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Visit to Markstakes Common and beyond

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A visit by The Woodland Trust to Markstakes Common confirmed that this ancient wood is exceptional. How the space is protected from us is another matter. 

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Ancient, Veteran and Notable Trees

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I am now a Woodland Trust 'Lost Woods' trained volunteer looking for ancient, veteran and notable trees in various spots around Sussex. We get 1km squares to 'do' based on where we live and where we visit. I am completing my home patch around the Winterbourne and Houndean Rise in Lewes, and Markstakes Common and surround woods and fields towards South Chailey.

You will find me, hi-vis jacket, tape measure and clipboard walking the woods and fields seeing what I can spot. 

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The Art of Ancient Woodlands

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I'm giving a talk at the AGM of Friends of Markstakes Common. 

An ancient oak tree with a twisting trunk and autumn leaves

I will be talking about how the 34 tress on the National Tree Register have fared since the last survey 13 years ago. A few have died, several have lost limbs, others bits, some appear to have changed very little at all. Its hard to take the long view of ancient trees such as oak, beech, hornbeam, silver birch or ash. Maybe the time to review is every 25 years, or in the case of oak trees, every 50 years? And to keep the process going for several hundred years. 

A couple of ink sketches in a drawing pad showing trees

My art and curiosity as a wannabe arborist and environmentalist/woodland manager finds me both drawing and photographing these trees often: across all seasons and in all weathers. I find strong wind attracts me to the woods ... It intrigues me that beech and oak has a different tensile strength, so oak can be spotted growing through a beech tree by the way it bends and blow out of sync with the 'host' tree. Snow is perfect to add highlights to the winter silhouette of a tree. Spring sees the woodland floor covered in wood anemones and bluebells. 

A single bluebell in amongst last year's brown bracken

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Still at it ... but not for much longer?

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The 'full-time employment' itch may have me decamp from printmaking to 'web editor' once more. We'll see. Meanwhile I'm working still on different approaches to getting colour onto a print of an ancient tree: monoprint mess at home without a large enough roller, painting onto acetate with a brush, or just a cloth dipped in thinners. 

Six different ways to add colour to a print of an ancient beech tree and companion oak

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At it again ... a simple course from Domestika

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A screenshot from an online course on lino printmaking showing text and video

Things have come a long way since I graduated with my MA in Open & Distance Education. And further still from my first stirrings to undertake an OU MA in 2001 when I began, but didn't complete a course in the MA in Open & Distance Learning (as it was then called).

I often reflect on the state of the industry, how normalised learning online and its subset 'mobile-learning' has become. Platforms and apps abound making it easier for anyone, teacher trained or not, to put together a course. 

I'm doing a short course on lino printmaking. It has all the ingredients you'd expect, a series of stepped progressions with video, whatever is said and shown supported with text and additional references and links, and access to a 'Forum' where fellow students doing the course post content and reflect on their progress. Unlike the OU 'in its day' there is no common start time and cohort of students, indeed this course I am doing it rather looks as if it could be 2 years since someone last posted to the forum so I am not holding out for a comment from the Tutor. The thought is there. And for £7.25 I think I'm getting value - some things you need to be shown, not just pick up from a book. In my case I've even had six months of face to face teaching so I can produce a reasonable print - what I needed was a refresher and this gives me just that, and some insights and tips to build upon before I embark on a set of ambitions prints. 

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Courses on your phone

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Screens from an online course comprising short video demonstrations
Mobile e-learning, or e-learning or just 'learning' is now common place with short courses easy to follow on your phone. I liken these to buying a hardback book, thought at £8.95 it is a cheap as a paperback.
The course I am doing on 'dip pen drawing' compromises a series of short videos, and as exactly as initiated here with The OU there is some 'Social Learning' in that you submit stages of your work to a Forum for comment from the tutor and other students. The difference is students are dropping in from around the world at different times so unless there are a large number taking the course you'd get more response from Facebook.
It has me committed. I can go back and redo bits when I am in a better mood for taking in new skills or have the patience to execute what is asked for. 
The end result will be a 'project', for me an ancient tree and a bird, or horse, or person ... that I will then work into a linocut. So the process of creating a dip pen drawing in reverse, given that cutting lino removes the white part of the end result, meaning you can find yourself having to think inside out. Or just differently!
Have you done any of these sort of courses?
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Horses

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Horses are tricky things to draw. Someone who knows horses will tell at a glance if the eyes are in the wrong place, the legs wouldn't work and it looks as if someone 'pinned the tail on' at a kid's birthday party. Trees are more forgiving, buildings better still. The human body is hardest of all - seven years of life drawing and I have a feel for it! But horses?!

I return to a scene in Northumberland of four horses in a paddock that has a huge, ancient beech tree in one corner. When it comes to the horses first, they have to look like horses - then a make of horse (I think 'breed' is the technical term!) will mean they are shorter, taller, fatter, perkier, hairier, or not ... and finally (as you'd want to achieve with a portrait of a person), they need to capture the character of the horse (even if it is a caricature: a Shetland pony is straight forward, maybe a cart-horse too, but there's everything else in between. 

A linocut print of a horse

Once you think you have a drawing, or outline right this must then be transferred to a piece of lino or plywood, and the entire thing cut out. There is no going back (or I haven't found a way to do so). Therefore, after several days of 'cutting' and a few 'graphite rubbings' I ink up and print off an A3 sheet only to find that I've made the head and neck too large and the eye is in the wrong place. Who'd know? My sister was polite. I pointed out that the head was too big - she agreed. She'd been supplying me with pictures of feet all week so they looked OK - but not the head. My fault. I had drawn a larger, detailed head, photographed this, and superimposed it on the body without being careful enough to check back with the original. I hear my mother's voice over my shoulder (she died in 2012) - telling me to 'draw what you see'. Observation, constantly referring back to the real thing counts for a lot (not over referencing photographs). 

A mask over the linocut indicating how the head size needs to be reduced

Anyway. I thought of a solution overnight - I masked off the head, printed up and once dry I will, with great care, ink in a head. Basically, I'll tape a drawing to the French windows, overlay the part-print, draw in the correct head in pencil, then use black ink to finish it off. This isn't to be a finished print, as I will then cheat further by reducing the end result by 200-300%, printing off on fine paper and glue it to a monoprint + beech tree overlay.




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The Ancient Trees of Markstakes Common, East Sussex

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Ink drawing of an ancient oak

Thirty-Four trees were recognised as 'notable' and in a few instances 'veteran': hornbeam, ash, beech, birch and oak. This was in 2011. Since then one tree has fallen, two died and one broken off at around 3m. Does that bring the number down to 30? My searches could add a further six to the list - trees missed a decade ago.

As I explore the woods and try to figure out what makes one tree 'ancient' and another not I have found myself drawing them, in charcoal on A2 sheets in the summer, in a small drawing pad initially, and now in a larger book in ink - once home I transfer the picture onto an A1 sheet and from photographs try to add in the rest of the tree right into the canopy.


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Horses and Trees

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An ancient tree and a horse (or two or three) is more appealing than an ancient tree and a nude model I have found. I've even had a commission to do a portrait of someone's tree.

A woodcut print of a large, ancient beech tree with a set of linocut prints of four horses.

The detail of the horses is too hard to create so the actual prints are far larger and each horse is then reduced to fit the drawing. Though I also have an A1 pastel drawing where the horse prints A4 size can be added directly.


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Zoe Health App

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It's taken some decades to get this far, and no doubt Zoe has its experts to thank. My experience following Zoe, entirely App based on a smartphone, is that it ticks every box as a superlative online or eLearning experience ... or simply 'learning experience'. It is thorough, bitesize, mixes video and audio prompts, has support networks on social media, and an array of ChatBots and real people to provide support. 

I like it the way I loved physics and biology lessons at school - you learn through doing, with the 'experiments' on your own body, from the blood sugar recording of the first two weeks, to building and establishing knowledge about foods with less of the crap (USPs, sugar) and more of the good stuff: fibre, protein, carbs etc: 

My wife got where I am today by reading the books from the likes of Time Spector, Chris van Tulleken and thingey Mosely. I needed more structure, more evidence, more drip feeding. I think it should be the model for learning of this type.


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Two exceptional examples of 'elearning' excellent: Zoe and Couch to 5K

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I sign up to things. I'm a serial committer to learning. I'm up for a 'book study' kind of course, or one involving tasks and experiments. For now though I want to celebrate the achievements of the Zoe Blood Sugar/Fats study, and Couch to 5K from the NHS. I happen to be doing both.

We all know, surely, of the Zoe App and Dr Tim Spector from Covid Days. And surely, you've got wind of the 10,000 people in the US and UK who have now signed up to Zoe. I'm through the three days of formal testing and am on day 3 of the 10 day optional 'challenges'. 

'The Five Stages of Elearning' by Gilly Salmon comes to mind: 

The Five Stages of ELearning by Gilly Salmon (2003)

Though these days where these stages and how the interaction occur has become seamless. Rather than a series of staging pools, or steps, the micro-learning of Zoe, for example, makes it far more intuitive. 

Zoe learning comes in a number of forms: the box of kit and explanatory leaflets (not quite perfect), the App and the controlled steps and gates of Zoe 101, Zoe 102 and Zoe 103 which manages what materials are made available to you. The App includes BBC bitesize 'cards', dollops that are a phrase, or short paragraph followed by a prompt to answer a multi-choice question or to 'submit'. These an element here that triggers a timer, or calendar and prompt which has twice caught me out because the 'submit' implies you have begun a phase at that moment (twice I was reading ahead of myself by a day).

My appetite for further knowledge is only partially satisfied. This is not an academic course, articles in reputable journals are mentioned, but not cited: I'm not going to get a full reference or a link to that journal - which is just as well, as I love vanishing down distracting intellectual rabbit holes. This is something that has to be managed, common sense, the audience, the purpose and look and feel of the learning can all be upset with an abundance of footnotes and links. 

SmartPhone screenshot from the Zoe App




Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jan Pinfield, Monday, 28 Aug 2023, 09:57)
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How to create shade in a linocut

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A piece of lino divided into four to try different cutting techniques, on the dining room table with our dog

I can draw a horse, I've been drawing naked people for the last seven years. Horses have their individual character, the same number of limbs and larger musculature ... they don't keep still unless they are eating which is problematic. I've been trying to capture my sister's horses - she has four: two horses, a pony and a shetland. I will have this wrong, but lets say there are two big ones, a medium sized one a Tiny Turner who is either a Shetland or a miniature Shetland.

My goal is to add them to a landscape featuring one of their grand ancient beech trees. I've referenced Thomas Bewick, but haven't the skill or storytelling talent yet to do a miniature episode of the Archers in a woodcut. I've also referenced Arthur Rackham, but mostly I'm just following videos on youTube and taking advice from the my tutor at Bip-Art.

This was/is the dining room/sitting room. I'm the only one at home, it is raining, so everything I am up to has come in doors.

There are four images of Warrior, each one I am trying, for the eight or ninth time, to capture in a black monoprint using different techniques: the cut, wiping ink from the lino and using a mat. To date what I do is paint over the ghost print, but this makes multiple test images of an edition of 1. 

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And so it trickles to an end

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Once upon a time I wrote a daily diary (I had just turned 13); I kept that up for the best part of twenty years. Then after a ten year gap the internet came along and from September 1999 I kept a blog. All of this merged into this student diary for a period. Surely not in September 2001 when I started my OU MA? It was another ten years before I got properly stuck into this, completed the MA ODE, and a few extra modules, then onwards in, around, 'online learning', which of course isn't really defined as anything separate from learning itself - materials online in their various guises, are as common place, indeed have even replaced books. And maybe pen and ink have gone too?
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Every three hours my focus changes

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 28 Jun 2023, 16:22

This is the way I like it, and would have made many a regular 'job' unsustainable. I don't know that the tally is - 32 jobs in 25 years? But working freelance as one of those 'portfolio' workers I am content to put in three or four shifts: social media and website for an educational charity, a swimming club teacher and coach (one of the largest clubs in the south of England with nearly 1000 members) and a Town Councillor. This morning I was out with a representative for Balfour Beatty who look after the roads around Lewes: potholes, broken kerb stones and damaged pavements. They're on top of it: reported issues are dealt with swiftly. The Western Front Association saw 313 digital members get a PDF copy of our member journal (we have over 6,500 members, 14,000 followers on Twitter and over 40,000 followers on Facebook). And I'm off to Mid Sussex Marlins in a little over an hour to teach a group of 'para swimmers', then take the junior squad I am responsible for (keen 9-13 year olds) and staying on for our Masters - they're impressive, with multiple World Records to their name. 

And as anyone knows who follows me here the rest of the time is mixed between Markstakes Common, where there are 38 recognised ancient trees: oak, beech, hornbeam, ash and birch. I am starting a report on the additional trees that might be added to this list of 'notables'. My eye caught a dead beech stem covered in oyster mushrooms yesterday.

A dead beech branch with a group of oyster mushrooms the health ancient tree in the background

And drawing/printing/painting: once a month to life drawing at Charleston Farmhouse and once a week to BIP-Art in Brighton to print up lino prints. I'm working on a limited series of prints of a huge beech tree in Northumberland - it's a park beech in a field where my sister keeps her horses. 

A part printed, part stamped, part painted draft painting/drawing of a stylised ancient beech tree with a horse in its shade

So, lots to keep me busy. And for a week we've had a family friend over from Poland. He lives in a city close to the Belarus border and reads Russian so kept us ahead of the news over the weekend by reading what he was getting from Telegram. The aircraft and helicopters shot down by the Wagner mercenaries were being reported as they happened. 

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The environment and sustainability

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Jonathan Vernon in a high-vis jacket surveying potholes on Talbot Terrace

Reelected recently to one of the greenest Green Councils in the country (Lewes), I am inadvertently bringing together a gaggle of interests, some tangential, some relevant.  Following a talk on the 'Fungi of Markstakes Common' I am fast moving towards papers/talks on the 'Ancient Trees of Markstakes Common' - those identified 13 years ago (the ash have died, one Beech is a pile of dead wood, two other beech and one hornbeam have lost major stems, as with one of the silver birch - now dead. I could add another 12 to the old list.

Dealing with people is no less engaging and uses similar skills. I was out this morning with a tape measure to look at some local potholes and bring these to the attention of the Conservative run East Sussex County Council which is increasingly looking like the institution that blocks everything - these constipated Conservatives will be duly removed from power, where, in truth they have 'sat on their hands' for too long - doing little, taking their stipend.

But that's politics, and we don't want any of that here.

I'm itching for appropriate postgraduate study on woodland management, biodiversity, sustainability or some such but fear that too much that that is on offer is either dated, or to expensive. 

An online course on Fungi for £40, something on trees for £90. Do I need it, or want it.

Anyone used Chat.ai.open yet? 

Had it been around over the last decade I would have use it to assist with essays and dissertations. I find it/her/him an intelligent tutor, not always getting it right, but able to collate information and produce a coherent point of view. Like all tools though it/he/she must be 'triangulated' - we need references. 

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 7 Aug 2023, 05:57)
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My only link to postgraduate learning

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Online providers have developed, and potentially stumbled if AI interferers. For now, I cannot see anything less than human engagement from a tutor/tutors, and fellow students as a motivation to stay the course. That said, I can totally see how the trials and tribulations over six months or more to get a dissertation out of me from a tutor could have been dealt with over a weekend by Chat.AI. It was a case of de-scrambling my multiple, mass ideas and references from soup to a spaghetti with coherent lines of argument. 

Meanwhile, if you Google 'Lewes District Council' you will find where and what I've been at for the last 9 months. I've learnt that for all my love of digital nothing beats a piece of paper through the letterbox, and a conversation tipped to listening to the resident with a problem, complaint or an idea. 

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Politics, Printmaking and wonderful woods in spring

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With the May 4th elections fast approaching I'm out and about 'door knocking', delivering newsletters and creating social media for the Lewes Green Party. Otherwise I have my daily vigil to the woods: typically Markstakes Common, though other woods around Lewes are available. All this and weekly printmaking at Bip-Art in Brighton.

A woodland view in early spring. A small stream and footbridge, hornbeam with fresh spring leaves.

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Fungi of Markstakes Common

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Five weeks ago I was invited to give a talk on the fungi of Markstakes Common; not that I'm a mycologist, simply because it is known that I've taken a few nice pictures with my fancy iPhone 11 over the last 9 months. I then sit down to prepare my talk. I'm thinking I'll get to 16 or so mushrooms - the number I estimate I will identify once I start going through the photographs (I have over 2,000 shot on the Common, initially of the 'notable' trees in various stages across the seasons, then what I call 'PosNots' 'Possible Notable' trees which I wish to add to the national register. And then photos (and video) under different weather conditions: drenching rain, frost and snow, as well as high and increasingly low sunshine morning, midday and early evening over the year. Then I get down to pulling out the fungi photos.

Photograph of Upright Coral Fungi which looks like white coral.

I had got to over 60 slides about two weeks ago, and have now pushed it to 87. Even if you take a few off the times I have used two slides that still is far more than I expected, and a morning workshop not a short talk at an AGM. I'll have to pick my favourites. 

Photograph of a Scarlet Elfcup mushroom which looks like a piece of hollowed out orange with a red plastic inside.

That is how scientific it will be: the ones that look the best, so the Oyster Mushrooms I spotted a few weeks ago, the Scarlet Elfcup I was amazed to spot the other day (I thought it was a crushed Coke can someone had pushed under some logs), as well as the extraordinary Candlesnuff, Coral and Porcelain mushrooms, and the tiny bonnets, Puffballs, Common Earthball as well as Polypores, Brackets and Conks. 

A close up photograph of a porcelain mushroom which is white, delicate, like a miniature Starship Enterprise on a stick!

That would do it. I'll leave slimes and moulds for another day and won't even start on lichens. 


Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Gill Burrell, Saturday, 18 Mar 2023, 17:29)
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Still At It

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A dining table covered in printmaking materials, sketches, vinyl, paper and tools.

I've established myself permanently at the kitchen table. If we eat together it is with stuff pushed to one side or on our knees in front of the TV. Setting up tools and materials for home printmaking requires clobber - a lot of it.

A multi-coloured sketch of a group of oyster mushrooms and the black and white hand print of the same

I am a dozen prints behind the one I want to do. Some are part of a list, such as the Fungi of Markstakes Common.These are modest, and postcard sized. My life model meets tree (Markstakes Woman to go with Markstakes Man) are A3, With some tangling of the brain required this has required cutting out three sheets of vinyl, one for yellow, another for blue and a third for black. How they will turn out is anyone's guess. I made multiple tiny thumbnail mockups to figure it out and never quite resolved it, not least because I see no place for blue, and so don't need to mix it with yellow to create green - I can just use green. This design better lends itself to the 'jigsaw' technique, where each element: the life model, the tree, the fungi, would be a different piece, inked up then assembled before printing.

A work in progress. A copy of my so called 'Markstakes Woman' - a copy of a life drawing sketch standing in front of a tree

I can't really afford it. Though it has been my intention for some time to create enough content to justify a stall/exhibition at this year's Art Wave/Open House. I will have prints galore of mushrooms, of my life models (men and women being tree-like), and maybe something iconic, like Lewes Castle (I have a drawing of the castle in the snow from 12 years ago I worked on extensively at the time, to the point of purchasing a canvas the size of the sofa). I never got the oils out. That really does need space. All to come.


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Arting About

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I'm at at again. My late Mum taught me at home and I took an A' Level in Art age 17 before the 'usual' three A' Levels the following year. 

At the School of Communication Arts, London I went from copywriter to art director to possible illustrator in two terms - but did nothing with it.

Twenty years ago my mum was pointing me towards academics she know who taught art about taking an MA in Fine Art. I procrastinated, though I put a book together.

I settled into Life Drawing six years ago and printmaking this January.

A chine collé print showing the figure of a man against a stylised tree with fungi

Who knows what'll come of it. It keeps me out of trouble I suppose, though it is an expense to indulge: paper, inks, access to a press ... 


Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 13 Feb 2023, 12:02)
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Learning Online!

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Here's something rare? Something about e-learning, or learning online, or simply 'doing a course online'.

A slide from a presentation by Hollie Fields on 'How to teach diving'

I have done two of them recently, both for Swim England, both a speaker online with a set of slides, Zoom and break out rooms. No assessment included at all, so I could just as easily had the camera off and watched telly. 

Both were show and tell slide presentations, one better than the other, both perfectly informative. I didn't have to take notes, I did. I didn't have to take screenshots, I did. I didn't have to write one of them up on 'How to teach diving', but I did. And I'll write a 'poolside guide' too.

Anyone with enthusiasm for a topic and a nifty line in Slides/PPT skills can teach online. A lesson is a meeting online; we've all done hundreds of those now.

It's no longer e-learning is it? Or even distance learning.

It's why I orientated towards teaching (I have a Cert.Ed) - my first year towards a PGCE, Teaching online is simply a skill that teachers should have in their toolkit. The class could be small, or large, anywhere in the world, and at anytime. A recording and a set of questions in a quiz are easy enough to conjure up. 

Game over? Is the MAODE still taught.

Me? I'm after a course on Environmental Sustainability to go with my Green councillor and activist credentials, maybe something more to keep me up to date on creating and managing content for websites and social media. I attend classes on life drawing and printmaking. 

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Inspired

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Professor Raphie Kaplinksky speaking at the launch of the Human Nature Planning Application for the North Street Quarter

Ever quisical, the launch of the Human Nature Phoenix Development on the North Street Quarter of Lewes has left me inspired. It wasn't even from one of the speakers, rather a panelist, and not even from a question he answered, but from his brief introduction, in which Prof Raphie Kaplinsky summed up his view on the next 'techno-economic paradigm' and why developments such of this matter. He's an economic historian. I gravitate towards academics I guess. I googled him. I had his book on 'Sustainable Futures' within a day. Music to my ears. 

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Had enough of me?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 13 Jan 2023, 16:23

I rather think after 12 years this can come to and end. It has NOT chartered by career progress through Online Learning - nothing much came of it. I rather think the opportunity came and went in 2000 (oh yes), when I initially started an MA in Distance Learning with the OU and I was at a fledgling web agency.

Since then a diagnosis of ADHD and realising that I have to live with the grain of it, rather than try and change means that any full-time job (so called) is out of the question. I can, and will, even prefer to 'work' 60 to 80 hours a week, but need to be juggling four or five contrasting, usually unrelated, non-complementary activities. Don't pin me down, put me at a desk, nail me to a set of tasks ... so Councillor, activitivisit, social media for four organisations (two paid, two volunteer), professional sports coach, life drawing, and now printmaking ... and volunteer work in and on/for a couple of nature reserves. 

Content. Sort of. I could do with another degree but find writing book reviews (WW1 history), and reading WW1 academic papers covers that, while learning French (still with Lingvist after 5 years) and and now Adobe covers this desire to be forever learning. And the five or six books by the bed: creativity, Thomas Paine, Rainforests of the British Isles ... 

I know my trees, am doing well with fungi and am starting to take an interest in lichens. I visit Markstakes Common at least 3 times a week, sometimes every day, for an hour to 90 minutes or longer. As a 'Friend of Markstakes' I am doing volunteer work most Monday mornings. 

I'll call this a day when it gets to 10 million views (unless of course I sign up to another OU course, beginning an OU PhD or get employed by the OU (again) - which seems unlikely. Once bitten, twice shy (for both of us). 

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What will you be studying in 2023?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 24 Dec 2022, 04:05

Keeping several balls in the air I will be returning to professional development as a professional swimming coach - I'm 'poolside' as we say for 15 hours a week, and am working with swimmers who go to County, Regional and National Events.

As well as life drawing I'm now printmaking in the hope that I can cover my costs at least for studio/workshop time and materials. I need stuff I can exhibit and sell.

Which brings me to woods. 18 months in the woods and 9 months returning several times a week to one has me informed, but not knowledgeable enough to contribute to council meetings on land/woodland management. 

And there's always teaching - not online, or 'at a distance', but there in front of students!! 

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Adobe Express

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Now that I am doing social media for four groups, as well as a bit myself, I have been trying platforms to schedule content as well as using more than the basics to create images/stories. It was therefore with delight that I returned to Adobe Express the other day and not only find it intuitive to use, but low and behold I get a scheduler to upload my content to.

The learning is supported every stop of the way with clear 'just in time' prompts and hints. I love it! 

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