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Learning in groups of five with one educator/teacher

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 6 Dec 2016, 02:02

Is this the perfect 'Set'?

It feels both odd and appropriate to be writing this at 01.00am and to be treating my first thoughts to mu OU blog rather than anywhere else: there's greater continuity here than anywhere else and my musings may find a readership through any current MAODE students (I met be one again in 2017 to take on the new module on research into online learning).

Context: I am once again a student. I am at the University of Wolverhampton, part-time MA. We learn via a lecture or two with other presentations in a group of 22 once a month. We have a 'blended' component in the form of a labyrinthine and ugly platform that looks more 1999 that 21st century. Think long lists of clickable options in to great a variety of colours: a list lifted from print and jazzed up. Nothing smart about it. No surprises that no one uses it; not the blog, not the Facebook group.

I remain embroiled in learning, and learning online. I am a mentor on a course here at The OU, a mentor for Coursera, and even (face to face seeing students), a mentor at The School of Communication Arts, London. And a swimming coach! In a variety of ways a 'role play' a real educator for want of a proper teaching job.

Serendipity has me at the home of my 91 year old father-in-law. Considerably less active than he once was, he still spends his day either reading from an iPad, or, with considerable difficulty, writing and reading emails. (He is blind in one eye with severely limited peripheral vision in the other). Reading only from a screen about 7 or 8 words fill the screen. A young granddaughter is researching a piece about being a 'war child'. Zbigniew Pelczynski was 13 1/2 when the Germans invaded Poland. He revealed something about learning that I had not heard before.

You'll soon understand the relevance to learning and the relevance of posting it here: I interviewed Dr Pelczynski on the Oxbridge Tutorial system in relation to learning and the MAODE. He is a former Oxford Philosophy Tutor (Hegel) ...  and East European Politics, and the founder of 'The Schools for Leaders' in Poland and other East European countries. Has he retired? Probably. He published his last book four or five years ago and made his last trip to Poland about three years ago. 

One of his grandchildren, just started secondary school, had the following questions for him. 

1). How old were you and your brother at the beginning of the war? 

The war began 1st September 1939. I was then 13 1/2, and my brother was 12.

2). How did the war change everyday life e.g. did shops close?

Shops did not close and in many way life went on as before, however, with time food became more and more scarce and expensive. People who were poor had a very hard time. 

3). What did you do for family entertainment?

(I have read that in Poland things like cinema and football clubs were banned)

Well, entertainment was very much limited to the family and especially to birthday, christmas and Easters which in Poland are celebrated in a very big way. Cinemas were open, but the films were controlled so that one was only able to see that the occupiers, the Germans, wanted us to see. There were some interesting German films, but most of them were propaganda. I remember Jude Ze. about a a cruel Jew in the middle ages who caught children who cheated everybody and murdered children for blood. There was a tail that the Jews used the blood of Christian children for Jewish feasts. This was meant to make us feel very hostile to the Jews who were being greatly persecuted by the Germans at the time, put into Ghettos and later sent to extermination camps.

(The film he refers to is 'The Eternal Jew' =  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eternal_Jew_(1940_film))

There was no theatre, just light music entertainment, but only for the German soldiers who were stationed there and German officials. There were however some concerts in cafés, specially on Sunday at lunchtime which were very popular.  

Sport. The Germans didn’t allow any sport. All football pitches, running tracks and swimming pools were taken over by the Germans and used by their own soldiers or recovering soldiers. 

You were allowed to play handball or netball at home in your yard. Not allowed to play at school. Not allowed to kick a football about a schoolyard. So the only thing we did was play pingpong at school. In the school there were long corridors in there were several tables and you’d sign up to be allowed to play and there would be competitions. There was the Vistula in Warsaw, where we went swimming or canoeing or in a small sailing boat.  

4. Did you have rationing coupons for food & clothes?

There were no clothes coupons, but there were certainly rationing coupons for food. They would change from year to year, even month to mont and they kept being cut again and gain. Each family was registered in a particular greengrocers shop and you went to buy your rations once a week. However illegally food was imported from the countryside and sold under the counter in the same shops or others shops or in open market, but the price was very high compared to the official regulated price of the rations. 

Things were particularly during holidays when it was very difficult to get the various delicacies, for example ham for easter, or chicken or goose for Christmas.  

5. How did things change for children in primary school?

There was virtually no change. Some of the text books were banned as they were thought to be too patriotic of ante-German.  

6. How did things change for children in secondary school?

This was changed. The Germans did not allow any education whatsoever after the age of 16. And only if the secondary education was combined with ‘Fachschulen’ - that is trades school. I for example went to a school that was supposed to train electricians, one of my friends went to carpentry school and another went to gardening school. But very little time was spent on these trades, say a day a week, the other days were much similar to what we had before the war. The exceptions, no foreign language was allowed except German, Latin was banned, Polish history was banned. However, very early in the war, the teachers started organising secret courses called ‘sets’ where five children and one teacher taught Latin, French and Polish history. After age 16, moving to the equivalent of A’Levels there was no school education at all in the ordinary way. Those who continued with these sets of 5+1, would say meet on a Tuesday, and have 3 hours being taught Polish language and Geography, then another teacher would come and teach say Physics … so in this way, instead of studying in large classes, we had what you might call seminars. It was possible, the atmosphere was very informal, made it possible to ask question and disagree. This education was illegal. If the Germans had discovered these the teacher would have been arrested and sent to prison.

I went on like this until 1943 when I was 17 1/2. The Polish Secondary education was modelled on the French and German with four or more subject examination, I did Polish Language, German Language, Latin and Trigonometry. I passed this examination. 

7. What age did you start going to school in secret, tell me about what it was like.

See above 

8. How did children help in the war effort?

It very much depended on your age. Children who were very young did not participate at all, expect  perhaps taking secret newspapers from one family to another. The Polish Secret army told their story of what was happening in the world, otherwise we were limited to German propaganda. Later on you could join a secret scout movement. You were trained in what was known as ‘little sabotage’ for example, painting slogans on public places, ‘Hitler Kaput’ meaning ‘Hitler is finished’. On one occasion we went to church on Easter morning very early, and the whole of Warsaw was covered in these ante-German slogans and symbols of the Polish Resistance (a symbol of hope).

Most Poles are Catholic. During the war people went to church for services and holidays and the Germans didn’t interfere with that. Some of the priests when they preached sermons put in some references to Poland was not free, but the time would come when it would be free again. If caught as there could be spies in the congregation they would be arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

I and my younger brother joined the Resistance Movement in 1943. Even before that he decided to help some friends in the resistance: the people who formed little units in the forests and attacked the Germans, and stole their weapons, and blew up their cars. Kazik had a friend who was very active, and this friend wanted to store submachine guns somewhere so Kazik agreed and would store them in our grand piano which was never used because neither he nor I played. I got suspicious because this friend would come and visit with a violin case. One day, this friend came, and Kazik locked himself in the sitting room, and I listen and realised they were putting something in the piano. I looked and there was a brand new Sten-gun in the grand piano. 

When I was older, 18 1/2 I joined the Resistance Movement and trained as a soldier. We were often asked to store hand-grenades and rifles. We would attach a rifle to a small fruit tree and put straw around it. 

9. What age did children join the Home Army?

There was some military training in the Scout Movement, at 14 or so, maybe 12. Then first of all they were involved in ‘small sabotages’; and then given military training so in 1944 they were involved. 

You joined the underground, the secret Military movement, when you were 16. When the uprising broke, out and the young people were the bravest of all. One friend of mine, who was 16, was awarded two medals. 

Distributing leaflets and illegal leaflets.

Training in the home army, we must in five + one, Meet in someone’s house, once a week, and a military instructor would come and tell us how to use a gun, or blew up houses.

Once a month there was a trip to the nearest forest. It was easy to go for the weekend. Military training was much more serious here, you played at setting an ambush, or crawling under barbed wire or attacking a position. Amazing that the Germans never discovered what was going on.

The point that had me wake in the dead of night having mulled this over was the importance to him of 'the set', or seminar, what in fact became for him the lifelong love for an commitment to the 'tutorial' : not a seminar, a class of students, but a small group, relaxed with tea, coffee (or sherry), reading over each other's essays for the week, being able to falter, make mistakes, received praise and correction.

This works. I believe it works online too. I have had plenty of experiences of it on OU modules where from my tutor group a small 'break-out' group forms. These are never exclusive, but rathe a handful of people usually three or four, who form an affinity and begin to confer, converse and meet regularly online to discuss the course and its progres.

I recommend it. Blog, Use Facebook or LinkedIn or Google HangOuts. Make use of platforms offered by The OU. Be part of a group. Form a group, or what I will now call a 'Set' or perhaps, in Polish 'Zestaw'. 

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Design Museum

Did everyone speak fluent english a hundred years ago with a foreign accent?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 2 Aug 2014, 10:53

Fig.1. Images from my Google Pics gallery

We are collectively being tipped into a centenary marking of the First World War where all 'foreigners' speak english with an accent; we have German, Russian, French ... we have Serbian and Austro-Hungarian 'english'. We even have Americans voiced by English actors speaking ... english with an American accent. So how do we spot the lads from Newfoundland? Not then part of Canada, but a sovereign state? And from the Indian subcontinent the difference in accents and language from a multitude of sources?

It's all compromise and accommodation

It's very much the BBC perspective: which as the ONLY public service broadcaster the world has tries so hard to represent everyone. I have my say here - Jonathan Vernon on Hastings 1918

WBC anyone?

The World or Globe or Earth or ... whatever 'Broadcasting Company'?

For all or any failings the effort, transparently at least, to strive for 'truth' based on evidence of what is going on.

The Open University has been, was and should take the lead. I wonder, with concern that the legacy of Michael Bean has been to trim back too hard and so diminish us to a voice from the corner of the empire.

I hope the next Vice Chancellor will be a global figure. Bill Clinton comes to mind. 

'Read in a subject until you can hear the people speak'.

E H Carr.

It has taken a forty years but I feel I have the voice of the soldier of the First World War - and the officer, and the girlfriends and mothers at home.

 

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Design Museum

Understanding what primes us to behave in a certain way must have impacts on social behaviour

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 Nov 2012, 07:50

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Fig.1. Eyes & Ears - A public awareness film produced featuring the Emergency Services and members of the cast of Byker Grove

Understanding what primes us to behave in a certain way must have impacts on social behaviour, from the London Riots of 2011 and police behaviour at Hillsborough in 1989, through to schooling, training, coaching and e-learning - and of course, how hypnotists play their tricks.

  • Are we so vulnerable and easily led because we cannot think about too much at the same time?
  • How must this influence the savvy learning designer?
  • Surely the context of any learning environment must be highly significant, from the buildings and resources, to your peers?

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Fig. 2. A Oxford Tutorial - now as in the 1950s

  • Do Ivy League and Oxbridge Colleges have a centuries old model that works still in the 21st century?
  • Why do some libraries work better than others and why do we like to meet for coffee or for a drink?
  • Are we primed to open up, to be more or less receptive to ideas?
  • What therefore does the loan learner do studying at a distance, even if they are online?
  • What makes the experience immersive?
  • Synchronous learning in a webinar or seminar?
  • Active engagement in a discussion, multi-choice quiz or virtual world?
  • And how might they prep their context?
  • Close the curtains, dress to study?


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Fig. 3. Thinking, fast and slow

I was introduced to this concept by Daniel Kahneman in his 2011 book 'Thinking, Fast and Slowly' in the Linkedin Group for alumni of the Open University MBA Module 'Creativity, Innovation and Change'.

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Design Museum

Turning thoughts into action - one of the world's great educators

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 17 Aug 2012, 10:52



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I read this cover to cover yesterday, into the evening and small hours. I'm now onto the second read, with various notes to add, references to pursue and further research to undertake.

Yet to be published, see detials below on how to get your hands on a copy.

Why read 'A Life Remembered' ?

It's a fascinating life story of a now British Citizen, Zbigniew Pelczynski OBE - from surving the Warsaw Uprising as a teenager in the Polish AK to landing on these shores after seven months in a POW camp as a corporal in the British Army. It would be 12 years before he saw his parents again by which time he had learnt English in Gateshead, got a degree from St.Andrews, a B Phil then a D Phil from Oxford and was a Fellow at Pembroke College.

A book on the German philospher Hegel made his academic career and he went on to lecture and tutor at various leading universities around the world Yale and Harvard, as well as universities in Canada, Japan, Israel and Australia while pursing various interests and causes with passion and dogged determination.

A life lesson? I think so.

Zbigniew tutored Bill Clintonm a senator and dozens of government ministers across the globe and was an adviser to the Polish Government after the fall of communism.

Who would hten on 'retiring' then sets about his life's work?

The School for Leaders in Warsaw develops the skills of future politicians and ministers and it is here I believe there is an OU connection as materials from the OU were adapted for use in Eastern Europe.

Now in his 86th year Zbig as he is known, or 'Bish' by kids who got to know him in the 1950s, is either in front of a Mac emailing colleagues and friends, walking or cooking. This September he hosts a conference on the philosophers Rousseau, Hobbes and Machiavelli, attends the Polish Embassy for the official launch of this book then fliesto Warsaw to take part in meetings at his School for Leaders.

Pembroke College can be contacted at the following address:

Pembroke College  Oxford  OX1 1DW

The main College switchboard number is:

Tel: 01865 276444  Fax: 01865 276418

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