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The Power of Stories

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Olympic Skier Lindsay Vonn with her bruised/broken arm in a sling

Ten years ago I started a student blog at the behest of the OU as part of the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE). This was my second go at this having started nine years previously with the MAODL (Distance Learning). 

I came from corporate training. Coming from teaching might have been more appropriate, and teaching in Higher Education in particular. I thought the outcome would be back into industry, whereas it has instead been a route into Education. It might have lead to research. I did prepare a PhD thesis and took this to Southampton.

Events closer to home have me reflecting on the power of story, no matter how or where it is expressed. We are highly tuned in to pay attention to a well told drama.

Our drama lately has been a broken arm (not me) and the unexpected knock on effects and lessons learnt in relation to the medical systems and approach in France and the UK, to being freelance or working fulltime, and a wake up call to what it takes to care for someone. 

The story of this break and its consequences is shared with friends and over a few days it finds its own shape. You learn how to retain attention as one event and its consequences and all the subsequent decissions that are taken, and their consequences too. Let alone the other brickbats that get thrown your way to complicate it all further.

And the conclusion is?

Count your blessings

Smile and get on with it

Remember your friends and family as they remember you

Be prepared for this and worse happening

And in relation to learning?

Holding a students attention

Providing engagement which has a purposeful direction

Letting people draw their own conclusions

Listen to feedback and add this to the lessons being learnt

The vitality that comes from a story with emotional appeal, crisis, pain and laughter, consequences and outcomes. 

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Measuring metrics for Social Media in Higher Education

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 1 Nov 2011, 21:03

'Do a blogger and a non blogger in the same disciplines have less in common than two people who blog?'

So asked Martin Weller of the Institute of Educational Technology this morphing during a day long event on Social Media Metrics.

I'd say so.

I find I have an affinity with those who use social forums, who blog and discuss online. They are traceable conversations, cumulative conversations unlike there non-digital counterparts that have short unshared lives.


'Even at the professional end you are giving more of yourself, your points of view, your political beliefs.' He added.

And so the academic who chose such a life to avoid the limelight finds themselves thrusted into it.

I remarked through the Twitter feed that the lonely writer in the garret now found himself in a greenhouse with the digital world looking in. Will this be the era of the celebrity academic?


Scholarship has become more demanding, or has it?

Doug Belshaw has had his PhD thesis online since its inception in 2007.

It isn't being written form him, but his reputation is being established.


There are new social norms that academia has to accept and tolerate rather than resist.


What do views mean, comments mean and how do they compare to citations?


You social media identify drives the views of your papers.


E.g. Online identity as a result of paper is Tweeted about, blogged and shared, and then you get invited to keynotes and a virtuous circle begins.


A set of alternative representations of you.


What can metrics be used?


Visual representation this is your digital academic footprint, within my community ...


Metrics will become part of what we do.


We mustn't be guilty of subjugating new methods into old.


Martin Weller then talked about writing for the sword-dancing community as if in these troubled times his toes and dancing between sharp blades.

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Blogging a dead horse

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 20 Mar 2012, 16:44

Dead%2520Horse.JPG

The more I read, the more I research, the more I listen and the more I gush to others about blogging, the more I feel that it is like ...'trying to flog a dead horse to make it pull a load'.

Not the act of blogging, but the actions required to convert people.

People (students) don't see there value; to read a few well written, apposite blogs, fine. A person that in this environment has something to offering pertaining to their course. Or for entertainment. (Stephen Fry's Tweats form a micro-blog after all), micro only in the sense that you are restricted by character count per entry. If these parameters are like a letter-box then Stephen Fry is posting plenty himself and garnering a gargantuan response).

I have infront of me 'Exploring students' understand of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education'. It was a conference item at ALT-C 2007: Beyond Control: Association Technologies Conference, 4-6 September, Nottingham, UK.

One of its Six authors is Grainne Conole, an OU senior academic, a blogging practioner and evangelical online chatter-box and good-egg. She wants us all to blog, and understands the magic of a comment ... she likes to make new friends and understands the reciprocal nature of reading and leaving salient comments. It's T.L.C. online.

I just clicked away and posted this in her blog:

I'm faced with the dilemma of having to split my professional, student and blogging personas; I recently joined the Open University Business School. This three way split has me locking down one diary and 'friends' gathered over a decade and tripping over the other two selves, starting afresh with contacts and what I blog wearing my professional hat. I am certain such possible conflicts of interest occur for anyone working in online media communications - broadcasting on behalf of your employer; indeed, my contacts in senior PR and Media roles of various organisations have the weakest of online profiles, even though two of them are published authors.

On the other hand just as I really got going in Facebook to connect with my brother and his family in South Africa and organise my mother's 80th, I find that living away from home during the week I come online to have some sense of what my own family are up to - just a shame our dog doesn't blog, 'stick chasing across the South Downs' would do it.

Currently reading your 2007 paper 'Exploring students' understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education'. Are Learning Designers (and those who work with them) 'flogging a dead horse?' The analogy I'm about to use in my OU student blog is that I am starting to feel like a Tuba player at a football match - no one is interested, they're watching the game. Maybe if I could network with the other instrument players in the crowd we could have a jam-session. As another paper on blogging discovered 'birds of a feather flock together', we do this and find kindred spirits. The problem in OU student blogging platforms is that we are overly pigoen-holed, not just by course, but by module and tutor group (and sub-groups within these).

I liken the Internet to a digital ocean; currently blogging as an OU student is like blogging in fish tank, in a warehouse full of fish tanks. And every so often someone kindly comes along and divides us up even more, creating barriers, rather than opportunities. Please can we just all be tipped into the same ocean?

I then went off to Facebook, via my external blog My Mind Bursts.

I only sat down to transfer notes from a pad ... and am yet to transcribe a single word of it.

I was going to say, anything short of writing directly into 'the white box' that you are presented with on your chosen blog platform or platforms snacks of something else: a repository, a writer's journal, a student's e-portfolio that they leave open ... keep forgetting in the lecture hall, that they photocopy and leave on benches outside the refrecatory.

Reading 'Everything is miscellaneous' David Weinberger I find a like mind a) the idea of miscellany, that each page, each asset, whether ostensibly part of something (like this) is like an autumn leave scattered on the forest floor. These leaves never compost down and those that are tagged stay on the top of the pile, those that people find or are guided too most often, stay on the top of the pile ... and did it not long ago reach the stage where the leaves on the forest floor are so deep that they have buried the trees?

I put a slightly inept first draft phrase into Yammer the OU Personnel 'Twitter-like' feed about dandelions and pomegranates. I've used the dandelion metaphor many times, the pomegranate too, but had never put them together.

My thinking was this, if the seed is this blog entry, or a Tweat or even a message in Facebook i.e. an idea, thought, asset or message, a seed if you were scattered to the wind to find its own fortune then developing social media for an institution, whilst the asset, these words, are still a seed, they are coming from a pomegranate, not a dandelion. The reason being that understandably if you are expressing the views of others, collectively or individually, you cannot just hold you thoughts up to the wind and blow. The opening of the pomegranate is, as it were, the necessary processes and procedures. This analogy falls apart though if you have an image of Jamie Oliver holding a pomegranate half in one hand while smashing it with a wooden rolling pin with the other ... the OU are not smashing me on the head to extract words like nasla mucus. Rather, at first at least, they will be extracted by me using tweezers.

All this and my 16 pages of notes on blogging handwritten into a Shorthand Pad remain unused.

To overcome my reluctance to write up what I feel I have already expressed I realise I could just photograph my notepad ... in fact, I'll do this and just see how folk manage with my handwriting.

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H808 First Impressions. Week 1.

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 27 Aug 2011, 13:16

H808 First Impressions

Someone’s been busy over the summer recess. smile

There are several noticeable differences:

In addition to the tutor there is a technical expert (Hi Helen) ‘embedded’ in the course to take a proactive role ensuring that none of us get the hebegebes with the technology. Even the basic functioning of the OU platform and its myriad of tools, attributes, quirks and foibles, can be daunting or at least irksome for the IT proficient. I doubt I am alone when I find at times I ‘just don’t get it’ when all it needs is someone to look over my shoulder and say, ‘try pressing that,’ or you’ve missed out a letter, or ‘there’s a really easy way to do that.’ I am at that stage where I am tripped up by a single letter of HTML code ... only to find that I don't need to be reading or trying to read code, if I understood how to use the e-tools being offered. Curiously this role may do more to bring students from the different tutor groups together than the mere offering of forums for this purpose ... a cafe where there is no coffee. mixed

The tutor is around a lot. (Hi Trevor).

(I have not lurked around other tutor groups to see what is going on, so perhaps we can have a pow-wow on this or what I read in an article on e-learning, a 'tribal meeting; which I suppose is a meeting of department heads, or vice-chancellors i.e. the chiefs?).

This may just be a start of course thing, but I sense a wind change that is going beyond the basic set-up to support collaboration elucidated by Salmon regarding e-moderating. My prediction is that the call-centre like support, online and on the phone, that is offered corporate e-learners and e-trainers may become something that H.E. institutions need to provide, populated by undergraduates (2nd years as it were), as well as graduates, not just the traditional PhD student as part time tutor and lecturer ... as well as Senior Tutors.

I’d like the occasional host guest or a heavy hitter too, the participation of those who wrote the module, designed the course or whose work is most often cited.

The title 'H808 Environment Map' is an unnecessarily disingenuous term for a fantastic, indispensable guide. This isn't a map, it is 'The Lonely Planets' map, plan and guide pocket book for H808. It should be on the inside cover of what is the H808 Course Book. It should be wall-paper on the homepage i.e. you go nowhere and try nothing until you have consumed it. I'm going to print it off, laminate it and put it on my desktop, the tabletop wooden one i.e. extract it from its binary code and give it form on paper.

Something’s been refreshed in the OU Library.

My first impression would be to say from a design point of viewit has been ‘Google-ised,’ i.e, its appearance has been cleared up and simplified. Is it that designers and programmers in time can prioritise their choice of tools and offer in a more clinical way the tools they know users will need as they progress through their search rather than offering a High Street DIY store cornucopia of e-tic-tacs and e-tools that may or may not be required and probably do little more than scare and confuse in equal measure.

The resources and supplementary reading have all been accessed within the last couple of months and the links work.

In H807 it was a bugbear, not overly regular, but frequent enough, to find that links did not work so documents were not found speedily. The sifting out of redundant papers and reports (their points of view have been superseded by the technology and actual practice rather than the conjecture and hyperbole of some academics and commentators) as well as the checking and fixing of links is important. It is a considerable frustration, though understandable, that published version of books.

Not overly burdensom or keen to read two study-related books over the summer (July/August) Weller’s Virtual Learning Environments(2007) and Conole and Oliver's (eds) Contemporary perspectives in e-learning Research (2007), that very few of the links to URLS given to follow up references work (very few, may be none!) and then seeking them through the OU library doesn’t always prove successful either, no fault of the library, but links into this amorphous universe that is Cyberspace leaves some e-references wanting. And being who I am I want these references as qualifying and verifying is part of the ‘bonding process’ that this student requires to feel thoroughly engaged with the material.

Might I suggest that putting an URL for an article or blog comment into a print-published book is about as lasting as putting a sparkler in a birthday cake - by the time you want to eat the cake the sparkler has burnt out.

I like the new 'tick box' alongside the study planner to help mark off your progress.

Happy Days, Exciting Days in OU Land

P.S. Did you know you have access to the Oxford English Dictionaryonline as an OU Student. This is like being invited to Versailles during the reign of the Sun King. Brilliant. Except it can't help me with 'hebe-gebe.' A term used by my family, or a Geordie term for feeling a bit nervous, gets the goose-bumps up, a tad scary in a Ghost Train ride kind of way?

P.P.S. Just learnt a few tricks to search for a word in the OED and found 'heebie-jeebie.'  A feeling of discomfort, apprehension, or depression; the ‘jitters’; delirium tremens; also, formerly, a type of dance. (OED) Far from being my native Geordie, it is 1920s New York American.

6.00am and I've learnt something new already! approve

9/9/10 is going to be a fun day.

8/9/10 was magic.

I wonder why? thoughtful

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