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Making Memories

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 13 Oct 2014, 08:45

Fig.1. The muddy sides of the River Ouse, Piddinghoe. At low tide.

We are very good at forgetting: it's vital.

We see, feel, sense far too much in our daily lives (which includes when asleep). Come to think of it what on earth was I doing on a student exchange to North America last night where I am twenty years older than my hosts ... (probably sums up how I feel about the workplace).

See. Some memories are made for us, or by us whether or not we want them.

Learning though requires us to gather, create and retain stuff. Some of this stuff is forgettable; it doesn't resonate, or is poorly taught or expressed. Or we simply don't get it the way it is expressed, or the first time around.

Fig.2 Neuroscience of dummies

Make it a memory

At an OU Residential School the session on revision was packed. The tips made us laugh: sucking a choice of Polo Fruit sweets by subject theme - when you come to the exam repeat and each sweet will link you to that period of revision. Odd. But it worked often enough for me to convince me of its value.

 

Fig.4. Ebbinghaus and his 'Forgetting Curve'

The science from the likes of Hermann Ebbinghaus and his 'Forgetting Curve' simply indicates how something fades, unless you go back to it a few times over several days over which period you make it stick. It doesn't say anything about the 'stickiness' of the memory in the first place. Sometimes this stickiness is made for you. There is drama, there is an explosion. Most likely, by chance, the learning is anchored by some unrelated event like the fire alarm going off - that won't work for 50 different things though.

Fig. 5 Multiple ways of making 'it' stick: read (book and e-book), highlight, tag and take notes.

If the module, or your tutor isn't doing it for you then the next step is to dig around for a book, video or image that does it for you.

Most likely, and of far greater value, is for you to turn that lesson into a memory of your own creation. There is always value in taking notes, so never listen to the presenter who says 'no need to take notes I'll give you the slides afterwards'. Never trust the quality of the slides. What the person said will be of more value then the slides. You, and your handwriting, and your doodles are how it starts to become a memory. Then when you write up or rewrite those notes you do it again. You make it into something. 

Fig.6 The River Ouse at low tide.

I'm fixating on the horror of drowning in a shell-hole in the First World War.

Ever since I was a boy those images of cowboys and Arabian princes sinking into quicksand has horrified me. What must it have been like? Walking the dog by the River Ouse at low tide just as it turned the gurgling of water backing up and filtering into the muddy bank gave me the shivers. That sound was ominous. It made a memory of the walk and the thought. It's also what is sustaining me as I work at a short story.

Fig. 7 A family memory of a wedding in California. Will it stick?

We've talked about 'memory making' in the family.

It is the event, and the sharing of the event. My late mother-in-law was horrified that her daughter couldn't remember a road-trip they did across the US when she was 13. I concluded that she hadn't remembered much, or couldn't remember much when it was mentioned out of the blue, as the trip was never shared. Conversations are and were always about current and future events. This is why it helps to get the old photo albums out from time to time. But there's a loss. Do we make them anymore? Visiting a mislabelled album online is never the same. 

Fig. 8. My late grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM with the author Lyn Macdonald at the spot north of Poelcappelle, Belgium where he buried two of his mates - 75 years after the event. He recalled it 'like yesterday'.

Recalling the First World War

Some veterans would talk, others remained silent. Those who did not want to remember could and did forget. My late grandfather was a talker; it drove my mother mad. I came to love his recollections. Clearly, there were events that would have burned themselves into the memories of these men, but unless they talked about it, in a veteran's association or with family and friends it was not going to stick. No wonder veterans would seek each other out over the decades. Nudged by histories and movies their memories could be changed though; sometimes they came to say what was expected of them 'the rats were huge, the generals useless, the German bunkers impenetrable, the mud up to your waist, the sound of the individual shells ... '

In conclusion

Whatever activities and devices are built into your module, you are responsible and can only be responsible for making something of it. Take the hint. Engagement takes time so make the time for it. These days it is made easier through the Internet. You can keep a blog to share or as a learning journal; you can talk it over with fellow students either asynchronously in a forum (or blog), or synchronously in a webinar. You can 'mash it up' with images, grabs, doodles and annotations. You can make it your own. It'll stick if you want it to but superglue requires effort. Someone else 'sticks it' for you and it won't happen.

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vs. Dependency

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 6 Jul 2014, 07:57

You'll never learn a thing if someone else does it all for you.

There are the extremes of course of 'looking at someone else's notes', to reading their essay, to collusion where someone assists you big time. Then there is cheating where someone else writes the paper or sits the exam. What I'm talking about is 'taking the plunge'. No video or e-learning course will teach you to swim; you have to enter the water and take your first strokes.

But somethings we like others to do.

I am rubbish with cars. I have put diesel in a petrol car and added oil to the screen-wash. I can check the oil (now), do the screen-wash and check the tyres. Little else.

When it comes to blogging the beauty of this OU Student Blog is that it is straightforward and has been simplified and clarified in various ways over the last couple of years. 'Out there' you can have yourself an equally simple blog, say on WordPress. Fine, until you venture a tad further and want your own domain name (.com), or to add credit card payments (to sell stuff and to invite donations - we're all poverty stricken students right?). It is too easy to become overwhelmed, to fear clicking on the wrong thing. I have deleted a blog. And I have paid for a fancy theme and some other knobs and whistles that I didn't really want. So you find someone else to teach you, but there is a fine line between being taught and having someone else to do it for you.

Struggling to get ww.mindbursts.com in the right place I booked some time with a guy I'd already done some short courses with. He's great, but in some respects like a concert organists who knows how to pull all the bells and whistles with ease - what makes more sense, for him to spend two hours trying to show you how or to do it for you in 15 minutes?

I called early for 30 mins and he was on another call; three minutes later, following some simple instructions I'd done what I was going to ask him to do sad I just have to commit, just have to jump in, get my hands dirty, find out, make mistakes (so long as they aren't expensive).

 

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Universities value research over teaching

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 4 Jul 2014, 09:29

Fig. 1 Grabbed from The Times earlier this week

This may be the case but it has not been my experience with the Open University. What about you? Of the seven modules I have done five of my tutors, several professors, otherwise with doctorates in education, have all had a healthy and current record of research. I like to think that they make the time for the stimulation it brings to their practice; that content with students adds something. Those Associate Lecturer's who did not have a background in research made up for it with their attentiveness and love for 'their' module - hard to say which makes the 'better' AL, to be indulged, or to have a sharp mind strategically offering you their insights.

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The power of seven

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 6 Jul 2014, 08:23

Fig.1 The way I learn with the OU

Rare is the person, my late father and daughter are this rare beast, where you can read or listen to something and 'get it' first time. I'm the opposite. I have to listen once, listen again and take notes.

That's three.

Read the transcript and notes. Then listen again and realise what is being said is very different to my first perception.

That's five.

And then share what I think is being said in a forum such as this - often to be told that I still haven't got the main point.

Which makes six.

I know that 'understanding' feels like, which is the goal.

If at this point there is a marked assignment to do then I'll be OK.

The assignment makes seven.

For some of us this takes repetition and variety. I like to think that having to do it this way the learning is deeper, though I have my doubts. We all have our own ways of doing these things

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Why?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 27 Jun 2014, 07:04

Fig.1. Santorini Islands. 3D, tectonic plats and the magma chamber below.

Four years of studying learning at Masters level and have I got the motivator down to one three letter word? Why?

'Why' feeds the curiosity and evolves into an interest, understanding and love - even an obsession. Do you want to know more? Do you keep asking why?

As it was cheaper to fly out to Santorini for six days then two or three (accommodation provided) I find myself out and about. Thus far I have done what I call 'the Google-car' trip around the 70 square kilometres of the island: I've turned down every alley and lane to see where it takes me. This included what I'd describe as a couple of 'lobster pot' twitten-like walled alleys, as well as a 2 mile dirt track that came out at that rare find - the secluded beach with a ramshackle cafe/bar and a handful of sun-loungers. This is a spot I've been back to already to escape the tourist crowds along the cliff-top thorough-fares of Oia and the beach at Kamari.

Fig.2. Cape Skaros facing North West from Imerivogoli. 400m up a cliff.

Questions started at dusk yesterday when I decided to walk down to, around then scrambled onto what my older sister insists on call 'The Tit'  (Cape Skaros). We are staying in a B&B just the other side of 'the view' costing for one week what people 100 yards away pay per night!! (Hotel Casa Bianca). 

Fig. 3 Layers of volcanic rock types on Cape Skaros, Santorini.

Most of the rock on the island(s) is volcanic and of several different types. There are layers like a trifle. The search in Google for 'Santorini Geology' leads me to several articles of increasing levels of sophistication. I'm now downloading a paper from the OU Library which will push my capacity to understand and thus lead to the references, further questions, perhaps a forum and certainly some basic texts on geology and vulcanology. GPS tags all over the island have shown that it is pitching off the horizontal all over the place. They suggestion that tens of millions of liquid magma are entering the chamber below which suggests one of two kind of events: the minor earthquake and emissions of poisonous gasses and perhaps lava (last time 1956?) or, less likely, the 10,000 to 35,000 year event which last occurred between around 1600 BC which had a catastrophic regional if not global impact.

The other curiosities that got my attention was a museum of Greek bagpipes or 'tsabouna'.

More like the Northumbrian pipers. The curator of the tiny remains of a 13th century Venetian castle demonstrates some ten of the instruments from the collection in regular concerts. I had another of a taster to want to go back.

And the pre-Minoan archaelogy. Not quite Pompaie but remains of those from the island some 3,600 years ago. 

REFERENCE

Evolution of Santorini Volcano dominated by episodic and rapid fluxes of melt from depth

Is a module on intermediate French the right one for me? Maybe it should be geology. 

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Is falling in love linear?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 21 Jun 2014, 08:09

 Fig.1 A teenager on a quest for love

As a sixteen year old virgin the feelings I had for a girl had me indulging the sensations and plotting where it would go. It ended in tears - she took a fancy to my older brother. If anything happened, it was all in my head. She said I was in love with the idea of being in love. True. I wanted to record and reflect on all that I was going through, attempting to find a pattern in it. Any pattern, any model, is a crude simplification of reality. Learning above love or learning about learning as I've been doing these last four years is just as messy. 

There's a dangerous interface between the academic and the popular, the scholarly paper and the journalist, where a plausible hypothesis passes for the truth. In the New York Times earlier last week a reporter interpreted the entry in a blog where the author suggests that learning isn't linear, but logarithmic. There's a ring of truth to it: achieving a grade, for example, above a certain figure (it differs by person, subject, module, stage in learning, proficiency and aptitude for the subject). There's also a ring of truth in the suggestion that some things are toughest at the beginning, while others are toughest at the end. The mistake is to think that such a model can be applied universally.

Any linearity is a model, an interpretation of reality, not reality itself. Several models I would refer to as alternatives to logarithmic and exponential, offered by this author and the NY Times journalist's misinterpretation would be:

 Fig.2 In the flow

a) a straight diagonal line at 45 degrees with 'In the flow' as the title to illustrate the theory of getting 'in the flow' as a product of responding to stress on the one hand and learning or coaching to meet the challenge on the other as developed over decades by Miihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

Fig. 3. The Forgetting Curve

b) the 'forgetting curve' developed over a century ago by Hermann Ebbinghaus

Fig.4. The Learning Cycle

c) the learning cycle, so a circle, developed by David Kolb.

 

Fig. 5 The learning thermal

d) My take on this is of an ascending spiral - which assumes constant progress. The reality is that we often hit turbulence, change or minds, come back to ground, gain a propeller, lose a leg ... Enough. I'll work this up when I can in a separate 'paper' and post in due course.

Oh heck. There are another two models I need to add to this:

 

Fig. 6 Activity Theory

e) Activity Theory, which is a triangle with six interconnected nodes (Yrjo Engestrom) and 

 

Fig. 7. Network Theory

f) 'connectedness' (George Siemens claims credit) which is the 21st century take on an ever-present vision of how we learn ... which is related increasingly to 'network theory' which is complemented by current thinking on neuroscience - put crudely that all thoughts and ideas, their creation and memory are the product of the brain connecting at least seven now recognised clusters in different parts of the brain. Is 'network theory' the science behind the assumption of connectedness though?

 

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How to learn?

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I'd got this down to one word 'love' as in 'love thy labour'. I wonder if 'fascination' would be a better term to describe what drives the successful learner. Or 'enduring fascination' that takes you through the good and bad times. 

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Speedy access to and consumption of the right information when you need it

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Fig.1. NHS Choices 

In 1999 Jakob Nielsen wrote a book on 'Web Design'; his principles hold true over a decade later, indeed, NHS Choices could have been designed by a team with this web design bible on their desks.

We read differently when faced with a screen. We read differently when there is a urgency to pin something down. This is learning as consumption, and learning 'just in time'. It is also applied learning. Simply returning to these pages does, in time, enhance the likelihood that you'll recall the content, but what improves further on this are the patient comments - or any other, subtle, incremental adjustments that refresh the viewing.

The problem, by way of comparison, with Wikipedia, is that the content has become overworked and the more the experts get involved the more impenetrable it becomes. A filter is required that personalises the experience so that the content that you are exposed to develops alongside your understand of what it says. Are their pages that know that you are still at primary school, secondary school or an undergraduate for example. This too would be too crude based on subject specialism. Or does this come down to your choices from those offered by the browser? If you are in higher education that you automatically use Google Scholar and read peer-reviewed papers rather than webpages aimed at the general public.

This isn't aimed at medical students.

 

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What supported, loving, inspirational learning looks like?

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Fig. 1. My sister and her month old grandson. (c) S.J.F.Mitchell (2014)

Is love the best form of education?

Love of your 'teacher'

Their love of the 'subject'

With motivation who needs the Internet or books? Both help. Classes help. Having and giving the time helps. Support helps. Parents play a role, and should they be around, grandparents even more so because they are there.

On a quest to find some international plugs (I failed), I stumbled upon the cards I used to give the eulogy for my late grandfather. He died in early December 1992 at the age of 96. He left school at 14. He talked about the First World War and I watched him, never idle, in the garage and garden. When do undergraduates or graduates get to 'watch' their tutors 'at work'. That would be an insight, and inspirational. Or is this in part what one gets during a PhD?

 

 

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Why some e-learning is evil

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 16 Jun 2014, 11:31

 Fig.1 Student marginal notes in a second hand book

A couple of weeks ago it started to dawn on me that in some respects e-learning is evil; I lost the thought a couple of times a) because I was driving my daughter to her last A' Level exam at the time and b) starting to compose the ideas my wife felt the need to share with me some pressing thought and I did her the courtesy of holding everything to listen - not just to look as if I was listening (a man things?), but actually take it in to offer a response (another man thing?) The thought was lost.

Rummaging through boxes of text books in the hope that I will find a plug for an imminent trip to Paris by wife and daughter (a post exams and 18th birthday treat), I stumbled upon a book on 'The Causes of War' by Michael Howard and the thought returned:

E-learning is evil because it negates a student 'learning how to learn'.

This matters as most graduates don't apply WHAT they learn at university, but rather the process of learning itself; that application, thought, time, discovery for yourself, seeking out your own meaning, interpretation, sharing, nervous first attempts at constructing an opinion or stance, building on this through mistakes, correction and further reading, attending lectures, seminars, and tutorials. It is NOT a case of consuming within tight confines content that has been specifically constructed for you to follow, to the letter, without little expectation, or desire for you to wander off on any tangents of your own. This has been my too frequent experience of modules in the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education as with few exceptions the module is written and presented to you like a huge stack of packed lunches for you to eat your way through, without deviation, pretty much day by day for a period of weeks and months.

This is a convenience that suits the nature of distance learning - to hook you into a diet of these set-meals that can collectively building into a degree. The tough reality and self-evident experience of learning is that few students are ready to be assessed until a year, if not two years into their subject. Otherwise the pattern of grades is surely likely to be a gradual step by step, incremental improvement from the 40s, to 50s, to 60s ... and hopefully 70s and even 80s. 

I would far prefer to master my subject first and then be assessed and in so doing get 70s and 80s across the board, once the cumulative effect of sustained learning over many months has had the opportunity to mature. 

There is probably therefore a lesson to be learnt here for the reasons why Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) fail - they fail because they promise a trick that in learning never works - there is no short cut, the brain doesn't allow it, thoughts and ideas take time to mature. Which brings me to the fallacy of so much e-learning that tries to suggest that a revolution in learning is occurring, that there is a quick fix through gamification, having Google and Wikipedia at your fingertips and worst of all by reading condensed books, or courses that hand you all the answers on a plate in a ready-meal, or drive-in take-away manner that may satisfy at the time, but fails to deliver in the long term. 

Six of sixteen MA students doing a Master's degree with the Open University have recently completed degrees with the Open University; we often compare thoughts. We're universally derogatory of both approaches! Learning is a pain in whatever form it comes, but the answer would be a developed blend of both worlds and approaches.

Books, the printed form, certainly have a place. It is a pain to read a book, to identify salient points with notes into a book, or with PostIt notes, and to filter these into a format where they can be preserved and then later applied in an essay or presentation. It is this pain, and the time and effort it takes to condense books, to gather your own thoughts on the ideas of others, and then to construct your individual take, with support from your faculty (tutor, chair, fellow students) that builds your confidence so that you write what you think, not what the you are required to express, in a format that can be marked by an autonomon. 

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On the benefits and drawbacks of having an obsessive nature when it comes to learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 13 Jun 2014, 06:12

I love the pursuit. I get a thrill from tracking down the reference in the reference. If this means that reading a book requires me to read six books, then so be it. I come out the other end not only having read the book, but having constructed my own understanding of it by getting closer to the sources the author originally used; invariably I form a different opinion, sometimes one that makes we question how the author drew these conclusions as my own thinking are different. This is when you see how, like journalists, even authors of academic texts, of necessity, have to be selective. This is particularly the case with history where interpretation of the past is exactly that; a turning over, sifting and retelling of the events. 

The drawback of an obsessive nature is when you feel a compulsion to see every episode of Game of Thrones, and when you're not watching the series you're reading up on the cast and crew in IMDB. 

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Trying to jog my memory - is 'e-learning' the 'ready meal' of learning?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 7 Jun 2014, 05:42

Fig. 1. Somewhere along Dyke Road yesterday morning I had this thought ...

I had a thought on 'the evil of e-learning' as I drove my daughter to her final A' level exam. She was flicking through some revision notes on cards and intermittently going to her phone to listen to clips of John Donne she was hoping to remember. A bit of e-learning there. I meant to write down the thought but was driving. Six hours later it comes to me again, I write 'e-learning is evil' as the title of one of these posts (I use my student blog as a learning journal and portfolio) and my wife bursts in with some exciting news that I am eager to here and not wanting to be rude I'm sure the thought will wait ... but no, it had gone.

I'm reflecting on this now in the hope that it'll come back to me ... I may have to drive out to my daughter's school simply to see if that jogs my memory. I'd like to think the idea I had was profound, but I've lost it for the moment. I need to get those parts of my brain that were active at the time re-aligned ... 

Four years and seven OU modules and a passing thought about the nature, possibilities and weaknesses of e-learning comes and goes. 

It'll come to me. 

Everything will need to be as it was yesterday. I'm unlikely to have my daughter in the car if I drive out there ... she's done with school smile I guess during the exam she got a text from Glyndebourne to ask if she'd do an afternoon shift which is where her Mum took her in the afternoon - so much for celebrating!

There was something about the moment, reflecting on the end of her secondary education and what she's gained or achieved, the relevance of her circumstances and who she is ... using her iPhone to scroll through podcasts of readings of John Donne ... with sets of handwritten cards. The radio was off; I knew it would have been a distraction. I didn't speak. All the more reason to having given my head the chance to think, where there is a chance there is more activity internally and less competition from external inputs.

Was that it?

E-learning externalising the knowledge and spoon feeding someone else's interpretation of the answer? E-learning as the 'ready meal' of education? That learning the product of a collection of images and impressions? That a tricky quotation my daughter was trying to get to stick, like a PostIt note to the back of her head would forever be associated with the myriad of ways in which she was introduced to the passage, wrote it down, re-wrote it selectively from her A' Level English folder, and was now, in her way, listening to it and reading her handwritten revision card ... and that yes, on quizzing her in the evening over supper she'd referred to the quote as well and was quite chuffed with the whole experience.

This is it.

That e-learning risks stripping out a mass of personalised contexts that make the learning memorable and personal, and even worthwhile. Looking back on my seven modules (so far) with the Open University everything done online (and I have thousands of posts and thousands of screen-grabs and notes on it) on reflection, risks having been very clinical. Not all of it. Not always. But the idea of learning online 'by joining the dots' scares me. What's the use of that?

I'm going to have to go and sit in the car.

If I'm still stuck then when I drive my daughter to work later this morning I may see if any of it comes back to me. There is method to this; I know from years of clawing back dreams, those most wispy of experiences, that the closer you recreate the very moment of thought, the more likely enough parts of your brain will fire up to bring it back ... or, in the neurological sense, to recreate an approximation of the thought. 

We did speak. Something about exams. The stress, value and differentiation in grading of them. She spoke about Lear, I spoke about Hamlet. In the back of my mind I was reflecting on the benefit or otherwise of our children having their parents both together and at home. We've not been sticklers for revision, rather enablers, helping them see the value and need to get on top of their subject, and to help them or allow them to vary the pace by still seeing friends, getting out, some footie or the gym ... I wonder though if streaming TV series and movies back to back will be my son's undoing; yet I recall I would often have had the radio on as my companion to revision. We'll see. I know that what works is the ability to focus; if you want it to the brain will tune out the distractions.

E-learning is massive and complex. It's neither a panacea, nor an absolute. Can it be too clinical though? The context in which we learn, engaging all the senses, has a profound impact on how and if we form a memory and can then keep it.

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Amazon makes e-learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:56

Wikipedia gives you an answer, whereas Amazon delivers the book.

Wikipedia spoon feeds a ready-made response, whereas Amazon offers many points of view. These days my book reading has grown hugely as, whether a book or eBook, I use each book like a stepping stone to another. As I read I form a view on the authors most often cited and invariably, as a result, order the next book. It may be out of print, but is available as an eBook or print on demand, it may be 100 years old, or an ex-library book, or come with a dedication. The learning journey I take I feel is my own.

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Success in learning is solo-learning, not social

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 30 May 2014, 06:55

At our level, postgraduate and graduate, 'social learning' far from being of benefit to your studies it is a distraction. Yes, fraternise with fellow students, but don't imagine that 'a bit of a chat' or gregariosness will take the place of the time you must spend on your own with your problems and thoughts. 

For all the effort the OU makes to bring us together, or to generate relationships within tutor groups, far more effort should be given to promoting and supporting your solo efforts - helping you to understand that results are the product of your ability to set aside ample time when you can be on your own, undisturbed and without distraction. And then, on how best to use this time.

Mild panic helps rather than hinders.

I'm reading a new book on education - stress is better than being spoon fed, it matters that you worry you don't understand, that the reading list is too long. By trying to overcome such problems, and tight demanding deadlines that take you out of your comfort zone you form lasting memories, youn engage multiple zones of your brains and draw on your own experiences.

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Less 'e' means more learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 28 May 2014, 15:44

Fig.1. My Personal Learning Environment

For someone who completed the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education over a year ago and has done further MAODE modules here and other MA modules elsewhere it surprises even me to recognise I learn, and probably do, more when I am NOT in front of the computer (iPad, laptop or desktop).

These days I have no choice but to read books and when I do this is how I set about them:

Read and attach PostIts

Write up, selectively, into a notebook the bits that I've picked out (there is a further filtering process here)

Then type these notes up into a Google Doc (typically into a table).

I have become meticulous about citing as I go along as to want to use a quote or idea and not know where it came from can take a considerable time to recover.

An eBook isn't only on the Kindle (now Paperwhite), but also on the iPad and sometimes even on the laptop or desktop. I read in tight columns with few words, fast - like a TV autocue. As I go along I highlight. Sometimes bookmark something important or big. And from time to time add a note. On other screens the highlights can be colour sorted, so I may theme these as highlights for an essay, for their narrative value, or simply their quirkiness (so I can blog about it).

Interaction with the content in any and many ways is key. Having a presentation to give or essay to write is crucial, otherwise you can read a book and highlight/bookmark far too much of the thing.

Invariably I follow up references. I may loop off to read parts of these references immediately, which may be a paragraph in another book, sometimes a book I can find free online, sometimes an eBook for £2 or so ... occasionally a hefty tome that gives me pause for thought. I have a student library card so can get down to the University of Sussex in 30 minutes. Here I've just read a few chapters from a biography on Plumer as I'm preparing something on aspects of Third Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele. My self-directed reading list my have expanded to some dozen texts by now: divisional histories, several biographies on Haig, several books on military history with specialist books on the machine gun corps and gas. My notes are always created in Google Docs and in this case the folder shared with a fellow student who has added his own notes too. The learning process is akin to making a sculpture out of papier mache - I keep attaching little pieces and am starting to get a clear idea of the thing. 

Is reading still one of the most efficient ways to pass information from one person/source to another? It's quicker than a lecture. Good for many things. Were I studying Law surely reading is everything, whereas Chemistry or Physics you may benefit from and prefer the video/animation, the lecture with charts.

 

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Just thinking

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 28 May 2014, 16:00

Learning works if it makes you think; this is why most videos don't work. Watching TV you 'sit back' and turn off. How often does it make you think?

Books require some engagement - the activity is called reading. You think a bit of you takes notes. You think even more if you interpret what you read in a way that makes it your own. This is best achieved if there is a specific goal, typically to research and write a response to a problem addressed in an essay title. In the longer term to sit an exam or to write a longer piece, such as a thesis, or to give a presentation. To read without such application is to row your boat without a rudder. 

If in the past I've said that is it 'time and effort' that leads to learning, then I'd now reduce two words to one. Thinking = time + effort.

What do you think?

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Registered for L120 Ouverture: intermediate French

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 3 May 2014, 06:57

I missed the opportunity to register for this last year by a couple of weeks - just as well as I would have been trying to completed an MA ODE module, start an MA in First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham ... and do this. Sounds nuts, but actually pushing my reasonable spoken, reading French to the point that I can write it too is fairly important for personal and professional reasons: I used to work in France, we have or inherited some legal/property mess over there and my inclination is to continue what I started in my teens and then tried to continue soon after getting married, and then thought about again before the children started primary school. All of that eons ago. I have been signed up to Rosetta Stone for the best part of nine months which has slowed my spoken French down making it marginally more intelligible. 

Visiting France over the last two months I shared the view with my teenage son that we have every reason to live in France as Britain, that I'm sorry we didn't when he was little (he'd be bilingual) and that he can see for himself how much it has to offer. (We'd been back and forth on Eurostar and were on the TGV from Lyon). 

A lifetime ago but working from a French TV News Agency in Paris I'd got as far as interviews to work for Euronews in Lyon before an appealing contract brought me back to England. 

Returning to studying, research and this apparent study overload: I am reading books in French on the First World War, so there's some overlap. My MAODE and e-learning studies are well and truly over. It is now applied in work and in the back of my mind, sometimes front of mind, for PhD research.

In any case, once the OU has you in her grips, like so many others, it is a hard to kick the way life: without it my brain has no skull to contain it, the thing just fizzes with ideas and issues and I turn circles. I need the structure of course deadlines. I don't do it to gain qualifications, but to gain practical know-how that I can apply. That said, I think the French module may contribute towards an Open Honours Degree - it'll be a hotchpotch of learning, language and creative writing, should I ever care to complete it over the next ... 16 years. 

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How to activate a transponder - avalsnchee rescue system

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There are times when you are taught something new that you feel you should concentrate - all I worry about is remembering how to turn it off. An avalanche looks inocuous from a distance, skiing alongside a recent fall you see boulders of snow the size of a mini. Snow like a cloud, turning into a duvet that by mid-after was turning a little like fudge. Falls turned you into a snowman. Skied 'Brown Trouser Ridge' four times - others felt that way, I simply dismissed a moment of panic and tried not to look down.

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An idea - does it make any sense?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 21 Mar 2014, 07:23

 

I have this idea that motivation matters. That the 'desire' to learn is part of it, and that to 'love your learning' is even better - whatever drives that love.

As Vladimir Nabakov said, "It's a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger that memory becomes."

Do you 'love' what you are studying? Even a little bit? Sometimes? Very rarely indeed I have sat an exam and loved it.

'Mindbursts' has been the name I've blogged under since 2002. I recently got the .com website and and wondering what to do with it.

The above, to certain educators, probably in higher education, and possibly only academics, puts a doodle of Activity Theory between the heart and two minds meeting. My thinking is that two minds and collaboration is good - though talking to yourself probably counts given how the conscious and unconscious brain works. My thinking is that love of a subject - lust for it, desire for it, motivation to conquer all, to achieve goals, to overcome adversity is in the mix. And like any love affair you can fall in and out of love! Or have impetuous flings. Or have a long lasting deep affection for a subject. While Activity Theory, becoming a little old school, studies the interconnectedness of nodes of interest and action in groups or communities of people - used to problem solve businesses and organisations, yet for me representative of what goes on in a brain - the multiple connections between parts of the brain that interact with another's brain to generate new stuff. Maybe I've got my mental knickers in twist and should be thinking of networking theory instead? Ooops. 

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Zoe Cairns and her social media message

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014, 06:14

Three years ago I attended a day long course on social media advertising in higher education run by Zoe Cairns. She is a former PR/marketing person from Warwick Business School - I was representing the OU Business School. Those attending included LSE,  Bath, Imperial College ... LBS? And several others (blog post someone in here I should think). Zoe has just launched an self-managed e-learning version of the same. Having gone from 120 delegates or so a month she may now globally reach 1,200 a month? All this for the cost of investing in a web design and platform and approach that looks reassuringly familiar. I did a bit of something like this with Manchester Metropolitian a couple of years ago. 

Three things strike me:

1) Her plausible transition from facilitator to online brand hoping to reap the rewards of having more participants. This is the hardback book of the past. The 'how to ...' of e-learning in an inviting an saleable package.

2) The prospect, as I see it, of the subject champion, not the institution becoming the educator we seek out in a 'who's who' of learning. You feel, whether it is the case or not, that a big name of the subject is 'teaching you' - Niall Ferguson on history, Martin Weller on e-learning, Richard Dawkins on ... what is his thing? Atheasism? Biology? Zoology?

3) The value of repeating, refreshing or repeating a topic until you feel like you are starting to master it - practice for want of a word: continual professional development for the technical term. I take the view that a qualification is no more, nor better than a motorway sign - do you pull over at the first service station on passing it, or press on? And imagine this motorway on a hill: if you stop you can only roll backwards.

P.S. Over the last 24 hours this blog has received over 2,000 views. I have no way at all of knowing why, or who is reading this stuff! Do say 'hi!'

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Would you prefer to read widely or pick the brains of experts?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 May 2014, 19:39

Reading a history of the Armistice after the First World War - I'm a few years ahead of the centenary of 1914, I learn the Lloyd George preferred the former: picking the brains of experts was preferable to resding widely. Studying with Open University can be neither: reading is tightly focused by the content provided and you are penalised rather than admired for widing readily: you are supposed to stick to the text as it is on this that your tutor will assess you. And the participation of experts is random: my seven modules with the OU has had some of the more prominent names of distance and open education as the chair and as tutors, though more often they appear only in the byline or tangentially not daining to take part in discussion or debate - it is their loss and ours. Nor should I sound as if I am denegrating the tutors as here my expectation has come to seek in them an 'educator' - not necessarily a subject matter expert, but a facilitator and an enabler, someone who knows there way around the digital corridors of the Open University Virtual Learning Environment. Studying with the Open University can also be both: it depends so much on the course you are taking and serendipity. If you are goash you ought to be able to approach anyone at all in your faculty - not that you have much sense of what this is. You can read widely simply by extending your reach through references courtesy of the OU library, though I think whst is mesnt here is a more general and broad intellect, that you take an interest, liberally, in the arts and sciences, in history and politics ...

Being online affords a thousand opportunities to both read widely and to pick the brains of experts; what this requires is Web 2.0 literacy - the nous to drill deep when you read in a way that has never before been possible, unless, perhaps you have been privileged enough to have ready access to and the time to use one of the world's elite libraries and your father or mother is a senior academic, government minister or captain of industry who loves to hold 'house parties' at the weekend. For the rest of us, there is now this new landscape - if not a level playing field (there are privileges based on cost and inclusion) - it is one where, with skill, guile, knowledge and experience you can gravitate towards and rope in the people and the books.

 

 

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I did something once ...

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My take on Kolb's Learning Cycle. (Kolb, 1994)

What do you think? How would you interpret this?

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New blog post

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 20 Feb 2014, 08:34

Fig.1. Rescue having failed a 4 tonne whale is dragged from Stinson Beach. 

 What I'm doing here is thinking through a five minute online presentation I need to prepare.

Sharing this, if and where feedback can be garnered, then informs the decisions I take.

My immediate idea, often my best, is to do a selfie-video talking to camera while hurtling around a roller-coaster at Thorp Park. It would sum up the terror, thrill, highs and lows of taking a day long workshop with a class of some 40 year 9s (12/13 year olds) in a secondary school that had/has a checkered history.

The second idea, to change the setting radically, would be a workshop with nine on creative problem solving - the objective was to come up with answers to a messy problem, though the motivation to be present for most was to experience a variety of creative problem solving activities that I had lined up. This nine in an organisation, included MBAs, prospective MBAs, a senior lecture, junior and senior managers and officers: colleagues and invited guests from different departments. This example is probably the most appropriate.

A third might be something I attended as a student - apt because doing this in 2009/2010 in part stimulated me to take an interest in learning: I wanted to know what was going wrong. Here we had prospective club swimming coaches doing everything that was unnatural to them - working from a hefty tome of paper, sitting through a lecture/seminar and expecting assessment to be achieved by filling in the blanks on course sheet handouts. This from people with few exceptions who left school with few or no qualifications - often troubled by Dyslexia. They were swimming coaches to dodge this very kind of experience. It was, you could tell, hell for some. The misalignment could not have been greater. Here the immediate visual image, apt given the subject matter, would be to watch a fish out of water drown - or nearly drown and be rescued. What really grated for me in this course was the rubbish that was taught - too many gross simplifications and spurious science.

Based on the above I should challenge myself to do the video as I need to crack loading and editing.

The 'fish out of water', whale actually, I can illustrate from photographs and the experience this summer of being present as a 4 tonne whale beached and drowned on Stinson Beach, California (See Fig.1. above).

We have surely all felt at some point in our school careers like a fish out of water - when we just don't belong. In fact, I wonder if the child who does brilliantly at everything isn't as troubled, and as likely to struggle 'in the real world' as the person for whom classroom teaching is purgatory.

What I couldn't handle when briefly faced with 40 kids is that despite my best efforts I doubt I could fully engage more than five ... and lost five each at both ends of the spectrum - the ones who naturally found it easy and wanted to be stretched and the ones who were like unbroken horses tethered in a rodeo desperate to get up and kick off.

For the rest it was being put in a room for the day away from their TV, computer and phone. Some were at least with their mates. 

With the 'mature students' it was the gross miss alignment between how we were being taught and assessed and the outcome we all wanted - we wanted to qualify as a 'senior club coach' - for many, simply to 'tick the box' as they had been coaching national swimmers for many years. The only place to 'teach' practical skills is on location, in situ. In this case, as some basic swim teaching rather than coaching skills are taught, you are 'poolside' with swimmers. Even astronauts have simulators.

Historically we have the inertia of the school and classroom. We have shot our selves in the foot too by needing the kids looked after most of the day while we work too. For that to happen schools need to be more Kibutz-like or like a public school ... and teachers or support staff need to be around from 7.30 am to 6.30 am.

Am I going to experiment with my kids though and home educate? Pick my tutors from the very best online?

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Reflection: we are all so very, very, different when it comes to learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 25 Feb 2014, 13:25

Just ten minutes. A live presentation. Why for me should it be such a big deal?

I said to my wife that I have not problems delivering other people's words (acting) and I have no trouble writing words for others to speak (speech writer, script writer), but what I loathe and struggle with is delivering my own words on any kind of platform.

Big fails on this count, emotionally at least would include:

My grandfather's funeral

My groom's wedding speech (I was pants at proposing too)

My father's funeral

My mother's funeral 

...

Because it matters to me far too much when, and only when, the words that I give seem to emanate from my soul. 

Let me blog, let me write letters, let me smoulder from my ears into the atmosphere with no expectation of feedback.

...

Both positive and negative feedback, especially if constructive, sends a shiver through my bones. Why is it that I crave confrontation, that I want to be mentally smacked around the head, then kicked up the arse and sent back into the fray to deliver some amazing show of ability?

...

We are all so, so, so very different, yet how we are taught, or expected to learn seems so very contrived, so set by context and numerous parameters.

I would prefer to be stuck in a cabin for a couple of weeks with an educator who hasn't a clue about the subject, but is a natural educator, than someone who has ticked a collection of boxes in order to obtain their position. The natural educator can teach anything. The subject matter expert thinks they know everything. eLearning can be the subject matter expect - 'IT' (literally) thinks it knows it all.

So, connect me, and for me connect students and educators - worry only about the desire and ability to teach or transmit and manger those hungry to gain knowledge, and for students concentrate almost entirely on motivation. If they want to learn pores will open up in their skull so that you can pour in the information and they'll never be satiated.

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Curiosity Satisfied

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 24 Feb 2014, 14:57

It amazes me how when reading something and pointed to a footnote or reference that if I choose to do so a few clicks and the reference is before my eyes. Reading up on the First World War there are books from 1914-18 that are freely available in digital form - the additional insight is when you glance at such a reference is to wonder why an author chose that sentence or paragraph, often I find there is something far more interesting being said.

All of this has me reflecting on 'interpretation' and how increasingly, because we can, we should, because we can, check up on authors - certainly take them off their academic pedestals as their word is never absolute, is inevitably biased - and sometimes they get it wrong.

There are two kinds of connectedness here:

1) with references the author has used - how selected, why they thought them of relevance or interest (and the authority and credibility of these references)

2) with fellow readers - which, if you want a response, I increasingly find in Amazon of all places. There are always a few people who have picked  through the text, who are willing and able to other a response or to sleuth it out with you.

How does this change things?

The Web puts at anyone's fingertips resources that until recently were the exclusive domain of university libraries - the older, wealthier universities having the richest pickings and broadest range of references. To 'look something up' as we now do in a few moments could take a couple of days. 'Learning at the speed of need' is a phrase I like, used in the context of applied learning in business, but just as apt here.

As a consequence, earlier in their careers, students will have a broader and stronger, personal perspective. And as a consequence there will be more people 'out there' to join an informed discussion. And as a consequence more new ideas will come to fruition sooner and faster. And as a consequence, collectively, or common understanding will grow and develop faster than before.

 

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