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Learning with the OU compared to other MA courses

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Had I known and experienced what I have now learnt and put up with as an MA postgraduate student first with one university, and then two years later having transferred, with another, then I would never, ever have considered alternatives to the OU.

The online support, even, or especially where it has been heralded as 'blended learning' has been atrocious, laughable and quite frankly scandalous both for the platform itself and the ignorance the academics who were meant to support it - they were clueless, blundered along, contributed nothing, got in the way and simply refused to learn what is best practise in a student forum.

Added to which, my subject, with slightly different titles depending on the institution, though the First World War, should have been, I now see, studied in the much broader context in which the OU treats the subject.

I don't expect to be studying an MA in History with the OU in a year's time - to add to what would be my fourth MA. The time is long overdue either to find the strength and sense of purpose to undertake a PhD - or to fret about other things in life.

Politics.

Never much bothered me before, but the last year has allowed me to understand exactly where I stand - bang in the middle.

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The Learning Journey Continues

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Whilst finding it hard to justify keeping a blog again, I do value, as I found here, keeping a 'learning journal'. It helps to have a record of what I am studying, where I struggle and succeed.

This should be interesting as it is the first time I think where work that I do closely relates to the subject being studied. There can be much call for knowledge of the First World War, but it is something I do for an hour or so day.

The next 9 months will see me complete an MA in British History and the First World War. Not with The OU as they wouldn't take the transfer of credits. A shame as I have huge respect for the historians of WW1 at The OU. 

I will attend approximately 9 days of lectures (all day Saturday once a month each team with lectures and seminars/tutorials). I will write as three essays, give a presentation or two, all building towards a dissertation. So, nothing much different to an OU module: a few TMAs and an EMA.

I could get the subject choice for the dissertation so wrong: I'll take advice on it of course, but I have a tendency to over complicate things. 

On verra.

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The First World War, Teaching in the world of finance, swim coaching and sailing ...

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My interest in learning online is spinning me around it some rather different directions: the First World War, finance for the investment industry, swim teaching and sailing instruction ... 

What has the OU prepared me for?

Researching how finance is taught takes me into my MA ODE and year at the Business School. The First World War has been a pet subject for decades now more qualified as I complete an MA in Military History. As for swimming, I swam for decade and have been teaching for nearly 15 years. I'm poolside four times a week and learn something new every time. As for sailing? I'm off across the Atlantic at the end of the year so am crewing on largish yachts, getting in some dinghy sailing and regularly taking to the water in various sizes of safety boat.

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How should the First World War be taught in schools?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 28 Jun 2015, 10:10

I came across this on classroom clichés of the First World War and wondered what people thought. Teaching the First World War.

How do you introduce the First World War to students?

  1. Blackadder - shown in all classrooms in Secondary Schools.
  2. The movie 'Gallipoli' -  the last five minutes shown in nearly all Secondary Schools.
  3. Mud - taught in most classrooms under the assumption that the rain began on 4 August 1914 and did not stop until 11 November 1918.
  4. Tommy - having lied about his age is trying to come to terms with not only the weight of his equipment but also the weight of having been duped into becoming a ‘victim’. And he was then shot at dawn because he got shell shock.
  5. Machine Guns - which only the Germans had, perfect instruments for skittling ‘Tommies’ who walked very slowly towards the enemy, most machine guns being used, of course, on 1 July 1916.
  6. Officers - all public school, and all stupid!

And to add to the controversy I'd add these 'howlers':

  1. It wasn't Germany's fault. This is disingenuous as a nation should not be blamed, though the rank militarism of Germany for decades didn't help. Though not an absolute monarch like the Tsar, Wilhelm II still had significant power that he controlled in a tight group. He, and a handful of like-mined Prussians can and should be blamed for chasing after a war that they believed they could win, and should get finished and won sooner rather than later. 
  2. It all started with Princip murdering Archduke Ferdinand. A better way to think of the first months of the 'Great War' is to call it the 'Third Balkan War.' Fighting amongst peoples seeking nationhood against the domination of empires was common place and had been brewing for many decades. 
  3. The Somme Battle took place in one day, and was over before breakfast with hundreds of thousands dead. 1916 and the entire war can be summed up this event/moment, from the British perspective only, under Haig's command, on 1st July 1916. Far from being futile, and far from being a British operation, it was under direction from the French Army and both before, during and afterwards tough lessons were being learnt on how to win the 'impossible' war to get Germany off French and Belgian soil.
  4. Haig was a donkey, all the 'poor bloody infantry' lions and all commanding officers useless. (Far from it, the COs were experienced and well educated in military thinking of the age while amongst the infantry the 'volunteers' considered the conscripts to be useless. 
  5. Only the ANZACS fought at Gallipoli (The French, and British were there ... oh, and the Turks and a German officer advising them).
  6. Gallipoli was all Churchill's fault (the War Cabinet were behind it).
  7. The Christmas Truce. A no man's land version of the world cup: England vs. Germany. (The iconic photographs were taken in Salonika, not on the Western Front). 

 

 

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This week 100 years ago

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Zeppelins were raiding the east coast of England. Three of them came over and dropped bombs on Hull, Grimsby and towns in the East Riding. 28 were killed and 40 injured. 40 commercial and other residential properties were damaged.

What possibly could have been the reasoning behind this?

Nach England!

Meanwhile I'm in touch with the University of Wolverhampton about completing my MA in Military History. It's that who keep it here and turn it into a more standard history MA. With the OU the period is 1845-1945 that is studied. This makes sense. There are authors who talk of the origins of the First World War who will begin with the rise of Prussian militarism in Germany. 

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Museums that impress: York Castle Museum

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 19 May 2015, 10:40

If I have time on my hands in a town I've not visited for a while I might wander by the war memorial. During these centenary years you might even find a museum: a local exhibition on a regional division or local battalion, or a house that was used as a hospital. Until 2019 York Castle Museum have the exhibtion:

1914: When the World Changed Forever

York Castle Museum has ample space to spread its narrative. It offers visitors carefully chosen narratives that a visitor might follow. I wonder if from the start they could be invited to think about a great grandparent or great uncle who may have served in the war. We are invited to think in turn about Alice, Thomas, John, Albert and John; the bookkeeper, the mechanic, woodman, shop assistant and a doctor. 

Who will you follow?

Fig. 1 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather, Jack Wilson, was two weeks short of his 18th birthday when war was declared in August 1914. He'd already been working for four years as office boy then brewer's clerk for the North Eastern Brewery, Consett, Co. Durham.

Fig.2. Studio Portrait of Private John Arthur Wilson, DLI (before transfer to the Machine Gun Corps) This picture was used by the Consette Gazette in 1917 when Corporal Wilson of the MCG was awarded the Military Medal. 

My grandfather joined up a few months after his 19th birthday; a few of them from the office went along from the office.  Jack's kid brother joined the RFC shortly after, lying about his age as he wasn't even 17. 

Can you think of someone from your family, or from your family history who joined up? Or who would have had a story such of those above? Do you know if someone from your street joined up? A typical street during the Great War would have seen most men, some far younger, some far older joining up and lying about their age. It can be a shock to discover just how many from the local school lost their lives.

The York Castle exhibition uses objects that would have been familiar to the typical recruit. For example, an eye-test as part of the medical. 

Fig. 3 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather Jack, age 18 did this test in the recruiting office, Consett in November 1915. He repeated it at the Hotel Cecil at the beginning of 1918 as part of his transfer to the Royal Flying Corps over three years later. I took him for an eye test in 1989 when sadly he could even see the first letter and age 93 it was suggested that he didn't drive any more. Whilst you could lie about your age, many 15 year olds got it, you couldn't fake your height. In 1914 you had to be 5ft 6in, though this soon dropped to 5ft 1in. To join the Guards you had to be 6ft ... unless you were the Prince of Wales. Edward was 5ft 6in ... he looks diminutive and childlike by far taller, and fall older looking men. 

 Fig. 4 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

On 22nd October 1917 my grandfather buried the 42 year old Henry Gartenfeld. 'He shouldn't have been there. A married man with three kiddies.' That's how my grandfather talked about it. 'It didn't matter about me, not being a married man.'  The reality is that older men not only joined for patriotic reasons: they joined because they thought it a better alternative, than say working in the cotton mills or down a mine. 

Fig. 5 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Here the exhibit in the York Castle Museum talks about the bible. Jack Wilson, who was transferred from the DLI to the 'Suicide Squad' the just forming Machine Gun Corps, prized matches about everything else. He swapped his cigarettes for matches whenever he could. He never smoked. One reason he lived to be 96 then. He didn't drink much either, though worked in the brewery business for the better part of fifty years. He wasn't a Quaker, but many were. 

Fig. 6 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

I recognised this clasp knife because my grandfather had his and still used it 75 years after it was issued. I have it somewhere. A little oil and it is what I take sailing with me. As well as photos, a watch, a paybook, his Vicker's Machine Gun manual, and his RAF Log Book and medals he had a couple of harmonicas from the war. 

Fig. 7 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather would play a few tunes when we were little; he was quite good. He could also do tricks with coins. These, and many other minor skills, such as repairing watches, he picked him in the trenches or out on reserve where for the bulk of the time you were looking for something to relieve the boredom. He often spoke of finding smashed up cars they would fix, or taking bits on one occasion from a plane that had come down near to their pill-box.

Fig. 8 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Were these the standard issue? Great for a swap according to my late grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM. We're asked to consider where each of our feature characters have got to by the end of 1914. A map of Western Europe pinpoints them. 

 Fig. 9 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

If you haven't caught any of the episodes yet it is worth listening to BBC Radio 4's drama serial 'Homefront.' It's back from the 25th May. 

The choices have been carefully made for this exhibition. It is intimate. My ticket gives me entry for a full 12 months. Unfortunately I live 261 miles away at the other end of England. All the more reason to make these notes and to have all these pictures to remind me what I saw. 

Fig. 10 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Some of the most harrowing stories I heard from my grandfather were of the soldiers who took a long time to die. Dick Piper, a machine gunner like my grandfather, took a piece of shrapnel in the belly on the 21st October and died the following day. There was nothing to do for him other than put on dressings and make him comfortable by wedging bricks against his feet so that he could keep his legs pressed into his stomach. My grandfather described it as very matter of fact to wait until the body stiffened up before dragging it out and 'burying' it under rumble. 75 years later he marked the spot with a Commemoration Poppy. Imagine that. Returning to the very spot, where, on that occasion, two of his mates had died. 

Fig. 11 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

On the edge of Houthulst Forest in late 1917 - he returned to pillboxes north of Poelcapelle repeatedly in October, November and December, my grandfather took a prisoner - this German soldier got lost in the early morning fog and simply wandered into the pillbox they'd taken from the Germans a few weeks earlier. He was with the MGC crew for the entire day showing off photograph, a Mausser Pistol that was taken off him and looking at the odd looking currency. 

What have you discovered? 

Fig. 12 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

Every story you hear of the First World War fascinates. Everyone who took part, whether the volunteered or were conscripted, is a story where someone who last all that was familiar and near to them behind. 1/7th were killed. 

Fig. 13 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

At the very end of 1917, have survived all of Third Ypres, my grandfather's papers came through to transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. It was 27th December. The officers wished him well, and gave him pictures of themselves. The company Sergeant gave him a Webley Revolver, just like this one. Saying he'ed have to buy one otherwise once he joined the RFC. He had this gun until there was a weapon's amnesty in Britain and being a law-abiding man he handed it in.

 Fig. 14 Kodak Box Brownie 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

As a flight cadet my grandfather had several months of training to get through. He started with military training at RAF Hastings, then to Bristol to learn aeronautics billeted in Haig's alma mater, Clifton College. on to Uxbridge for bomb training and finally up to Scotland for flight training He bought a Kodak camera though and made a visual record of his RAF training between June 1918 and November 1918.

Fig. 15. Flight Cadet John Arthur Wilson MM. RAF Crail, September 1919, age 23. 

He stayed on with the RAF until February 1919 to help demob. Very sadly, in June 1919, his kid brother, who had joined the RFC as a 17 year old and at 19 only was a Flight Sergeant, crashed his bomber over Belgium delivering mail. 

We come to the end of the exhibition and are asked to think about our featured characters and what happened after the war. 

 Fig. 16 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather was lucky. He had survived unwounded. He returned to the job he had started as a boy of 14. He'd been away for over 3 1/2 years. Money put aside to him by work colleagues bought him a motorbike. Things weren't to run smoothly though, recently married and with a one year old he was made redundant in 1932 when the North Eastern Brewery was sold to Vaux. He had 22 years service if you include the war years. He joined Scottish & Newcastle Brewery the following year and put in nearly 30 years with them. His war never ended. Growing up I was the grandchild who listened to his stories. How I envisaged these stories changed as my knowledge of the war grew.

FIg. 17 John Arthur Wilson MM meeting Belgian dignitaries with his only daughter, during the 75th anniversary commemoration of Third Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele in July 1992 at the Menin Gate.

Jack attended the 75th anniversary of Third Ypres, Passchendaele in 1992 - one of five veterans that year. He also attended events marking the formation of the Machine Gun Corps and the formation of the RAF.

Fig.18 Memorial to the fallen of the York Law Society

At the end of the York Castle exhibition on the First World War visitors are invited chalk up a thought or memory on a series of large black boards. And finally we pass through an ante-room which features a couple of memorials to the fallen. These are made all the more heartbreaking when you think they could be your brother, son or father, where this 100 years ago. I find such memorials in schools harrowing.

Fig. 19 Lewes War Memorial Pinned.

The above shows where those commemorated on the memorial lived. In some houses both a father and son were lost. In several streets every other door had a son, husband, father or brother a fatality. School parties walking passed these houses are left in tears. Imagine how many of your friends you lost.

My grandfather said of those who joined the DLI in November 1915 within him only he returned. Whilst 18 months in the Machine Gun Corps appeared 'suicidal' with his transfer to train with the Royal Flying Corps he was given 11 months grace and the war ended. His training had been delayed by influenza on the ground, then dreadful weather which delayed his training. My grandfather always regretted not getting back to the Western Front to 'have a go at the Hun.'

 

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Obscure First World War Memorials: Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 5 Jan 2015, 16:55

The War Memorial below the cliffs of Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

ONE

TWO 

 

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Forever gobsmacked by the quality and speed of research using the OU Library

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Nov 2014, 10:48
From First World War

From time to time I am faced with finding the most obscure of articles.

I came across something about the Ambulance Service using motorbikes during the First World War. I then saw a photograph of a motorbike with a sidecar with a set of platforms that would carry two stretchers. The arguments for the use of a motorcycle are made: lighter, quicker, tighter turning circle, use less fuel ...

A article is cited. The British Medical Journal, January 1915. A few minutes later via the Open University Online Library I locate and download the article.

It is the speed at which quality research can be fulfilled that thrills me. This article is satisfying in its own right, but glancing at the dozen or more articles on medical practices and lessons from the Front Line are remarkable. We are constantly saved from the detail of that conflict, the stories and issues regurgitated and revisited as historians read what previous historians said without going back to the original source.

This is how a new generation can come up with a fresh perspective on the First World War - instead of a handful of specialist academics burrowing in the paper archives now thousands, even tens of thousands can drill right down to the most pertinent, untampered with content. 

From First World War

Amazed. 

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Mois international de la contribution francophone 2014

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 3 Oct 2014, 04:56

From French Exchange 1979

Fig.1 Mes amis français qui m'a pris à l'île d' Aix en 1979

Normalement si je veux lire français je le fais: aucune problème. Pendant L120, J'ai déjà changé mes paramètres Google pour rechercher et utiliser le français. 

Il y a quelques secondes j'ai decouvert que des les pages de Wikipédia sont en français aussi parce que c'est le 'mois international de la contribution francophone 2014'. L'idée est que je vais lire en français habituellement en fasaint L120 comme si je travaillais en France et je vis là déjà

On verra. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2.  'Les Origines de la Guerre Mondiale 1914-1918'. Pierre Renouvin

Je lis 'Les Origines de la Guerre Mondiale 1914-1918'. Mon vocabulaire français sera d'autant sur ​​l'histoire militaire, l'équipement, les commandants et les effets de la guerre mondiale - en utilisant un langage d'une centaine d'années.

From E-Learning V

Fig.3 Grâce à Google Maps et mon journal 1979 j'ai trouvé la maison exacte où je suis resté il ya 35 ans. Sur la droite , 28 Avenue Camille Pelletan, Rochefort. Ma chambre était au troisième étage à l'arrière.

Je vais donc sortir le journal, j'ai écrit quand j'ai 17 ans quand je suis allé sur une visite d'échange 'French Exchange' en France à la Rochelle. C'est quand mon amour pour la France et les Français et certainment les Françaises sont commencé.

From E-Learning V

Fig.4. Un extrait de mon journal mai 1979 cum album couvrant ma visite à Rochefort

Mon amie a été appelé Frederic, le mec je restais avec. Curieusement, je suis en contact avec LUI grâce à LinkedIn il y a deux ans. Son anglais est parfait, mois, j'avais reçu un grade 'C' en 'O' Level French'; c'est la première fois que je l'ai étudié depuis 1978 même si j'ai été en utilisant Rosetta Stone c'est année dernière.

A note in English

On seeing this picture of Freddy's home for the first time since I stayed there I immediately could hear the buzz of the mobilettes that took students up and down the streets and would be the sound that greeted me in the morning. They were a very traditional family, with grandparents living in the house, his mother a widower. Breakfast was cake dipped in a bowl of hot chocolate while the evening meal was served in several courses, the peas served in a juice as a course in itself. My memory is jogged because I kept a diary: more of a scrapbook as it includes tickets, programmes, sweet wrappers and postcards, as well as an album of photographs. Fred made me a tape of songs too and wrote out the lyrics to the adorable Francoise Hardy. And he introduced me to the poetry of Jacques Prevert. I even learnt the first lines to 'Je Suis, Comme Je Suis.' 

What did French teenagers listen to then ... as now?! Supertramp!!!

Jacques Prevert gets passionate

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The subject matter

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 1 Oct 2014, 14:39
From Writing

Prince Edward was sent to France during the First World War. He lost his virginity in an Amiens brothel soon after his 21st birthday and recieved the Military Cross for duties that included the organising of firewood collections. 

 

 

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On knowing exactly where your grandfather or great-grandfather was day-by-day during the First World War

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014, 19:23

Fig.1 35th Division, July-August, 1916. Battle of the Somme

This is from a minutely detailed 'Tartan': a 1916 sheet of squared paper carefully coloured in to show where every division was day by day from July through to October 1916. It interests me as although my late grandfather never kept a diary nor did his letters home survive, he recorded with me over three hours of memoir. He remarked once that he had no idea where he was on his 21st Birthday: I could now tell him - he was on the move from the night before, coming out of Corps Reserve and heading back into the Front Line on the Somme. Here he would keep his machine gun 'in action' while having the misfortune of finding a head in a Piklehaube helmet he dug out thinking it would make a nice souvenir.

 

Fig. 2. Mapping the First World War: Battlefields of the great conflict from above

Fascinating how so much information, here placing hundreds of thousands of soldiers day by day on the western front. 

 

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Must see TV

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 18 Aug 2014, 08:39

Fig.1 Great War Diaries

This series, each episode an hour long, features six or so characters per episode, most from episode to episode drawing on their diaries and letters. A lifetime interested in the First World War I am still amazed and thrilled at the stories that are told and the quality of dramatisation. Without any doubt in my mind THIS is the series that our generation will remember in relation to the marking of the centenary of the First World War.

Elfriede Kuhr, featured above, joins us as a 15 year old developing a crush on a German trainee pilot. Born in what is now Poland she went on to marry a Jew and perform in ante-war performances, having to flee Germany in 1933. 

Inspired stuff; though the four universities offering free courses sadly offering little that relates directly to any of this series at all. A lost opportunity. There is a need for a module on the First World War, not niche parts of it, nor a one hundred year sweep from the 1860s to 1960s.

This stunning production, with the highest production values and a budget to match will see many of the actors appearing in movies and TV, with the director surely moving on to Hollywood.

Brilliant

 

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New blog post

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 14 Aug 2014, 08:38

Fig. 1 Amongst the many official tributes a personal commemoration of three brothers killed in the First World War

Lewes memorial remembers some 360 names; they've been pinned to specific addresses within walking distance of the memorial. In Southover Ward for the 75th anniversary a book was published detailing the lives of each person - their school record, photo and home and other information, such as playing cricket for the local team or where they worked.

 

Fig.2. Lewes Town Hall War Memorial

Will anyone remember us a hundred years after we have died?

Just as it is important for us to forget as a learning process and challenge, should society forget, filter or edit? Does commemoration in glorify war with its nationalistic, militaristic and religious connotations?

 

 

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Why did Britain go to war in 1914?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 27 Jul 2014, 08:58

Fig. 1. The British Empire - this from 1937, but as apt for the First World War as it is for the Commonwealth Games.

"A handful of belligerent political leaders, primarily in Berlin, but also in Vienna, exploited the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand to pursue their long-held belief in Germany’s need for a world policy ‘Welpolitik’, even the right to world power ‘Weltmachtstellung’ . Their machinations, deviousness , obfuscations and at times ineptitude and delusions , led Britain’s leaders, reluctantly, in August 1914, once all efforts at mediation had failed, and enough of Britain’s divided cabinet could unite after Germany’s invasion of Belgium, to go to war when Germany failed to respond to Britain’s 4 August 1914 ultimatum".

This is the introduction to a 4000 word piece (see attached).

Tutor comments, further re-reading of Christopher Clarke's 'The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914' since and the cornucopia of BBC output, especially the 'First World War Day by Day' by the precise and authoritative Margaret Macmillan over the last three months would lead me to make a significant, though in word count, minor tweak: both Russia and France are culpable. The British Empire, with a world dominating navy on the one hand and a colonial police force of an army on the other, had no desire to enter a war in continental Europe except to honour Belgium neutrality and limit, prevent or curtail German hegemony.

Such adjustments would have tipped the final grade by at least the one point required for a distinction: I'm too belligerent for such things sad 

I had hoped or felt that behaviour of a few in Germany was so reprehensible that it cancelled out what leaders and politicians were up to in Russia and France, nor do I like the title 'Sleepwalkers' as the people who too Europe to war were far, far from sleepwalking - they were risk-taking, power-seeking, agitators. 

Enjoy. Do share you thoughts as we enter the very moments, day by day, that 100 years ago, took Britain and Europe and the World into a war that STILL has consequences today: Syria, Palestine, Middle East, Ukraine ... even little things like Newfoundland giving up independence to join Canada. 

My external look at this period is called 'That's Nothing Compared to Passchendaele' - the phrase my late grandfather used in 1991 when I was watching the TV news on the First Gulf War with him; well into his nineties and a First World War machine gunner and RFC pilot he had strong views on the matter: I took notes. I'm currently working on a comparative history of Passchendaele and the Gulf War.

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"They ran over to say 'hello'"

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 2 Aug 2014, 11:59

Fig.1 Dolphins 'running over to say hi'

My daughter laughed at how I described this but when you haven't got the words and can only think of one other context this is how I described a couple of dolphins coming over to the boat; it was just like a couple of friendly dogs at the park coming over to take a look and have a sniff around. In this case the dolphins stayed with us for nearly half an hour. At other times they were clearly on their way somewhere, swimming with a purpose in a pod or simply came to take a look then swam on.

Fig.2 Off the bow of 'Ximera' - Spanish Coast

A welcome first. As was covering 600 nautical miles in four days. Job done. I recall agreeing to sailing the Atlantic next year so have already started to look at revisiting and improving my skills at sea. Having not been on a boat for at least seven years I was for the first time ever in my life horrendously seasick for the first few hours of this trip. Worse than a hangover? I had a bucket at my side - that bad. I just wished a hand would could out of the sky and lift me back onto dry land.

Armed with a Kindle during the lengthy periods when not much was happening, and during my four hour watch at the helm overnight I read two text books: another on the First World War, this time the 100 days in 1918 that led to the end of war and as the contrast fascinates me, a detailed account of the First Gulf War. 22 years ago my ancient grandfather was watching the events unfold on TV and said to me 'That's Nothing Like Passchendaele'. What's interesting is to do this comparison.

One hundred years on it is worth comparing the causes of the First World War and to dread that events in Eastern Ukraine as indicators of the wrong response to the fragmentation of old empires: one hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire's demise resulted in fractures at its edge - the Balkans and Middle East. Germany, eager to bolster another weakening empire, its ally the Austro-Hungarian Empire, took steps to demonstrate or test its power and influence to destruction. To what degree is Putin testing the strength or weakness of the Russian Federation by the decisions taken first in Syria to support Assad and then in Ukraine to support the pro-Russian separatists?

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Which library?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 21 Jul 2014, 08:49

 

Fig.1. Hastings Library

With too much going on around the house I've decided to dodge all distractions and the sun and head for the library. I am spoilt for choice:

Lewes Library

University of Sussex

'The Keep'

Instead I'm heading off to Hastings as I've heard they have the only book that covers something on the Royal Flying Corps who were based along the south coast in various capacities during the First World War. The shocking read on Shoreham airfield is that by all account one in four of the pilots crashed in training with few of them surviving - just too windy for the flimsy craft.

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The worst of both worlds rather than the best

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Jun 2014, 06:09

 

 

Fig .1. The Dynamics of Doctrine: The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine During the First World War. Timothy Lupfer (1981) Combat Studies Institute

Sometimes the technology lets you down. Here, having tracked down an obscure book I discover that it is only available in 'digital form' - though it isn't. Rather it is a series of 80 photographs, not even scans and these are presented in landscape form too small to read without expanding the page.

On an iPad the pages flips to horizontal unless you lock the screen. To read the text I have to enlarge each photograph one at a time. I cannot highlight, or annotate. I cannot search. I cannot link instantly to any reference or footnote. 

It had better be worth the effort to extract the information that interests me (it will, there is very little on German tactics on the Western Front while there is a mountain on what the British were doing). 

The effort to read this book will, whether I like it or not, make what I read more likely to stick - the effort is more likely to result in stuff going into the deeper recesses of my memory rather than floating on the surface. 

Usually books that have had this done to them are printed out, on demand, and couriered; I have a few. Again, with mixed results, some brilliant and book like, one I have like a bad photocopy on glossy paper.

The error was during the inputting. Some student operative faced with a stack of books to put through the digitising system didn't line this up. Or, perhaps, this has been copied from a microfiche? That would explain why it scrolls from left to right.

Read on.

 

 

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Why did Britain go to war in 1914?

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My reading may have reached 2000 pages on the subject (including several hundred original documents).

My target is a 4000 word essay.

Writing 40,000 words is easy; a Tweet is easy too - Blame Reich Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Moltke.

A summary of 600 words, expanded to 2000 words is straightforward too. The problem is 4000 words - here the need and expectation to prove a point required considerable fine and considered editing of the mass of evidence.

There are over 23000 books on the First World War. I've read perhaps 40 of them and own 100. Do I know enough? Have I satisfied this itch once and for all?

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Leveraging mobile technologies and Web 2.0 tools to engage those with an interest in the centenary of the First World War in the stories of the people of the er

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 4 May 2014, 10:36

A conference presentation for H818: The Networked Practitioner

In relation to the First World War, during its centenary commemoration, there are many places, such as war memorials, cemeteries, historic houses and battlefields that are bereft of quality, supporting information. With consideration for the needs and interests of visitors to such sites rich, multimedia information, such as audio guides and photographs, links to databases and to others with a similar interest can be provided through the use of Quick Response (QR) codes. Of interest here is to personalise commemorisation through the use of a self-generated QR code and content with the code put onto a British Legion Poppy.

This opens up the possibility of providing information at war memorials, large and small, even down to the single name, as well as at sites, buildings and on battlefields, for example informing walkers and cyclists that the old airfield was once a training area for the Royal Flying Corps showing them photographs of what it looked like or that that council building that was a convalescence home or that part of the Downs that had trenches dug in it for training or the concrete pill-box on the former Western Front where it is known an officer and two of his men died.

QR codes, orginally the creation of a supplier to Toyota, have grown in popular use in Japan and China in the 1990s, then the US, Canada and Germany. They are now used at point of sale for marketing purposes, and increasingly in libraries and museums were research is indicating how they can best be used. Implementation issues relate to the percentage of the population that do not have smart devices, the possible cost of 2G and 3G away from free Wi-Fi and adequate support for the use of QR codes which are not yet ubiquitous in the UK.

The purpose of this paper is to pull together current experiences of the use of QR codes in order to consider ways they could add to the our collective understanding of the events of the First World War. QR codes offer multiple potentials, not simply providing rich mobile multimedia content, but letting people create their own content and QR codes, to share, form hubs of like-minds and respond in their own way whether by contributing to the historical debate, offering their own family stories or being inspired or angered by the events as described and wanting to express their views in prose, poetry, painting or performance.

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H818: The Networked Practitioner. Towards a 'poster' for our TMA2

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 16:25

 Fig.1. 'Poster' constructed using a combination of 'Brushes' (to layer several photos in one) and 'Studio' a simple graphics app that provided the overlays and text. Images and screen-grabs cropped and saved into Picasa Web Albums. 

Created for H818: The Networked Practitioner - towards a poster to illustrate a conference demonstration of an interactive mobile learning platform aimed at sourcing the involvement of many collaborators to enrich our understanding of this period in history.

The QR code should work, the YouTube video does not - it's a screengrab. The video clip, under 2 minutes, is there.

This is Jack Wilson's WW1 Story  (blog) and here is the brief interview clip. In fairness I edited around 8 minutes down to 2 minutes, keeping one story about a young woman who came down from London to meet up and otherwise to compress the kind of circuitous conversation you can have with someone in their nineties. 

Fig. 2. Jack Wilson (1896-1992) talks briefly about his few weeks military training at RAF Hastings in May/June 1918. Features several of his photographs from these weeks that he sent home to his mother in Consett, County Durham. (As YouTube doesn't embed on OU platform, link to YouTube)

 Fig.3. The simplest of SimpleMind mind maps to remind me what the poster still requires and is certainly missing. 

And as a reminder to me there is 2500 words to write too. 

Only up because it it has sounded all night as if the roof was about to come off ... then load car with teenagers, dog and clutter to meet up with my wife and my in laws. Then 800 miles through France. I'll be back at my desk on the 6th Jan. But who needs a desk these days? I can get online from the passenger seat of the car - this summer it blew my mind to be online in a plane. It'll be considerably less pleasing to find smartphones are used as eagerly and noisily 3000m up a glacier as they are in a shopping mall. Our connectedness and desire to be so has to be the technical and social phenomenon that defines the era we are living through - I would prefer to have a chip embedded in my skin so that I wouldn't have to care about keeping the XXXXXX phone charged, on a loud enough ring so that I respond, and on my person wherever and whenever I am from something like 6.00am through to the early hours of the morning. 

I'm drifting into reflection mode but at one end I am getting final calls, emails and texts from my wife (an 'owl') at 1.00am (I've been asleep for a good 2 hours) then fed up with the noise of the wind I check the BBC weather at something like 5.30 am and trigger something in Facebook that informs others that I am online and I get a message from a fellow 'lark'. Come to think about it I had might as well have been online for the hours I slept given the concoctions of my dreamworld. 

  • Breakfast.
  • Pack car.
  • Wake teenagers.
  • Walk dog.
  • Run through assorted check lists.
  • Check weather.
  • Wake teenagers.
  • Go back to bed and set off later as it clears?
  • Woken by phone at 11.30. Where are we???
  • Wake teenagers.
  • Set off.
  • Arrive five hours late.
  • Realise I have forgotten the dog ... 
  • Look forward to a power cut so that everyone's gadget dies so we can look forward to a traditional Christmas of charades, deluxe Monopoly and Twister. 

CALL TO ACTION

If you or your relatives have old photos from the First World War how about sharing them and let's see of collectively we can bring these characters back to life by researching then telling them story. I'm always very interested to hear from people with a similar interest in the 'Great War' especially when it comes to the Machine Gun Corps and the Royal Flying Corps where my grandfather and great uncle served. 

My WW1 blog might be the place for this.

 

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Gallipoli: The First Day - learning in new ways about events nearly 100 years ago

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 16:50

Fig.1. Screengrab from 'Gallipoli: The First Day' - an extraordinary multimedia, interactive 3D consideration of the events of this tragic conflict.

This ABC Australia, award winning 3d virtual tour of the first day of Gallipoli deserves attention.

http://www.abc.net.au/innovation/gallipoli/

This is the 'Avatar' of production values. Sympathetic. Balanced (I hope, it includes the Turkish perspective) and compellingly engaging. It sets the benchmark for delivering this kind of content. It says something too of the blood-letting, nation-creating, soul-searching in relation to loss in this way and on this kind of scale that many European countries will need to revisit over the next few years.

A teacher will never have the budget to create this kind of content, so how do they willingly use it in their teaching?

Does it motivate someone new to this story to find out more? How does it work as education or entertainment? Where does the funding come from? As mash-ups go this is very professional. The learning design and its gamified values are second to none.

(First posted in OpenStudio in my R&R 'concept board' as part of the MA ODE module H818: The Networked Practitioner).

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On Open Learning and Applying learning on the First World War with e-learning - some Kindle reading.

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 16:41

Fig.1. Applying learning on the First World War with e-learning - some Kindle reading. 

I believe very much in the process of pulling apart, opening out, expanding, then editing, revising and condensing. There is an applied 'creation process' here - the three diamonds or Buffalo system that I sense H818 is taking us through.

Fig.2. The 'Buffalo' system of opening up, the compressing thinking

These days it is easy to grab and mash any content on a digital screen, but where I have a book I will, in some circumstances take pictures rather than write notes, then quickly bracket and annotate this text before filing it in an appropriate album online - for later consumption.

Regarding CC I'm afraid as the music and movie industries have already shown people will do as they please even where the copyright is bluntly stated. Academia will require and expect that everything is done by the book - the rest of the world won't give a monkey's ... 'we'll' do as we please until there's a legal shoot up or the 'industry' realises that it has moved on.

Regarding eBooks, Amazon are looking at and expect to be very much at the forefront of the evolutionary of the book. Google are competing in the same space.

'Have we reached the Napster moment in publishing?' a senior engineer at Amazon asked.

My head, content wise, is in another place, studying First World War military history. As never before on the MAODE or subsequent OU e-learning modules, I know have content to put into these processes. For example, 'the causes of the First World War' might require reading of a dozen books and papers/pamphlets starting with H G Wells in 1914 and ending with books appearing on tables in Waterstones this week. Courtesy of the Internet just about anything I care to read, at a price, I can have within seconds on a smart device ... or overnight courtesy of Amazon.

Whatever my practice, this content is mashed-up in my head.

If I mash it up through screen grabs, notes, sharing in social media and blogging then this is another expressing of what is going on in my head - though controlled by the parameters of the tools and platforms I use - currently a wordpress blog, SimpleMinds for mindmaps, and 'Studio' for layering text and images over screengrabs i.e annotations. As well as what ever Kindle gives me in the way of notes and highlights.

This kind of 'extra corporeal' engagement or visualization of what is going on in my head with the content gives it an life of its own and an extra dimension while also re-enforcing my own thoughts and knowledge. I'm sure that I am rattling along this learning curve at a far, far greater pace then I could have a decade or two decades ago. Patterns are more apparent. And I am spotting too many misappropriated images too. The idea that you can grab a frame and relabel it is 100 years old!

 

Fig.3. How I filmed the Front. Geoffrey Malins

For example, the footage from the 'Battle of the Somme' is often 'grabbed' with subsequent combatants and authors claiming these to be original photographs of their own - they must have had access to the negative. This footage, as I am very familiar with it, is repeatedly put into films and documentaries completely out of sequence.

As reference above is correct - I find 'grabs' from the film footage and photographs taken by Ernest Brooks who accompanies the 'cameramen' around the Somme in June/July 1916 constantly claimed as another person's own photograph or belonging to their collection. 

A false or alternative impression is therefore built up.

Then, across YouTube, sections of TV dramas and films are snatched and cut into a person's own re-hashing of a different story. Harry Patch died age 111 or something - the last veteran. A tribute to him uses footage from the TV drama staring Daniel Radcliffe called 'My Boy, George".

Are we therefore seeing with text, stills and moving images what has been happening to music for the last decade or more - deliberate, and often illegal sampling and mashing, rehashing, exploiting of someone else's work? If so what impact will this have on content in the future? Does too much of it start to look familiar, rather than original? Or does originality come out of this process too?

The conclusion might be that people simple sidestep the stilted, stuck, formal process of academia - where the sharing process is so desperately slow. The paper I read on use of audio and tracking in a museum I thought was reasonably current as it was published in 2008 but the technology used comes from a different era - 2003. Research done in 2006, initially submitted as a paper in 2007, published the following year.

An R&R department functioning like this would be left behind.

Knowledge must leak, must be shared sooner, and where those share a work in progress it should be commended.

 

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H818 Activity 1.1 Reflection on how collaboration works and fails

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

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

either

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Internet Connection

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Feb 2014, 16:36

My thirteen years and more studying with the OU has seen how I learn shift. The current twist is looping back to the less distracted days of being 'off line'. At the same time I have done a couple of things that are very old school:

1) A 'Room of my own' without internet access (my choice) .. down the road with an opt in/ opt out. Also an 'office' (I recently bought the domain name Mindbursts.com.

2) Pen and paper ... and by that I mean a fountain pen with ink cartridges and a pad of lined paper - not quite an exercise book, but close.

Why?

1) I am easily distracted. Studying with the Internet 24/7 it is too tempting to be checking email, responding to forum messages or just browsing, I miss linking to books and journals I read about, but these can wait. Maybe the impluse to purchase or read another book weill reduce by the time I get to consider it in the wee hours back at home. My 'room' is ten miles down the road.

2) Partially this is physiological - I am seeing a physio trying to untangle or unknot some hideous pain in my left elbow which I ascribe to typing up blog entries with my left hand while reclined on the sofa or in bed. Partially it is knowing that there is never a short cut to learning and knowing a subject. I truly believe that mixed methods work - that it helps to take the written word and write it out, and type it out, and talk about it and visualise it. Neurologists will confirm that memory formation requires the  binding of activity across the brain, rather than from just one part of  it.

Meanwhile, I look forward to another e-learning module, H818, with trepidation:

1) I need to demonstrate to myself that I can keep up and even improve on the standard I'm now able to attain. (Time and effort and the only two words to think about).

2) I will be running in tandem with anothe module, taught old-school, at a different university, simultaneously. Already I dread the commute to a monthly day-long tutorial that I can only do by train if I am on a train at 5.20am. It'll make for a very interesting comparison. If the OU offered the module I want to study I would have done it - they don't. This surprises me given the Open Learn work they are doing on the First World War with the Imperial War Museum.

Best wishes to all ... so much for thinking I'd finished with this. Next up I'm applying to the OU to do a PhD so I might be around for a while longer yet.

NOTES

I started an early e-learning module H808 in 2001 ... skipped off the final paper and came back to it all decade later. I have both books and papers from that period which make for amusing reading.

 

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4 days in Ypres

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 Aug 2013, 07:26
The obsessive in me required that I filled the OU gap so I have been walking in and out of Ypres looking for spots where my grandfather 'worked' in 1917. I use the term 'work' as he considered it a job. Some job sitting behind a Vicker's Machine Gun. It killed most of them. 96 years after he was here and 21 since he died I finally walked the routes and adjusted once again the images I had in my head of the Ypres Salient. And then I found Egypt House up by Houthulst Forrest where he took some scrapnel fragments and he burried two mates. When he was over for the 75th anniversary of the Third Battle of Ypres (known as Passchendale) he marked the spot with a wreath and broke down in tears. I've felt close to the same looking at registers of names in war cemeteries - especially where I know the names from the hours I spent listening to and then recording my grandfather's memoirs - there was ample opportunity for this as he lived into his 97th year, unlike George Wannop, Dick Piper, Harry Gartenfeld and the many, many others typically aged 19-23 who met a horrible death out here. My late grandfather spared no detail. It is fascinating what impressions I constructed as boy and how these adjusted as I became more informed. To my minds eye as a boy this all took place in the landscape of Northumberland somewhere north east of Alnwick with little war damage to farmhouses or pill boxes. IWM photos gave me a black and white, scared, broken and flat though claustrophobic landscape. Being here opens it out again - the Ypres Canal is as wide as the Tyne, not some British slither and finally this 'salient' can be seen as a vast arena ... 20km across? with the escarpment a series of pimples, while on foot the flatness turns out to be crumpled, like sheets on a bed with streams which made it such a mudbath crossing every halfmile or so. With the 100th anniversary of 1914-18 nearly upon us the museums are getting their act together. 'In Flanders Fields' in the Old Cloth Hall, Ypres is the most stunning exhibition I have visited anywhere on WW1 and very much a 21st interactive and multimedia affair. Www.machineguncorps.com is where I'm pulling together photos, maps and links and where in due course I'll put intervies with Corporal Jack Wilson, M.M. MGC.
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