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Can you write a short story in 140 Twitter characters?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 7 May 2015, 10:15

Collect words  .... 

 Fig.1. How I listed new words in my teens.

This was during A'Level English age 17. I'd done it a bit age 12/13 ... not a big reader, or writer then, I never kept it up. Making lists was one thing, using fancy words quite another. More importantly, as a professional writer the opposite applies: communication is clearest when you use short, every day words, not fancy latinate terms or foreign phrases.

This is a tip three of ten from the Open University and FutureLearn supporting 'Start Writing Fiction' the online course and a Flash Fiction, 140 character Twitter challenge next week. 

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Steven Pressfield’s Foolscap Method Template

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 08:42

Fig.1 Fig.1. Steven Pressfield's 'Foolscap Method' to write a novel

Once more I am loving the Open University's free online course 'Start Writing Fiction' on FutureLearn: it only started this week so there is plenty of time to join now. This free online course is all about character, so us novice fiction writers struggle with thoughts on plot. I love this from author Steven Pressfield: 'The Foolscap Method' is for me the 'Creative Brief' by another name, or even Churchill's dictum of being given reports on a single sheet of paper. By setting parameters and being succinct you are forced to get to the kernel of an idea. When constructing a story then, say a novel, answer the following. I find I return to and refine this often and eventually have it on the wall to stop me wandering off ... those ideas and stories can be kept for another project.

Fig.2 Close up on Steven Pressfield's 'Foolscap Method' used to write his first novel 

Steven Pressfield's Foolscap Method : From his blog.

A bit more on the Foolscap Method from his blog. The Foolscap Method - Video 1

The transcript The Foolscap Method - Video 2

 

 THE FOOLSCAP METHOD

Beginning

 

Middle

 

End

 

Story telling device

 

Theme

 

Inciting Incident

 

Climax


Looks easy? Then add 70,000 coherent, clear, exciting words!!!

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Posting fiction at Startwringfiction.wordpress.com

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I set up www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com at the end of the Start Writing Fiction course from FutureLearn adn the OU in order that some 8-12 of us could share our writing. It very quickly worked out easier for us each to manage our own blogs so I find myself landed with 'startwritingfiction.' 

Here I get the same pleasure, feedback and community feel that can exist here. You get to know a few people well and respond to each other's work on a regular basis.

Connectivity should equal support, not just access to information. 

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Reading and writing with fresh eyes

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2015, 07:37
From Writing

Fig.1. Philip Pirrip is confronted by the 'fearful man, all in course gray ... '

Start Writing Fiction is a FutureLearn Course. Its content makes up part of an OpenLearn Course. It is a thread in the Creative Writing Course here at the OU.Three months on having completed the course it is about to repeat. I'll be there.

From E-Learning IV

Fig.2. How we learn in the 21st century. J F Vernon E-learning (2011)

We learn through repetition; not simply learning by rote.

We learn through passing through the same loop over and over again. There is nothing so special about graduation, gaining an MA, a PhD or achieving the lofty status of 'professor' so long as you are willing to climb, as if on a thermal, one focused ever ascending loop seeing the same thing over and over again in new light, until, through insight or height from the ground you see something new and have something new to say.

There are some key lessons to learn from 'Start Writing Fiction; (SWF)' though it is never the whole story - for that you need to sign up to a graduate course on Creative Writing. There's plenty to work with though. I look forward to being reminded what matters. It kicks off again on 27th April and runs for three months. 

Reading matters as much as writing.

The precocious child who read copious volumes and gets into literature in their early teens has an advantage. I was slow to read and reluctant to read. The only novels I may have read as a child were forced on me through school. Even in my teens as I read 'Great Expectations' and 'Silas Marner' for O' Levels and 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' for A' Levels I did say like a parrot: If I picked up an 'B' grade at both levels it was only because I regurgitated precisely what I had been tutored to put down.

Over three decades later, 33/35 years later to be exact if I check my diary from that time, I am reading Dickens with fresh eyes.

My late mother bought me a second hand edition of all the Dickens novels. I never read one. I now have 'Great Expectations' for free courtesy of 'Project Guttenberg' on my Kindle. I am reading it with lessons from 'Start Writing Fiction' in the front of my mind. SWF concentrates on the key, though not only component, of good writing: character. I am chewing over every line of Dickens with a rye smile on my face: I see what he's doing with Pip, with the escaped convict from the hulk, his older sister and her husband Joe the Blacksmith, with Miss Haversham and Estella. If 'character is plot' then the plot moves, in a series of steps, over the heads of each character. We are carried by Pip with repeated moments of laugh out loud insights to a child's perception and feelings for the world. How had I not see this before?

For the umpteenth time I am doing what doesn't come naturally to me: I should be painting, not writing.

Intellectually I feel like the child who is left handed who had than arm tied behind his back as a child to force him to write against his will with his right. I have managed well enough, but it is against character and it is too late to correct? I need to work with words as the text that describes what I see. Text has other values too of course. It can carry a story beyond a single canvas.

A creative writing tutor, editor and author - former opera singer and opera director - Susannah Waters in reviewing my writing on a retreat last September gave me more than SWF can do on its own. An A4 sheet torn in half offers the following tips on 'Scene Building:'

  • Who am I?
  • Stay in the person's head
  • Put me in the place

She expands on these.

Every line of 'Great Expectations' is in Pip's voice, written as autobiography much later in life, in the moment, capturing for now, his wonder, fear, feelings and hopes. It helps me enormously as I try to construct a story of my own set  in the couple of decades 1966 to 1986, rather than 1820 to 1860. Characters don't change, technology and society does. It helps me to contain my imagination and fears as I feel it falling apart. Character will hold it together; each character needs to surprise. 

I wish I could find the link to the BBC Radio 4 programme in which an author, Michael Morpurgo or Alexander McCall Smith talks about writing; it was on over the last three weeks. Or was it on TV?! Tips and devices were spoken of, but what had most resonance for me was the idea that an authors wonder at even the most mundane creates interest for the reader. 

I used to discount Dickens as old fashioned; I now feel that I am reading Dickens with the same wonder of someone who has broken through the fog of a new language and is becoming fluent. Can I now translate this into my own writing? For now the juggling game I am playing is my writing in one hand, Dickens in the other.

Sharing where I stand matters hugely. Knowing that others are following my journey and are supportive matters: it keeps me going. Being online matters. It is the next best thing to standing on a soapbox in the local park and reading passages from my efforts. Feedback matters as it guides you.

On this retreat last September we read out our work, actually Susannah read my piece for me as I wanted to hear it from a different voice. We were around an open fire in a cottage in Devon. Telling stories around a fire takes you back to the origins of storytelling; what must you say to hold their attention, to keep them entertained, to make them cry (I did with that one), to make them laugh, fear, hope, clap, get angry ... and ponder, even panic over the outcome. In that story I had a soldier in the First World War slowly sinking into mud, up to his chest and neck ... screaming for life.

 

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What the OU has taught me

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Whilst I cannot yet see how or where I will use my OU MA I have, over five years, here and when studying, learnt to fill much of my day with reading and writing. In one respect I am back where I was exactly nine years ago: writing all the hours I can. I don't blog. I go to bed early with a story or character on my mind and as soon as I am awake I am looking at notes I received overnight from a reader I befriended on the OU FutureLearn course 'Start Writing Fiction.'

Nine years ago I worked freelance writing and editing copy for websites, training and promotional. Nine years ago I started to take professional swim coaching work. I do both of these again four days a week for a few hours at a time: the wolf is not so much at the door, as sitting at my side but I don't feel I have any choice any more.

Meanwhile I envy my 18 year old daughter who took herself off to Paris, took two jobs, has rented a studio flat and is writing fiction with the kind of enthusiasm she had devouring books when she was little. Good for her.

I am writing at www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com

This blog I set up initially so that a bunch of us could share work to review. It turned out more practical and very easy for each of us to have our own blogs though.

I no longer blog per se. Rather I write up between 500 and 3000 words of fiction every day, sometimes 5000 words If I am transcribing things I have already written. 

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Review, Reflect, Repeat ...

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 4 Jan 2015, 09:05

Fig.1. My mash-up from the Start Writing Fiction, OU and FutureLearn MOOC. 

Many weeks after the Open University MOOC on Future Learn closed 'Start Writing Fiction' I find I am returning to the many activities across the eight weeks to refresh, reflect, and build on my knowledge. As well as doing my bit for that 'community' by doing a few reviews (all assignments are peer reviewed). I completed the course in early December.

I return to reflect, to develop ideas, to be reminded of the excellent lessons I have learnt there, and in particular on how we use fact and fiction, whether consciously or not. In pure fantasy writing I find, inevitably, that I ground events in places I know from my youth, or have since researched. I use the hook of reality and my experiences on which to build the fiction. While currently I am embedded in what started as 90/10 fiction to fact I find it is increasingly looking like 95/5 in favour of fact as my imagination is close to the truth about a particular character and his experience of the First World War. All this from a simple exercise in week one called 'Fact or Fiction?' where we are asked first of all two write something that contains three factual elements and one fiction, and then to write something that contains three fictional elements and one factual. There are thousands of these now, many very funny, original or captivating. In week one, I'm guessing that around 10,000 got through the week. How many posted? There are 967 comments. This happens. It is an open course. The same applies for most web content: 95:5 is the ratio of readers to writers. Many people prefer not to do what they feel is 'exposing themselves' online. Why should they.

Anyway, this gives me reason to argue that it is an excellent idea to keep a blog of your OU studies. All of this can remain private, but at least, as I know have in this blog, when the doors close behind a module you can, months, even years later, return to key activities and assignments and build on the lessons you learnt. More importantly, as we all forget with such ease, we can keep the memory of the lessons fresh.

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This is not all! A lot of its is on A 363 Website *

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From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Second hand 'used' book on creative writing

After eight weeks I recently slid from the end of the OU and FutureLearn MOOC 'Start Writing Fiction' and felt bereft. There is a Facebook group, a Linkedin group and a blog ... all set up by us students. The links sadly to the OU are the kind where you a dropped into the centre of a labyrinth with no idea of where to turn, and no one to talk to. 

Anyway. I was particularly delighted that the previous owner of this book has added the note onto the cover 'This is not all! A lot of it is on A 363 website*' which is where I will potentially pick up my OU studies in ten months time. '

Meanwhile I have three more MOOCs with FutureLearn. 

*A363 Advance Creative Writing

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Time to reflect on 'Start Writing Fiction' with the OU and FutureLearn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 19 Dec 2014, 09:33
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. The writer's path ...

The eight week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I have just completed 'Start Writing Fiction', with the OU, through FutureLearn merits, like all learning experiences, a period of reflection. How do you look through posts across some 80-100 'threads' with anything from 143 posts (final thread, final week) to over 7,500 posts (fourth thread, first week) ? You have to filter, but these filters are dependent on your participation throughout because the key filters are: 'my comments' and 'following'. These in turn, isolate from a massive thread, the comments you have left, starting a thread to the main discussion or commenting on points made by others. While 'following' picks out those, all of them, whose thoughts and contributions you have enjoyed. You can also pick out 'most liked' - though with likes ranging from 0-4 with 1 like the median, this sift hasn't anything to offer. And you can prioritise 'Activity' i.e. select in reverse order across all posts in an activity those that are most recent.

Thus armed, if you can give it the time, you can work back over the battlefield of minds that has been this last two months; it feels like a 60 degree credits 7-8 month slog packed into a very, very long weekend - it has been that intense (I've let it be so).

Whilst the activities could be done in three hours a week at a fast jog, what takes far longer is a) writing a piece for peer review - 300, 500 and 1000 words were the lengths of submission and b) reading, replying, following and learning from the mass off comments in what are sometimes huge discussion threads with thousands of responses where some of have skipped through the entire 8 weeks course in a few weeks, and others, like climbing onto a moving walkway, are still, just joining. 

I can write 1,500 words in an hour. However, 500 from a day of writing, takes ... all day. And it is generally this 500 which is worthy of keeping and could lead to publication.  I have learnt the value of reviewing the work of others - all standards (I've been at all standards and can migrate with ease between them). I am reading fiction strategically -I did this with efforts to write TV series and Film scripts (I have a writer/director credit for a short film on Channel 4). It is so useful, as you get a feel for the genre you are writing, to read some of the very best in that genre. It makes sense really. How have other authors successfully tackled time-travel, war, fairies ... horror, romance or sex. And then writing itself. Setting time aside, focusing on that for hours uninterrupted to give you creative side a chance to come out. And then, from that, edit ruthless to those ideas, phrases, descriptions and characters that meet a set of criteria. It's tough. If it wasn't everyone would be a published author.

I may forget to take my phone with me, but when I go anywhere I have an A6 size notebook and pen. Like Louis de Bernieres I take a bath and use this time to read fiction! No iPad. Fewer showers. Currently reading 'The Time Traveller's Wife' and 'Never Ending Story'. 

When I get up, very early, I flick over two hourglasses: one is 30 minutes, the other an hour. I like the 'reward' of getting 30 minutes in. I may forget where time is going after an hour or so. 2,000 words a day ought to be about right. Less happens. More happens. Then the rest of the day takes over - often until the early hours of the following morning. I read over a few pages before I go to sleep and sometimes the Muse rewards me in the early hours ... or torments, or deserts me. 

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Learning how to assess - not an AL

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 17 Dec 2014, 19:35
From E-Learning V

 

I'm doing my learning with The OU, but on another platform. I'm emerging from an extraordinary eight weeks on the 'Start Writing Fiction' MOOC on FutureLearn. This draws upon the 'Start Writing Fiction' OpenLearn content and on the various BA and MA Creative Writing courses from The OU.

What's worth reflecting upon as a person who has taken this journey is the nature of the learning process in a highly charged, collaborative and 'massive' environment, the community self-help spirit that is engendered, partly by its being free and open, but also because scale means that that percentage of people who are contributory and giving is large enough to make an impact. And finally, as a learning experience - have I learnt something? Does it 'change behaviours' ? which is the ultimate test of learning - you come out changed.

The course is about creative writing, with the emphasis in a few hours a week on one thing only: characterisation. 

I've taken the view that even if I finished the course a week ago, that it is still term time so I have a duty to stick around. As well as carefully going back through all seven weeks so far I have now done 16 reviews. The reward is always two way.

In this instance I see in every writer ways I'd like to get it right, as well as ways that I too need to stop getting it wrong. An hour spent on a review is typical, though not always possible if either the piece is brilliant and a greater joy each time I read it, or because the piece struggles to reveal that the author has taken part or taken in much at all from the last seven weeks. The reviewer cannot relive the course pointing these things out that have been missed. Perhaps this is the difference between me and a professional tutor or lecture marking an assignment and given constructive feedback. 

Even amongst thousands you get to recognise a hundred or so people who are active in the discussion groups, desperate to put right what they are getting wrong and willing to try anything - I'm in that category and can truthfully say that my writing has been changed for the better, forever. I hope with these reviews that I am able to put back in a fraction of what I have been able to take out. From the learning perspective my behaviour has been changed. I know that writing is 20% of the task, so now I bash on with it as fast as I can ... as the real job, the 80% is the edit. Maybe with experience the balance will shift a bit. More 30% to 70% as I get things right first time. 

There's a discussion about how reviews are shared out. The system has to be automated. I believe the participation at the start of the MOOC was 20,000 and has gone up to 23,000 even 25,000. I know that stats so an exponential decline (is that the right term) sees 50% never even start and another 50% drop out after weeks one or two. Under 10% complete, possibly under 6%.

Reviews of work cannot and are not carried out by ALs. The cost would be astronomic and it would take years. Instead we rely on peer review. Over the eight weeks, beautifully choreographed (learning design) there was been a review of a 250 word piece, then a 500 word piece ... and now the equivalent of our EMA and a 1000 word piece. Without exception people are finally understanding that 1000 words means exactly that. People had the ignorance, arrogance or temerity to post 2,500 word pieces in the firs assignment. Some ignore the course, but wanted people to review their brilliance sad This is what occurs on an open platform. 

Regarding these pieces occasional requests have been made to have all of these on public view so that we could pick and choose the pieces to review. It would be quite wrong though to reveal what can be a sensitive and personal exchange between author and reviewer in a very vulnerable moment. It would, as I've seen in open 'classes' turn into a bit of a bun fight where, in the worst instances, like in the playground, you get people applauding one author and ridiculing another ... or simply join in on the back of what others have said. i.e. the learning experience is thwarted, even abused. It matters that the reviewer knows that their own words matter, without being influenced by what others have written. That said, some reviewers take a cavalier approach saying they don't like a thing, and then saying no more. If that is a student's only review received you can well understand their frustration. Even with the numbers involved somehow these pieces need to be returned and churned through the system, ideally until three to six reviews are received each. More work needs to be done to help students do reviews too so that they feel confident about doing so.

What we all benefit from this process is both learning to review, and learning to receive feedback.

The recommendation I make to everyone is to keep reviewing until you become good at it. If and when you can master reviewing, then you will be in a far better position to fairly review and edit your own work - a lesson that has finally sunk in. Writing is easy, the fun part. Jazz writing I call it. Top of the head stuff. The editing is the pain that crafts a piece so that others can enjoy it too. This pain is reduced the better you get at it.

What's revealing here is, as I've seen in the reviews, is that there are pieces that suggest that the author hasn't learnt anything at all from the course. I cannot make that assumption, so I review on the basis that it is genuine. From a formal assessment point of view, as I've learnt as a student with The OU for four years, is that a tutor looks for repeated indications that the student is using what they should have learnt from the course - if that is not present then alarm bells should ring. How can I give them points?

The problem of course in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is that those who don't do the this task properly are especially taking away from genuine participants who want several considered reviews in return. Only if we get perhaps three or more reviews each will the 1 in 3 'non-review' be cancelled out.

Of 12 pieces I have come to expect 2 excellent and 2 ... how can I put it politely other than to say 'dire'. I'm not to know why this is, I can only judge what I have to review and have in mind the brief and the content of the course over the last seven weeks. Do some people paste in something they wrote months ago that has no bearing at all on the course? It seems that way. Might someone post in a piece that has been published, that is on brief? That is possible too. Of the remaining eight pieces these tend to be where errors and corrections based on the lessons of the course are most easy to make. It takes time. Time and focus. I admire those tutors, here and elsewhere who so clearly have gone to such lengths. Decades after the event I see lengthy comments on pieces for A levels from teachers who were clearly putting in a huge amount of work ... with no word limit on essays too.

In contrast, though not from The OU, I have had reviews of work that were laughable - one may have muddled me up with another student, while the other might have been written in the pub over a pint. One I made a polite complaint, gained 10 points and a distinction. The other I am about to challenge as this 'pub' idea might be close to the truth. And they are paid to assess a piece. In this instance the criticism over my missing a key point is unfounded as I make the required point a) in the introduction b) in the conclusion and c) developed the idea in the main body of the essay. Their comment, 'looks rushed' - which to my sensibilities is an indication of exactly how the tutor behaved - they are the one who were in a rush. 

Students need to be put on a confidence building exercise as they start university so that they feel, as fee payers, able to 'complain' without being stonewalled. This is another theme, but fee-paying students should and will change the attitude of institutions to their fee paying clients, rather than students on a grant-based 'freebie'.

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An exploration of the MOOC

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 17 Dec 2014, 19:37
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mash-up of a correct answer to a quiz in the FutureLearn course from the University of Nottingham 'How to read a mind' that ties in directly to The OU course on the same platform 'Start Writing Fiction'.

As these MOOCs complete I have a few weeks over Christmas to reflect on a busy year of Moocing about and to catch up with regular coursework on L120, assisted with a necessary business visit to France.

My MOOCing is enjoyed all the more while reading Martin Weller's new book that covers MOOCs, 'The Battle for Open'. These are interesting times indeed.

With friends yesterday I evangelised about MOOCs on FutureLearn and found that what worked was to describe a MOOC in layman's terms as the equivalent of a hefty, hardback, coffee-table book you buy because you have an interest in a thing. Let's say it is architecture. The book is written by an expert with engaging photographs, charts and maps. From time to time you indulge yourself. A good MOOC is similar, different and better. Online you have an expert who leads the course. The introduce themselves, the course and perhaps the team. And then over the weeks they drop in to say something with a pre-recorded video piece or text. They may even appear from time to time to contribute to the discussion: though you may miss them if the thread is running into the hundreds. 

I explained how threaded discussions work: that there can be thousands of comments, but you know everyone is talking about the same thing. That if you don't get a point you can ask and someone offers a response. You may still not get it. So you ask again. Once again, there is a response. You may do this a few times. Even come back to it a day or so later, but you are likely, eventually to see something that says it for you - your fellow students have fulfilled the role of the tutor that a tutor could never manage: they only have one voice and they can't give up the huge number of hours - there is one thread in 'Start Writing Fiction' that runs to 7400 posts.

These are filtered in three useful ways: activity, following and your comments. In this way you either look only at the lates posts, the posts of those you are following: say 10 out of 23,000 or, of course, you look back at your comments.

It works.

As for my graphic? Does obscuring the writing assist with anything? By making an effort to read the question are you any more likely to remember it?

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Completed 'Start Writing Fiction' with The Open University on FutureLearn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:04
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Start Writing Fiction

I've been blown away, shaken up, put back together, slapped on the behind, smacked on the back and learnt a huge amount. All I need to do now is spend less time online, and more time writing ... and reading. My blogging days aren't over, but the time devoted to it will be. 

Back to the delights of L.120 L'Ouveture Intermediate French then

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Learning how to learn online with FutureLearn and The OU

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:18
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 My progress on The OU MOOC on FutureLearn 'Start Writing Fiction' (c) FutureLearn 2014

More than any module or exercise I have done over my four years with The OU, it is a MOOC in FutureLearn that is giving me the most thorough experience of where the future or learning lies. I'm in week seven of eight weeks of 'Start Writing Fiction' from The OU, on the FutureLearn platform. Just in these few weeks I've seen the site change to solve problems or to enhance the experience. Subtle lifts and adjustments that make a positive out of constant adjustment. Those tabs along the top: activity, replies where under a tab. I think 'to do' is new while 'progress' was elsewhere. This is a responsive platform that listens to its students.

In the final week we submit our third piece of work.

As assessments go these are far less nerve racking than a TMA. The first piece was 300, the second 500 and the last will be 1000. These are assessed by fellow students. In my case I had one, then two reviews. Most people seem to get at least two sometimes three. The system is designed, I'm sure, to try and ensure that everyone's work is reviewed at least once. Tens of thousands, certainly thousands of people are on the course.

We're here to the 19th of December or so ... if you follow the tracks as laid.  

I hazard a guess that between 20-100 have posted there final piece already. Some, I know, got to the end of the entire course a few weeks ago; I looked ahead to see out of curiosity. There have always been 20 who post comments one, two even three weeks ahead. If 20 are posting I hazard a guess knowing my stats on these things that another couple of hundred could be clicking through the pages to read and observe. They may, like me, be coming back later. They may only be following the course, but not participating. Often, it is like standing on a stage looking into the gloom of the auditorium. Someone probably out there. One or two let you know. The rest don't.

I hope those that race ahead come back ...

I find that if I get ahead then I slow down and retrace my steps. To learn in this connected and collaborative way you are far better off in the pack ... it is not a race to get to the end first. In fact, those who do this have already lost. They've missed the point. I'd suggest to people that if they have the time to do the week over. That's been my approach anyway - the beauty of these things is everyone can come and go as they please, at a pace that suits them. Skip a bit. Go back. Follow it week by week, day by day ... or not. Whatever works works?

There's another very good reason to stay with the 'pack' or to come back and do a week over - the platform depends not on tutors and moderators commenting and assessing work, but us students doing a kind of amateur, though smart, peer review. This is what make a MOOC particularly vibrant, memorable and effective. Not listening to an educator telling us what's what, but the contributors sharing, figuring it out, answering each other's problems in multiple ways. We all learn in different ways and at a pace that shifts too. I find that often a point I don't get first time round, on the second, or third, or even the fourth visit to an activity someone, somewhere puts it in a way that suddenly brings complete clarity - their way of seeing a thing, or expressing it, makes more sense than the writes of the course could manage. Because they can only write one version, not the 'tartan' that comes from an intelligent, threaded online conversation.

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As in sport, so in education - motivation is the key to success

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:20
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Start Writing Fiction FutureLearn MOOC from The OU

I've struggled on two and three week MOOCs but like hundreds, even thousands of others I am entering the penultimate week of eight weeks studying with The OU on the FutureLearn platform. I've said here often that I wished I'd done the Creative Writing BA and if this taster is anything to go by I would certainly have done so ... but money has run out, if not the time I give to these things.

Besides writing fiction this has been the best example of many of how collaborative learning online has a significant future. It makes much else redundant; some courses here at The OU need a shake up now, not in five years time. The 'presentation cycle' of 8 to 12 years will need to be halved in order to keep up. I no longer want the traditional distance learning course of text books and DVD, even if the text and the DVD is put online. It has to be designed and written again onto a blank canvass: migrating books and video, even interactive DVD to the WEB completely misses the most valuable part of being online - interaction with others. Putting content online simply saves someone on distribution costs - not a saving that is passed onto the student.

In 1999 I was expected as a Producer to migrate DVD content to the web. It didn't bandwidth for images, let alone video, made it redundant, let alone the spread and layout of content. Its the kind of transitionary phase all industries go through. Suddenly the old way we learn is looking like the cart and horse, with first e-learning efforts looking like the horseless carriage. In due course hybrids will give way to something wholly new.

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Week 7 'Start Writing Fiction' The OU @ FutureLearn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:12
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mashup from the FutureLearn App using Studio

I continue to wonder what impact FutureLearn will have on future models for e-learning platforms. I turn screengrabs into aide memoires like the one above. 

Comments on the 'Start Writing Fiction' threads are now down from 3000 per thread to a few hundred ... a fall out of 95% is usual for a myriad of reasons. It'll be interesting to find out how many make it to the end ... and in due course who ends up a published author, and most especially how many migrate from a FREE MOOC to a paid-for course with The OU. I have a sense that most on the module are over 60 and broke.

We've just listened to a handful of authors talking about the importance of reading.

I found this insightful and helpful across the board. I relate to Louis de Bernieres in terms of reading habits - different authors, same approach entering and re-entering writing/reading modes in months ... something I need to change i.e. write, edit and read a daily pattern. Patricia Duncker says she read and views everything - a philosophy of Francois Truffaut who I was a fan of, especially trashy novels in his case. And from Alex Garner I see the value of seeing a novel as a screenplay, even as a director setting scenes, something incidentally Hilary Mantel talks about in an OU / BBC interview - write in scenes. Succinct. No messing. It relates to her understanding of how we reader in the 21st century - that we are used to and know the snappiness of the movie and TV. She says that the lengthy descriptions of Victorian novels are no longer palatable. I take from this that we have far too great a vivid view of the world. We know what slums, jungles and places globally look like. We see through time in documentaries, and film and now online. You mention the mud of Passchendaele and most people can picture it from commonly shared photographs and documentaries. An editing exercise reduced 500 words to 50. Most novice writers grossly overwrite. This OU MOOC favours pithy craft. 

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Enriching stereotypes: FutureLearn 'Start Writing Fiction' with The OU

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 2 Dec 2014, 17:42
From Writing

Fig.1. No my usual spot for writing - on a retreat in Devon

Invited by the OU moderator for comments on week long series of exercise on 'enriching character; I write:

"Extraordinary. I'm on my second pass. I came through early, and now return not wanting to get ahead of the conversation. Particularly useful as I am actively writing at the moment, so this is the best of all learning because it is applied. Regarding character it about giving them shape, depth and 'points of interest' - more 6D than even the 2D we are asked to get away from. I visualise characters as hedgehogs with many prickles, but only a few of these matter to the story - though all of them matter to the notebook which I'm gradually coming to care about more and more, cursing the times I 'have a thought' and don't get it down somewhere safely. I am hugely pleased to be here and very proud to be an OU graduate already - not, sadly, from this faculty: yet!"

I'm finding the oddest of balances in my life too: writing for myself from 4.00am to 8.00am. Picking up work from 10.00am to 1.00pm. Then a siesta. I live in the wrong country for this, I'd prefer to be in a hammock in the shade by a pool. Dream on. Evenings from 5.00pm to 9.00pm I am usually 'poolside' teaching or coaching swimmers. Delighting yesterday evening to be back with some squad swimmers I last saw four years ago - now in the mid teens, some achieving amazing things in the water, all at that gangly stage of youth development my own children have come through in the last year. 

The issue then is how or where or why I fit in the OU module <<L120 L'Ouverture. Intermediate French >> I committed to. Learning a language is daunting and outside my comfort zone. What I do know now, not surprisingly, is that all learning comes about as a result of concerted and consistent effort over a long period of time. 

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Don't blog, do something more useful instead

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 27 Nov 2014, 13:43
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 A flippant title for the first draft of a novel set in the First World War

The power of social learning? Just come from two hours of an online meet up. On sunday as eight met in a cafe in Brighton to write. The MOOC has 20,000 on sign up. The Write a novel in a month over 200,000 - novels are written at these events and published. We'll have to see what I can do. There'll be a dedication to The OU should it ever come out.

I've prattled on about blogging and its worth for over 14 years. Regularly kindly people have suggested I stop blogging and put my energy into writing. Courtesy of FutureLearn 'Start Writing Fiction' (From The OU) and the Write a Novel in A Month think for November I have duly written close to 60,000 words. This first draft, I understand, could take two or three months to edit - that will be the next step.

Gladly my early morning hour or two has been spent on this, rather than stacking up things to blog about. Instead I have fretted about scenes, characters and plots. The FutureLearn MOOC became apt and timely 'applied' learning as I'd had to write 1,600 words a day - today I topped 4,500. 

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. Stacking up the numbers

I would have, should have and may yet find a way to do the fully-fledged OU 'Creative Writing' BA - the FutureLearn MOOC has three more weeks to run. More than any MOOC I've ever done I feel certain that this will convert some for doing a freebie to becoming students. It'll be interesting to see what the take up it. I know the percentages from OpenLearn are very modest 0.7% being a good figure. But if there are 200,000 on the MOOC?!

I'll reflect on what this means in due course.

Learning promoted like the Lotto? With badges, prizes, write-ins, writing wars ,,, and more prizes, and tips and incentives. 

What I think it means for e-learning and what personally I have picked up. I shouldn't fret about TMAs anymore. You do a marathon and a short run ought to feel like something I can do in my stride. I always wished I could write first drafts under exam conditions then edit.

Link to the OU

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Charting Progress to 'Write a Novel in a Month'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:26
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Write a novel in a month

Not blogging, not on Facebook, but first thing I write, or plan writing. Then get down anything between 500 and 3000 words. 500 words can be a better day, these are good words.

As an OU student we are guided through our learning on our Student Homepage. These are like railway tracks, or climbing down a ladder. Whilst you can tick off your progress, it is not being measured.  I wonder if a tool such as the above would be handy for preparing a lengthy assignment, say from 4000 words up? Something that you need to build up over a few weeks?

It is 'Start Writing Fiction', an OU FutureLearn MOOC that sees me using 'Write a novel in a month' to complement the course. This makes the MOOC more closely applied to the current task (amongst several). Of all the FutureLearn MOOCs I have done, this, I am sure, must bring students to The OU to do the degree course in 'Creative Writing'. It has weight, there is gravitas and a clear expertise in distance and online learning that is lacking in many others. 

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There's a word for everything

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:28
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Adventures in describing teeth types

'Start Writing Fiction' on FutureLearn courtesy of The OU is brilliant: I have no doubt thousands will sign up for a BA. Meanwhile I've taken the hint about the value of 'peripheral detail' to offer in a line what no paragraphs of description can do.

Several hours ago I had in mind a person as a character and began to describe their face. It all came down to their teeth. This is drawing on a teenage crush of mine and I find images and drawings to back up my idea then plunge through some weighty papers, not least, courtesy of The OU Library, a research paper on the incidence of something called 'dental agenesis' or 'retention of baby teeth' (which might be just one or two), to 'oligontontia' which means the rare retention of many baby teeth (0.14%) due probably to inheritance, reduction in the size and form of teeth, or reduction in the size and shape of the 'alveolar process' (the thickness of the bon retaining the teeth). 

This will do for me, though coming away with one word, 'retruded' which may describe the teeth, but still fails to capture what I want to say. Teeth are either smaller, retained baby teeth, or because of the retrusion they appear smaller. Kirsten Dunst shows a touch of this prior to orthodentic treatment. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2 Post orthodentics for retruded teeth

Orthodentists prefer to adjust the way baby teeth appear in an adult mouth rather than removing them. It depends on how many there are. One is not rare (36%).

The look on the person is of a smaller jaw, the teeth like a row of pegs, the smile of a 9 year old ... though, as I have found, you wouldn't know it.

It is genetic, clusters have be found in Sweden. It can be caused by trauma and illness in childhood.

I am left wondering why one character is studying the mouth of another which such precision. 

REFERENCE

Polder B J, van’t H of M A, Van der Linden F P, Kuijpers-Jagtman A M. A meta analysis of the prevalence of dental agenesis of permanent teeth. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2004; 32: 217–226.

 

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Turn on the radio and take note of the first thing that is mentioned

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:31
From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Week 2, 'Start Writing Fiction' with The OU on FutureLearn

As exercises in 'getting the writing juices going' for an OU FutureLearn MOOC on 'Start Writing Fiction' I felt that this exercise was immediately doomed to fail. I'd put on the radio and have a familar presenter, talking about familar topic in a familiar way and feel about as inspired as realising that I've always used white Abdrex toilet paper. It didn't work out that way at all.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. Alex Salmond coming up Lewes High Street - Putin was coming the over way on a tank

On an iPad I went to BBC iPlayer which was fatal; I'd followed national news on our local town exploding effigies as part of our celebrations of 5th November (Lewes) and listened to Alex Salmond making gross false assumptions on the people of this town who he erroneously cobbled in with all of East Sussex, not even that, but that percentage of the population and subsequent councillors who are Conservatives forgetting as he always does that in any population there is a spread of views - anyway, this just makes me feel that they have his character spot in so this Spitting Image caricature deserves the infamy. I then watched Film 2014 on the latest movie releases before finally clicking to the radio and realising what a cheat this was because I could select the programme.

FiveLive Extra caught my eye, because I never listen to it, but there is a lot of talking. So I opened that, only to curse because sports news has just started and that bores me even more than politics but I decided I had to trust The OU tutors and go along with this exercise anyway : that was nearly 90 minutes ago. A player in ... was it tennis or rugby or football, does it matter? The player was described as 'menacing'.  At first I couldn't see how a current or new character would ever be 'menacing' so I tried the antonym: 'remote', 'unthreatening' - which describes one of my lead characters perfectly.

From E-Learning V

Fig.3. Wonderous word tools - thesaurus.com

What would make him 'menacing' though?

This cracked open his mind and early life experiences like magic and I have been tapping away on my iPad ever since as if my left hand is doing an impersonation of Michael Flately across the glassy QWERTY keyboard. Is that someone who has been a Lewes Bonfire Society effigy? 

P.S. If the radio is on, then turn it off and count to TEN, or switch to another channel. Then jot down the first thing that is said. I'm running with the results for the rest of the evening so its achieved beautifully at what it aimed to do.

A really magic course, so yes, if I hadn't so much other OU baggage I'd be signing up to the creative writing BA programme. One for the wish list if I can ever save up enough. 

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