypres and a 'collection' of children's shoes in the Holocaust exhibition at the IWM, London. Ange might turn me into a pacifist ... or a politician. To want to do something, somehow, about the continual violence inflicted upon anyone: children, mothers, combatants ... Anger then would have required the 'presence' of, to use a term from storytelling, both the protagonist AND the antagonist. So, in the first case we'd need images of the weapons that caused such mutilations: shrapnel shells and machine gun bullets; while with the Holocaust exhibits we'd need to see Auschwitz guards/soldiers. i.e. there has to be somewhere to direct our anger, and then direct it further up the 'chain of command' to the leaders that caused these conflicts. 

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Echoes of my OU Student Days

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It's only seven or eight months since I came out of formal education with the OU. I am settling into more of the same elsewhere, as Digital Editor for the Western Front Association which is particularly vibrant right now due to the centenary of the First World War. I also continue to take part in OU Student Consultation Forums as a volunteer - sharing my 'wisdom' as a learner who survived the entirely online experience of the Master of Arts : Open and Distance Education ... and a wee bit of the OU MBA programme that had a Residential week and regular tutorials. And I have one or more FutureLearn courses on the go too: currently on Museums of the 21st Century, the First World War : Trauma and Loss (from the OU) and a new one on Climate Change from Space deliver by the European Space Agency.

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Reflecting on the 21st century museum and what this tells us about web design and e-learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 11 Jun 2015, 05:41

Museum of Liverpool

I've studied mobile learning and the web for a decade so learning about the way the new Museum of Liverpool was conceived is music to my ears. It recognises how contemporary forces such as the Web have to be part of the dynamic that influences the design of a museum.

As I thought, coming to the FutureLearn online course on 'Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum,' thinking about the modern museum will inform my views on what is required in the design of an effective learning website. It makes me wonder if something like Wikipedia, for example, is too fixed in its presentation: it is too book-like, catalogued and even linear.

Like a modern museum information needs to be freed and offered in more of a carousel or kaleidoscope. In other words reflecting or mirroring the way the imagination functions in the human brain.

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How to write scenes in fiction

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 13 May 2015, 11:06

Fig.1. My goal. To write scenes as fluidly as changing gear.

Goal: What does my central character want from this scene?

Conflict. Who is the conflict with?

Disaster. What is the disaster for this scene?

Fig.2. Common scene writing errors. From Bickman.  

I have characters, locations, events and situations in my head. For some characters the story runs for fifty years, most intense age 6 to 21. Armed with this editor's tool I can ruthless delete, rewrite or come up with fresh scenes that meet the above criteria. It fits the pattern I want in my head of a story with momentum - that could be made into a linear drama for TV or film. I particularly recognise the need to ask repeatedly 'what is the disaster?' to conclude a scene. I related to this from a career in writing persuasive copy and videos where you repeatedly ask, then ask again 'what is the problem?" The first answer is usually weak, though compelling ... more likely the ninth or tenth idea will fit the brief.

 Fig.3. Elements of Fiction Writing

I continue to read, note and try ideas from Jack M. Bickham's book 'Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure.' I continue with the Open University course on FutureLearn 'Start Writing Fiction', as well as content on Open Learn of the same title.   

I also contribute to a LinkedIn group and Facebook pages on 'Start Writing Fiction' while writing in my own blog 'Start Writing Fiction.'

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Harness your obsessions.

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 12 May 2015, 16:12

We are all hung up on something – the terrible ex, the neighbours from hell, mothers, spiders, fitting rooms, flying or being alone. Anything you like. Some of the best stories come from the deepest and darkest obsessions (just ask Alfred Hitchcock). So dig deep and find your own personal heart of darkness.

I like this tip on writing from the Open University. 

I've come to it a very roundabout way. Via a FutureLearn initiative to get people writing 140 word fiction on Twitter. I think I've posted a dozen @mymindbursts. 

What do I get hung up about?

  • People parking up on the kerb in residential streets
  • Dogs, and cats, allowed to run about as they please yapping and shitting as they like.
  • Rubbish left to burn and smoulder for days
  • Loud radios played in gardens as soon as the sun comes out.
  • Exceedingly loud petrol-engine driven strimmers used in gardens on a Sunday morning.
  • Anyone who recites the party line instead of saying something truthful or original.
  • Overtaking on the inside lane.
  • Hogging the central lane.
  • Cyclists riding abreast on narrow roads.
  • Motorbikes revved and diddled with as their relaxing weekend activity.
  • Wheelie bins left out for days
  • Littering at beauty spots - some people regularly pull over a layby and toss their MacDonalds out of the window on leaving

I have this story called 'When the green man saw red.'

Like Michael Douglas in "Fallen' he goes mental trying to set the world straight and probably gets done over as a result. Sounds like me? I attract vandals and abuse. Was I born an arse who made one through parenting and boarding school. One wonders. 

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Can you write a short story in 140 Twitter characters?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 7 May 2015, 10:15

Collect words  .... 

 Fig.1. How I listed new words in my teens.

This was during A'Level English age 17. I'd done it a bit age 12/13 ... not a big reader, or writer then, I never kept it up. Making lists was one thing, using fancy words quite another. More importantly, as a professional writer the opposite applies: communication is clearest when you use short, every day words, not fancy latinate terms or foreign phrases.

This is a tip three of ten from the Open University and FutureLearn supporting 'Start Writing Fiction' the online course and a Flash Fiction, 140 character Twitter challenge next week. 

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23 ways to a FutureLearn fix

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 08:56

The courses I've done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds 
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham 
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton 

Those I'm on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre
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Who are we?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 13 Apr 2015, 14:53
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. © University of Cape Town CC-BY-NC-ND

It has been a lifelong, and rather futile quest of mine expressed in writing and art, diaries, blogs and stories and fed by academic study and non-academic spiritual and cranky pursuits to understand who I am - not what I am. There is in consciousness something rather odd going on that no amount of research into my ancestry, or to living relatives, no amount of writing or painting or visualising of ideas can explain. Is it not a trait of being a teenager to feel alien to the world? Although in my fifties I don't think the euphoria of being a teen is a phase I've yet to pass through smile Fascinating. I could study neuroscience or get drunk and paint a mural on the side of the house like Jackson Pollock, but I don't think it would get me any closer to finding an answer ... even if I had fun doing so. To sum it up for all of us, to excuse and explain all behaviour from Gandhi to Hitler, from Hockney to Terry Gilliam, Richard Dawkins to Robert Winston, I simply think that each of us is unique - yet ironically society and others repeatedly fight to contain us. 

I've been prompted to express this by a question posed to participants on the course 'Medicine and the Arts' from the University of Cape Town on FutureLearn. 

An utterly absorbing, heartfelt conversation so sympathetically and convincingly shared. Worth of many return visits and further deep study. I'm driven by a limiting interest in everything. My curiosity knows no bounds - which is limiting, as it might be enlightening. It is easy to visualise the dog chasing its tail, though in my mind, excusing the vanity and narcism of it I see myself more as that omnipresent foetal child from the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

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War Memorials and free online courses on the First World War from Futurelearn (an OU subsidiary)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 11 Apr 2015, 07:26
From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.1 The Response, Newcastle

There are several ways to enter thinking relating to the First World War courtesy of Open University subsidiary FutureLearn. Each of the First World War courses takes a different tack: aviation, Paris Treaty, idea of heroism and coming up soon, through one hundred personal stories.

During the recent course on heroism we were asked to share images of out favourite First World War Memorials. 

Born and raised in Newcastle my late mother went to the Art School on the other side of the road, then King's College, Durham. She often talked of this memorial, knew its history and had done studies of it as a student.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.2. Lewes War Memorial

I know Lewes War Memorial as I have lived here for nearly 15 years. As a member of a bonfire society we stop at the memorial every 5th November ... so whether there is a centenary or not, we make a lot of fuss about it. This memorial features online where Steve George has pinned every name to an address in the town. This make for very painful viewing as you realise how many households lost husbands and sons to the war.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.3 My late mother and grandfather at the Tynecot Cemetery marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres).

If I were to add a couple of other memorials it would be the extraordinary First World War memorial to mariners at Tower Hill with sumptuous stone carvings around the miniature garden where it is set, and the oddly incongruous memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park Corner which shows the figure of Boy David. I was a standard barer at a memorial to the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in which my late grandfather had served ... he was there too, age 94.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.4. The Tower Hills memorial to mariners of the First World War

And most recently, at my daughter and son's school, I came across this extraordinary mural that fills the assembly hall of the old Grammar School. Surely this achieves its goal of creating a lasting memory amongst students?

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig. 5 Brighton Grammar School First World War commemoration mural

My First World War Future Learn (MOOCs) ... online courses:

Coming up:

World War 1: History in a 100 Stories Follow at #FLww1stories  Starts 13th April. Duration Five Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week. 

Completed with repeat dates:

World War 1: Trauma and Memory Follow at #FLTrauma15  Starts 25th May. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Two hours a week. 

World War 1: A New World Order (The Paris Treaty of 1919) Follow at #FLtreaty Starts 22 June. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Five hours a week. 

World War 1: Aviation Follow at #FLaviation Starts 13th July. Duration Three Weeks, Study time: Three hours a week.

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism Follow at  TBA. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week. 

Having completed all but World War 1: History in a 100 Stories my sincere suggestion would be to set aside seven hours a week. I aim to do an hour a day during the week and complete on Friday. I generally achieve this unless I get deeply engrosses in the conversation, or have to go over a point a few times to understand it. Maybe 45 minutes every day then. Skip the discussions and these are easily done: then it becomes akin to watching a bit of TV and reading a few leaflets - not the same as testing your thoughts, and having your ideas tested, turned around, built upon and altered.

 

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The ultimate method of communication

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 7 Apr 2015, 10:56

Fig.1 me, bis sis, and big brother.

I remember the shorts and the wellingtons. I loved it when I stepped in a puddle so deep and the water came over the top. I had a habit of not wearing underpants which meant that dangling from a tree or turning backward somersaults gave a view of my 'bean sprout.' It also resulted in my getting my willy caught in the zip on my trousers more than once. I guess I am four and a half. There's a very similar picture of me dressed in school uniform a few weeks before my fifth birthday: shorts again, tie, blazer and cap with one sock up, and the other one down. I remember that first day at Ascham House as I waited forever to have a go on a huge rocking horse but couldn't because Nick Craigie was having a turn, also the mashed potato in the school lunch made me sick because this sloppy gunk still had the eyes in it.  The response from the teachers: all spinsters of at least 90 years of age was the same 'eat it up or you won't get any pudding!' The gooseberries and custard made me sick too.

I'm recalling all of this as I try to get my head into that of a child for the FutureLearn course 'Medicine and the arts' in which we are recalling stories of children in hospital. I had a hospital visit to have stitches put in my willy. It was a short, traumatic visit where I recall at least three people having to hold me down.

Children begin to release what matters to them with paintings and figurines, in song and play. It matters that it takes a little thought and care to figure out what a drawing, poem, song or dance means to a child. My late mother, who taught art, said that on looking at a piece of work created by a child you should only ever say, 'tell me about it.' i.e. never presume that what you are looking at is a 'house,' or a 'dog' as you may discover that this is a 'castle and a dragon,' or a 'hutch and a mouse,' or a 'prison and someone escaping.' Let them talk it through and elaborate.

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8 key ways to compare MOOCs (online courses)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 7 Apr 2015, 10:41

Fig.1 Mosaic by featured in the University of Cape Town FutureLearn course 'Medicine and the Arts'

Don't call MOOCs MOOCs, they are 'courses.'

Don't even call them online courses. I suppose therefore, don't call it e-learning either or even online learning ... it is simply 'learning'.  I am on my eighth or ninth course with FutureLearn. I may have three or four open at any one time and complete two of these at least. I love 'Medicine and the Arts' from the University of Cape Town while I am both maddened and intrigued by 'The Mind if Flat' from Nick Chater. I'm certain that online courses longer than a couple of weeks should not be treated like books or TV programmes. What works best, as the University of Cape Town shows, is to get the entire team involved. They have a lead host and presenter who each week introduces several colleagues, something like four to six each week. It is stimulating and necessary to hear from so many different voices. 

1

The Platform Provider

Brand and technical aspects

Think of this as the channel. It has both technical and brand qualities. Is it smart? Is it current? Does it all work faultlessly? Is it intuitive? Is it simple? I've done many FutureLearn courses but struggle every time with Coursera and EdX.

2

Funding/Cost or Cost Benefit

You can’t make a movie in $125,000 dollars. If a 30 point 16 week distance learning course from the OU costs £1.5m to produce should a 3 week MOOC cost up to £300k? It's a poor comparison is the cash cost may be a fraction of this: a university team's job is to plan a programme of teaching anyhow. What matters is how a budget is spent. The learning designer for an online course is like the scriptwriter for a movie: they provide the blueprint. Is the investment worth it?

3

The Subject matter

Are you true to your subject? Don’t try to be something you are not. Is it ‘made’ for an online course, rather than shoe-horned from a regular, traditional ‘classroom’ lesson plan? Would it be better served on a different platform in a different way? Can you teach sports coaches or movie directors online? Or rather, what can you, and what can you not teach them? Are you fully exploiting the affordances of the platform and easily linked to alternatives on the Internet?

4

Audience

Who do you attract and is this the same as who you get? Who do you attract by level of education, age, gender, culture and location.  Are you getting the audience you want as participants? The contribution participants make is crucial. Are there enough active voices to sustain this? Be aware of the extreme differences in digital literacy skills and competences. Do you know your audience? How do you relate to those who start the course?

5

Champions

One advocate over more than a couple of weeks will tire. It will feel like an ego trip any way. How good is the mix of contributors? Both in what they have to saw and show, and their levels of and variety of experience. An online course is not necessarily akin to a TV documentary that can be carried by a single presenter. Is it a one man show or a team effort?

6

Objective

What are the hidden and implicit goals? To attract students, to build reputation, for the good of mankind? To make money? To massage an ego? What do results say in terms of those completing a course? Doing assignments and getting to the end then singing the praises of the team? Another guide can be whether as a production fulfils the initial Creative Brief. Both qualitative and quantitative research is required to provide answers. 

7

Your Brand and production values

Is is possible to stay true to your own brand, even have a distinct image, when on someone else’s platform? Are the values of the design, creation and delivery consistent with the standards and image of your institution?

8

Assessment

These must never be taken lightly. There are examples of trite, ill-thought through multiple-choice quizzes: these are a learning opportunity. A good quiz makes you think, challenges your knowledge, and provides feedback whether you get it right or wrong. Bravely 'Medicine and the Arts' has both quizzes and a regular written assignments. These are not onerous yet some participants are scared by a 300 to 500 word piece of writing. They oblige you to read back through the week's activities before replying. 

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Age 12 Stacey Pidden was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) and given a couple of years to live unless she went on a new trial drug which, with her parents behind her, she did. A decade later and she was given two years to live and put on the waiting list for a double lung and heart transplant - that was three years ago. She blogged her story to us students here at the Open University from 2011, then a couple of years later started her public blog.  One friend with PH stopped taking drugs and died. She shares everything openly and honestly. From age 4 she underwent heart surgery and had a couple of operations every year or so. What is immediately apparent in blog is her skill as a writer and her view that “life is worth fighting for.”

Stacey is a feisty and determined and would be far weaker had she not found her voice and even a purpose in life: she is the voice of a new NHS donor card campaign.

Doing the FutureLearn course 'Medicine and the Arts' we hear from Marc Hendricks who express concern that children’s voices in medical institutions have been marginalised.

I see value in blogging as a creative outlet: it combines so much that the University of Cape Town team addresses in this course: giving young patients a voice - their voice, in a way that suits them.

Tracey, for example, is in close contact with the 17 other in the UK waiting for a double lung and heart transplant like her: this empowers her and reassures her - there are other people in her situation and she has a voice that requires no filters. Susan Levine in 'Medicine and the Arts' talks of a person’s life world.’ Tracey shares her ‘life world’ with us; whilst we may think of our community as neighbours and friends, hers includes her transplant team and regular consultants. A blog is text, voice, photos, artwork and even song; whatever the author wants in fact. It’s certain than visual metaphors as Kate Abney in 'Medicine and the Arts' found are an important way to express meaning too. While hospital radio is another way to enable storytelling as Nina Callaghan from in 'Medicine and the Arts' has found.

Creatively Stacie is a erudite, witty and frank voice representing those waiting for a transplant. Where permitted, children, not just young adults, should be given such freedoms to communicate and share beyond the confines of their ward and so give them confidence to speak their minds, improving their lives, their motivation to live and the quality of communication with hospital staff.

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Medicine and the Arts: probably the best online course I have yet come across

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I've been learning online since 2001. I took my MA ODE between 2010 and 2013. I am still here. I've done between eight and twelve FutureLearn courses - finished six 100%. I am struck by the quality of the course from the University of Cape Town called Medicine and the Arts: both as a piece of e-learning and for its content I believe it to be the best of its kind and a fine example to any university or institution planning a course such as this.

I'll run through the criteria I posted here earlier and consider what it is that makes it work. These include accessibility, variety and quality of speakers, the professionalism and quality of all things from art work, copy and video production, the 'less is more' approach that keeps things simple, the engaging conversations with fellow participants and the involved of educators too.

 

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Posting fiction at Startwringfiction.wordpress.com

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I set up www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com at the end of the Start Writing Fiction course from FutureLearn adn the OU in order that some 8-12 of us could share our writing. It very quickly worked out easier for us each to manage our own blogs so I find myself landed with 'startwritingfiction.' 

Here I get the same pleasure, feedback and community feel that can exist here. You get to know a few people well and respond to each other's work on a regular basis.

Connectivity should equal support, not just access to information. 

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Reading and writing with fresh eyes

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2015, 07:37
From Writing

Fig.1. Philip Pirrip is confronted by the 'fearful man, all in course gray ... '

Start Writing Fiction is a FutureLearn Course. Its content makes up part of an OpenLearn Course. It is a thread in the Creative Writing Course here at the OU.Three months on having completed the course it is about to repeat. I'll be there.

From E-Learning IV

Fig.2. How we learn in the 21st century. J F Vernon E-learning (2011)

We learn through repetition; not simply learning by rote.

We learn through passing through the same loop over and over again. There is nothing so special about graduation, gaining an MA, a PhD or achieving the lofty status of 'professor' so long as you are willing to climb, as if on a thermal, one focused ever ascending loop seeing the same thing over and over again in new light, until, through insight or height from the ground you see something new and have something new to say.

There are some key lessons to learn from 'Start Writing Fiction; (SWF)' though it is never the whole story - for that you need to sign up to a graduate course on Creative Writing. There's plenty to work with though. I look forward to being reminded what matters. It kicks off again on 27th April and runs for three months. 

Reading matters as much as writing.

The precocious child who read copious volumes and gets into literature in their early teens has an advantage. I was slow to read and reluctant to read. The only novels I may have read as a child were forced on me through school. Even in my teens as I read 'Great Expectations' and 'Silas Marner' for O' Levels and 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' for A' Levels I did say like a parrot: If I picked up an 'B' grade at both levels it was only because I regurgitated precisely what I had been tutored to put down.

Over three decades later, 33/35 years later to be exact if I check my diary from that time, I am reading Dickens with fresh eyes.

My late mother bought me a second hand edition of all the Dickens novels. I never read one. I now have 'Great Expectations' for free courtesy of 'Project Guttenberg' on my Kindle. I am reading it with lessons from 'Start Writing Fiction' in the front of my mind. SWF concentrates on the key, though not only component, of good writing: character. I am chewing over every line of Dickens with a rye smile on my face: I see what he's doing with Pip, with the escaped convict from the hulk, his older sister and her husband Joe the Blacksmith, with Miss Haversham and Estella. If 'character is plot' then the plot moves, in a series of steps, over the heads of each character. We are carried by Pip with repeated moments of laugh out loud insights to a child's perception and feelings for the world. How had I not see this before?

For the umpteenth time I am doing what doesn't come naturally to me: I should be painting, not writing.

Intellectually I feel like the child who is left handed who had than arm tied behind his back as a child to force him to write against his will with his right. I have managed well enough, but it is against character and it is too late to correct? I need to work with words as the text that describes what I see. Text has other values too of course. It can carry a story beyond a single canvas.

A creative writing tutor, editor and author - former opera singer and opera director - Susannah Waters in reviewing my writing on a retreat last September gave me more than SWF can do on its own. An A4 sheet torn in half offers the following tips on 'Scene Building:'

  • Who am I?
  • Stay in the person's head
  • Put me in the place

She expands on these.

Every line of 'Great Expectations' is in Pip's voice, written as autobiography much later in life, in the moment, capturing for now, his wonder, fear, feelings and hopes. It helps me enormously as I try to construct a story of my own set  in the couple of decades 1966 to 1986, rather than 1820 to 1860. Characters don't change, technology and society does. It helps me to contain my imagination and fears as I feel it falling apart. Character will hold it together; each character needs to surprise. 

I wish I could find the link to the BBC Radio 4 programme in which an author, Michael Morpurgo or Alexander McCall Smith talks about writing; it was on over the last three weeks. Or was it on TV?! Tips and devices were spoken of, but what had most resonance for me was the idea that an authors wonder at even the most mundane creates interest for the reader. 

I used to discount Dickens as old fashioned; I now feel that I am reading Dickens with the same wonder of someone who has broken through the fog of a new language and is becoming fluent. Can I now translate this into my own writing? For now the juggling game I am playing is my writing in one hand, Dickens in the other.

Sharing where I stand matters hugely. Knowing that others are following my journey and are supportive matters: it keeps me going. Being online matters. It is the next best thing to standing on a soapbox in the local park and reading passages from my efforts. Feedback matters as it guides you.

On this retreat last September we read out our work, actually Susannah read my piece for me as I wanted to hear it from a different voice. We were around an open fire in a cottage in Devon. Telling stories around a fire takes you back to the origins of storytelling; what must you say to hold their attention, to keep them entertained, to make them cry (I did with that one), to make them laugh, fear, hope, clap, get angry ... and ponder, even panic over the outcome. In that story I had a soldier in the First World War slowly sinking into mud, up to his chest and neck ... screaming for life.

 

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Recreating that OU student feeling

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 24 Mar 2015, 12:13
From E-Learning VI

Need to plug a gap between courses or just can't stop e-learning?

I'm currently fighting my cerebral way through:

The Mind Is Flat

Understanding Drugs and Addiction

Community Journalism

Medicine and the Arts

Each has something to recommend though the humdingers are 'Understanding Drugs and Addiction' and 'Medicine and the Arts' : beautifully and thoughtfully done. Education as entertainment? 

 

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The Brian is authentic, the mind is a squiggly line?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015, 17:26
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. Grab from The mind is flat. 

Across FutureLearn videos the name caption always come up right of screen whether or not there are one, two or more people featured. Does this kind of thing bother you? There are no fewer than THREE opportunities to brand this as 'The University of Warwick' - one would do, none are necessary. We know that this entire course if from Warwick. See them: Branded watermark in the top right hand corner, on the strapline (the least necessary and most erroneous) and yet again in the video time line ... there is a fourth if you include the page this grab came from. 

Other amateur antics include surreptitiously reading off notes, glancing away at the camera operator, having a second camera or wobble cam as if this a Jamie Oliver cookery course, that's before we have to think about the antics of the video editor who wants to prove that they should be cuttin pop videos.

Otherwise I love the learning and discussions and the argument for multimedia being 'good enough' rather than of TV broadcast quality is largely right: overly produced is just as bad as amateurish.

Anything that gets in the way of the message is wrong. Otherwise the above is perfect: an authentic exchange and share. So, authenticity rules? Mistakes and all. Speak the language of the fluid internet conversation. Keep it simple. Employ people with experience who know what they are doing. 

From E-Learning VI

 

Fig.2. Nick Chater and Jess Whittlestone. Co-stars of 'The Thorny Birds'.

 

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What's it like doing a free online course that works?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 9 Feb 2015, 08:24

In earlier posts I've likened the courses on FutureLearn (don't call them MOOCs) to a good hardback book. This misses a crucial element: the connectivity with other students (I prefer to call then participants). I would therefore say, looking for a few lines to explain the appeal to the ignorant, that it is like joining a book club: everyone has the same thing to talk about.

The current course that I love is "Exploring Filmmaking' - storytelling is universal, and that's what this is about. 'Boyhood' winning the BAFTA last night also reasserted the joy, pleasure and value of stories about our lives as they are without special effects, superheros, drugs or murder: Growing up is drama enough.

 

 

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Five Years blogging here : time to reflect

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Why is Oxford, with the Oxford Internet Institute and a renowned Education Department not joining the e-learning revolution?

700 years of taking things at their own pace? Their research shows that it adds nothing to their successful and 'elite' model of teaching and research? They don't need to attract students. There can be over 100 applying for every available place.

They do however need to diversify.

It's taken 30 years to tip the profile of the Oxford student from 72% privately educated public school boy to around 49% privately educated and a 50/50 male/female split. By not joining in will they perpetuate the 'Ivory Towers' impression?

There are other reasons to develop massive open online courses, not least to appear open and accessible. The University of Southampton, by contrast, home to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and the only PhD programme on WebScience, have produced nearly a dozen 'massive open online courses' (MOOCs) over the last 18 months. I believe all, or most are on the FutureLearn platform; all are also embedded on the Southampton virtual learning environment (VLE) for students to do to supplement their course work. This I see as an important, valuable and better way to blend the learning experience. It would have been my prefered way of learning, offering some flexibility on the traditional course of lectures.

Is the Open University the only one to have entire degree courses online?

Not a book, not a residential, no face-to-face tutorials either.

By the time I had completed the MAODE, five modules over 3 1/2 years I assumed many other entire degrees, let alone individual courses would be offered in this way. They are not. A MOOC delivering two/three hours of crafted, scaffolded learning a week over a few weeks is demanding enough ... but a module that runs for six months, with 12/16 hours, even 22 hours a week? Though a 'prestige' course the OU MBA programme will spend, I believe, around £3m and three years creating a single one of its modules. These are expected to run for eight to ten years.

How much therefore to design, write and produce five of these, let alone the running and administrative costs?

Is it the right thing to do? E-learning is not a feature film. It is more like a garden; it must change and adapt to the seasons and climate change.

There was no e-learning climate two decades ago; it's the ozone of learning.

FutureLearn prides itself on responding to feedback. I've seen many subtle, responsive changes: several ways through discussion threads like this one which often run to several THOUSAND comments, pooling of creation skills amongst those producing the courses and greatly improving the forms of assessment: quizzes that are masterfully written to teach and to test, tasks for peer review that are part of the learning experience and now opportunities to sign up for a written exam - you pay a fee to attend a test centre, take the exam, and submit your paper. Of course, at this stage the idea of 'Open' is greatly weakened because once again their are parameters and barriers caused by geography and cost, probably also of confidence and familiarity with the formal written exam away from the keyboard and screen.

I reflect, today, on FIVE YEARS of formally studying Open and Distance Education. My blog runs to over 2,500 posts. What next? The same again? I've neither found a home in academia, or in corporate learning and development. Have I studied the wrong subject? I hanker forever to be telling stories. I thought I would successfully make the transition from linear-based video learning and development where I'd worked for some  twenty years, but have not and to rub my face in it the demand for video is finally increasing. Though never again the broadcast like budges we had for multiple cameras and live shoots, for a mini-bus of actors and a director from 'The Bill,' and special effects from The Mill.

I have had my eye on the Creative Writing Course for at least four of the last five years, but felt, for a change, I'd finish something. Instead, I find I am back in March 2006 going through two large 'Really Useful Boxes' which contain the printed off manuscripts of two novels, a couple of screenplays, a TV play and assorted short stories. 

Is this my life? Dominated by a history of making the wrong choices?

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