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Five Years blogging here : time to reflect

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

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

They do however need to diversify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Why read 'A Life Remembered' ?

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

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

A life lesson? I think so.

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

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

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

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

Pembroke College can be contacted at the following address:

Pembroke College  Oxford  OX1 1DW

The main College switchboard number is:

Tel: 01865 276444  Fax: 01865 276418

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Prof: Evan Davis. His Inaugural Lecture

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 25 Nov 2011, 13:39

Although I was unable to attend the inaugural lecture 'Reflections on the UK Economy' of the Visiting Professor of the Public Understanding of Business, known to everyone else as Evan Davis, I have been able to catch up with it all and the following discussion online.

The talk/lecture was introduced by the OU Vice Chancellor Martin Bean

We learn so much that was news to me regarding Evan Davis.

The Today Programme

The Dragon's Den

Made in Britain

I know about.

I'd never registered that The Today Programme has an audience of 7m every morning, nor that that there is something to view on 'The Bottom Line' Radio Programme when it goes out to million on the BBC World Service.

His skill, which is apparent on many of his shows, and from this talk, we are told by the OU Vice Chancellor is that Evan combines his 'expert knowledge with expertise.

He was raised in Surrey, his father a Professor of Technology at the University. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford followed by an MA in Public Administration, Harvard.

He then went to the Institute for Fiscal Studies

Then as an economics correspondent at the BBC.

Many accolades and awards followed.

His skill is to make complex technical issues easily understood.

'Where brain meets charm' is the way the Vice Chancellor, Martin Bean, put it.

The Evan Davies Lecture

Or was it a talk? (is this how a good lecture should be?)

It's an interesting time as the Higher Education sector goes through change. He then repeated a sentiment he expressed on 'The Bottom Line' the previous Thursday, that it 'feels like an 1989': 'A bonfire of the vanities as we re-assess', he said.

I left the country in 1989 and worked in France. I missed it. I had work, I knew people in England who did no.

Listen to the people who change their minds or speak their minds.

Don't listen to anyone who expresses certainty; there isn't any.

Supply and Demand

  • Basis of Keynesian Economics
  • He refered to Paul Krugemnan, Peddling economies is a source for Evan's key thesis.
  • At one point he questioned why nobody, he included, didn't 'lift the bonnet on the Financial Sector' to see what was going on.

The conclusion, to continue with the Top Gear, Man of Action, everything revolves around the car on the drive analogy, was that everything was running smoothly. Too smoothly? It was doing 110mph up the M1 and no one cared to flag it down.

In contrast, my late father a Non-executive director of Barclays Bank in the North East, had for a long time predicted doom and gloom in the housing market. 'The bubble will burst, it can't go on'. I'm sure he was amongst like-minded people at Barclays who rode the storm better than the likes of Northern Rock. That said, he had plenty invested in Northern Rock too. Is this the trick, to cover yourself both ways, don't expose yourself? To juggle, as Evan Davis goes on to say, 'austerity' and 'growth'.

The metaphor of the babysitting club

  • Give or receive baby siting.

The Keynsian solution:

  • Conjure up some demand.

It's a baby sitting and gardening club.

A bit more complex than Keynes, we have a supply problem as well.

There are too many people in some bits of the economy.

We moved towards up market goods, manufacturing and sectors around IP such as pharmaceuticals we became clever at what we do.

All the little things we were making were doing well in the second quarter of 2008, such as the Brompton bike.

The services, financial, legal and accounting ...

The UK is second biggest supplier of such services in the world.

E.g. The Shard.

  • Safety messages in nine languages
  • Run by Hong Kong hotel chain
  • Owners will be foreign billionaires.

Picking up many little contracts, such as divorce cases when the super wealth fall out with each other.


  • Creative industries
  • Universities

We export more foreign doctors than Germany.

An interesting point, but if they spoke English in German hospitals might that be the differentiator not the expertise? German engineers are better than British, possibly by dint of the apprenticeship system and engineers being trained on the job, the title having some cache too.

  • Upmarket manufacturing
  • Aerospace and defence

'We've gone too far and need to make a shift back'.

Bog standard manufacture is what developing countries have always done, we have moved on, we have 're-orientated'.

This is is his conclusion, that no matter the pain we need to retreat, to get back to a more basic level of manufacturing. But is Dyson going to bring the manufacture of the Dyson vacuum cleaner back to Malmesbury? I think not.

Paradigm shift with the crash.

Why would  lift the bonnet on financial services?

  • Regional problems.
  • The supply shift we need, but it's a difficult task.
  • Simon Renlewis article vs. George Osborne.
  • We need to borrow more until the recovery takes hold ... But.
  • Build up the tradeable side of our economy.

So what kind of policies?

  • The role of universities in export
  • The global finance sector not looking at the UK's medium sized business.


  • Subsidise gardeners to become babysitters.
  • No point in paying people to dig holes to fill them in again.
  • Austerity vs. Growth.


From Surrey Technologies

The UK Government has just provided £10m to the UK aeroscpace industry while the French have given their aerospace industry a boost of 500m Euros. Does the UK lack ambition?

(An interesting question as 'Ambiton' was the theme of 'the Bottom Line' two weeks later)

If you can't raise it privately, why should the tax payer ...

Hard for companies in the UK to raise money.

Got to be very measured about it.

QQ2 Peter Cook

Does the Public Sector need to get smaller?

The non- tradable sector (hairdressers, what about Vidal Sasoon and the creative sector?) But no response


Is the economy is too important to leave to the economists.


Have had a tough three years for credibility.

Much of it useless or disappointing.

Lawyers as Chancellors.

N.B. People need to announce themselves.

QQ4 Doom and gloom on the BBC kills my sales to sports cars.

Casual effect ... The BBC by and large do their job.

The BBC have a single narrative, so may be up or down for a period.

QQ5 Can we do to make the country more entrepreneurial?

Cultural change, Dragon's Den reflects and contributes. The more who do it, the ore will do it. Infrastructure say of Silicon Valley.

QQ6 David Backham, buying up toxic assets. Why? Spend on infrastructure? VAT

Bank of England buying bonds ... Should we be spending more on infrastructure. But conjuring up such projects isn't as easy, say the A11. Already got cross-rail, Olympics done.

QQ7 Question, low carbon economy and how will in help.

Not in the short term, but will as prices balance. Invest where we feel.

QQ8 Stuart Forrester, from german engineers, MA at OU.

A bit of either, Japanese showed us how to run a car plant. All comers welcome. And let us have our own. It is a global world, so cannot retreat.

A point to finish on.

The innate abilities of the British Public. Never going to be a smooth path.

Always going to go too far and tack back.


Don't need to berate ourselves ... Self-criticism, various false price signals, shift resources ... We're a medium rank developed nation.



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In search of blogs to follow

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 20 Mar 2012, 15:01


It's rare for me to miss a few days but the simple truth I am too wrapped up in the rebuild of one 'storyline' in the OU Business School website.

This and preparing another presentation, this time on 'blogging' having opened what will become a series with 'Social Media' last week.

I see three necessary phases in becoming a blogger:

  • Listen
  • Comment
  • Create (and collaborate)

'Listen' as in reading loads, being led wherever someone appeals to you, 'listening in' on the conversations that are being started and saving these sites to peruse regularly.

There were over 150 million blogs the last time I cared to seek out the statistics.

How do you even begin to find those few that you are prepared to read on a regular basis?

Clearly you cannot read everything; even in your own field of interest, unless it is the tightest niche, might have thousands of commentors.

I go for 'like minds', authors with whom you feel you could converse, those you wish to emulate, whose thoughts maybe like your own, but fully fledged.

I am currently following Andrew Sullivan a bit, but some of the many other bloggers he lists a lot. Andrew is British born and raised, though now living in New York, somewhat right-wing (has always been wedded to the Conservative Party), gay (he played the lead role in Another Country at Oxford though took a while longer to come out - at Harvard I believe.

Is his background relevant? Probably not, this is about intellect, confidence, informed opinion and a degree of early precociousness and desire to be heard.

His intellect and presumption took him to Oxford (Modern History) and then Harvard.

By all accounts, with 1,000,000 page views a month Sullivan has many followers.

He does this by

  • being well informed
  • being willing to express an opion

We look to commentators for 'breaking views', as another Oxford graduate of this same era puts it; though Hugo Dixon, a grandson (or great grandson) of Winston Churchill has a somewhat different background to that of Sullivan.

Irrelevant? Both men are a product of their intellect, so more nature that nurture in this case.

What they had in common as undergraduates was a precocious desire to express their opinion. Is it any wonder that we are drawn to what they have to say ? Even more so now than in previous eras we are in desperate need of people to filter the overwhelming deluge of information and offer some path through-out, in their different ways these too do it. All I need are other minds like these across other fields.

They make a convincing point succintly.

I'm clicking through the 60+ blogs Andrew Sullivan lists in his blogroll and find it hard not to click the 'save bookmark' option with every one of these. Nice when someone has done it for you, though I am yet to come across the UK equivalent. The idea that these are read but Sullivan regularly is also daft; look at my own blog roll (somewhere needs to tear a few off for me).

Any suggestions for the most informed bloggers to follow?

Stephen Fry is of the same ilk as the two given above, though more embedded in the performing arts than Andrew Sullivan.

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Social Media – Listen for long enough then join in and draw your own conclusions

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 2 Nov 2012, 18:06


The historian E.H.Carr said,’Read bout a period until you can hear its people speak.’

It’s what took me to Oxford to read Modern History and what for some periods in history inspired me to attempt screenplays on the events in the year 1066 … and 850 years later on the Western Front. It’s the quote that impressed Bill Clinton enough to quote it in his autobiography. It suggests, short of being their, you must immerse yourself in a subject in order to understand it, in order to be able to speak its language.

‘Research a subject until the research reveals the narrative’.

Sounds like an excuse for there being no assessment, but perhaps reflects how we pick things up through ‘doing’.

I caught this on Radio 4, Saturday 9.00am, 9 days ago? I’d reference it if I could.

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Use your brian ... We all need a Brian in our lives.

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'The digital revolution has allowed thousands of people not only to conceive great ideas but also to execute, produce them. With digital technologies, you don’t need raw materials, factories, distribution centres, stores… you can reach a worldwide audience quickly and cheaply just by using your brian.'

ChristopheCauvy, Director of McCann Group Worldwide in London,

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Balliol College Record and late Christmas Cards

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 8 Oct 2011, 14:52

The Balliol Annual Record 2010, and some late Christmas Cards, arrived on our doorstep this morning.

The Balliol Annual Record, the print version of LinkedIN or even Facebook, has had its day; it was a few months late, which hints at its demise. The news is thin, I'm in touch with College Alumni through LinkedIN in particular, Facebook a little bit  - even Friends Reunited.

Every word that I read here should be online, I dare say it is.

I shall therefore vacuum pack this issue in the belief that it has to be the last.

Not even my father in law has a word and he's been contributing for the best part of 60 years. I'll see him in a few hours time and ask about this. I'm inclined to podcast him too, I have some questions regarding the migration of his School for Leaders to an online course - or at least modules that can be enjoyed largely when and where you wish. At 85 it is staggering how engaged he is with the new technology and what it can achieve.

Looking forward to how the OU reinvents itself on 2011; I know things are afoot.

If anyone reading this has a foot in the door I'd love to come in and do what I do best - stand back, observe, contemplate, then offer ideas from a rich and variegated career.

P.S. a spellcheck that doesn't recognise Facebook as a word is due for the scrap heap. Surely the OU can tie in to the OED??

Collating evidence for H808 ECA. Interestingly, in a parallele existence, I'd say that all the criteria I meet for H08 I have duplicated in Plenck and the LinkedIN Oxford Alumni E-learning group.

What I learn from engagement with like-minded enthusiasts is already outweighing what I am learning from this course; is this par for the course?

How come I know people who will be or are more qualified than the MA ODE can offer without ever having gone through these hoops?

Meanwhile, for reasons only known to her, I have read and chewed on a book from a psychoanalyst on the dilemma and trauma of the English School boarding school boy. I was packed off age 7 years 11 months and after a few aborted Colditz-like escapes got out age 16 years and 9 months.

I've been dealing with the fallout these last 18 months. My wish?

That I'd never, never, ever been sent away to boarding school.

Forty years on I am trying to undo the damage the places did to me.

'Sausage machine' is a good term for it ... the brutal bullying without anyone to turn to is something else. And yes, I had to fag and got out because I had no desire to be put in the position as a Public School Prefect (and for a variety of other reasons, including being told I could not take Art, would have to play rugger over swimming, could play the lead in Macbeth if I cuddled the new English Teacher and would not have a girlfriend until I got to my gap year or university).

Oh, and I hated the House Master and his assistant who were clueless dimwits who could never have held down a job outside the system.

These places in the 70s still expected to churn out obedient servants for the Armed Services, or the Civil Service or the Colonial Service ... to feed the public school need for staff.

This or your Pater & Mater owned most of Northumberland or Sunderland so education would be the only little bit of suffering you needed to endure before you could be ejected as a Prefect ready to be prefectorial over your minions.

My mission for 2011? Campaign to close all public schools; the current scam whereby they retain Charitable Status if the most laughable abuse of power, quite as bad as MP's expenses as a challenge to 'the way things are done.'

Quote me.


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Oxford's Video Wall

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Love this.

Oxford Video Advent Calender

Can we have one?

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Education is a business

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 29 Aug 2011, 17:45


After 750 years I think my own alma mater has got something right. Don't tell me money has had nothing to do with it; money is everything.

Those brilliant minds the college creates occasional pay back. Are they the exception to the rule? We can't all rule the world and win Nobels. Those who do attract funding. Brands are centuries old.

How many took their paid-for education and moved abroad?

Should financially insecure, unattractive educational establishments survive?

How many drama schools do we need?

Unlike health services, higher education cannot be free at the point of delivery. Unless the tax payer is going to dictate which subjects are taught.

Don't get me wrong. Support for those institutions that cannot expect to be 'going concerns' is warranted.

And there's nothing wrong with drama school, but how many actors has the UK produced over the last fifty years who were educated at the state's expense only to move abroad?


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