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Coursera Partner Conference 2016

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 22 Mar 2016, 04:19

Gumption and enthusiasm has me attending the Fourth Annual Global Coursera Partner Conference at The World Forum, The Hague, The Netherlands ... The World, I feel like adding. 

Four years ago I will have been in my final modules of the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education and wowing Daphne Koller's TED lecture on the future of learning. She went on to co-found Coursera.

Well, I've sat behind her in conference, brushed passed her in various meetings, breakouts and hallways and all in all behaved like a shy fan. I'll introduce myself to her: everyone does, I've met so many of her team. I'd be wrong to compare it to being at 'Court' and trying to gravitate towards the 'centre of power' - there's no snobbery at all, just a preponderance of Americans with laid-back California shuffling up against the perceived formalities of Europe.

I'm here, in The Hague, (first time to The Netherlands) because of an online discussion at the conclusion of the Coursera MOOC 'Learning How to Learn' a few days ago. Dr Barbara Oakley invited her online students to come to the Marriot Hotel on Sunday night for a 'meet up'.

I realise now that this was a 'reach out' to some of the 14,000, or was it 140,000 students who did this short online course in January this year. I made it 30 minutes late to the meet-up having flown in on the EasyJet flight from Gatwick. It was like fans at a book signing (books were signed). 

Registered to attend the 4th annual Coursera Partner Conference.

I had convinced the organisers that I was responsible, genuine, interested and willing to contribute, and come out for three days.

And yes, I met Barbara Oakley, the course chair, author and presenter of 'Learning How to Learn'. She spotted me looking sheepish and us Brits are (and do), came over, must have recognised me from a profile photo (the one above that I use everywhere) and made me feel welcome, acknowledging a short email exchange we'd had that morning that had given me the green light with the organisers. 

Two hours of 'networking' with Barb's other students who had come in from within 50 miles of the Marriot Hotel, The Hague and my first moments of the conference are done.

Yesterday the 4th Coursera Partner Conference started at 6.00am.

I was out of the hotel door at 7.00am and making small talk with other delegates ten minutes later. The very first person I met, from California, turned out to have 'gotten' into the Coursera Conference under the same pretext as me: a 'student' of online learning, a 'student' of 'Learning How to Learn' not an official 'partner' ... and soon keen to hear all about the MAODE, which I 'sold' to her.

Just over 12 hours later I was trying to leave the conference, after keynotes, breakouts, workshops, poster pitches, creative brainstorming, and friendly banter and networking at every coffee and meal break. I say 'trying' because I realised that as I left the World Forum (a vast, to my eyes 'Commonwealth' like UN edifice) that I was taking a mental break from it all by 'looking for a picture' and photographing some colourful chairs in the entrance lobby.

The World Forum, The Hague - Lobby Chairs

 

I say 'trying' as a delegate, one of the 550 or the 600 I had not yet met, offered to take my picture thinking I was itching to do a selfie and we soon got talking about the conference, and because she is Dutch, the wonders of The Netherlands and The Hague. She thought I'd have been better off staying in a hotel in the city Centre, a 10 mins tram ride up the road. She recommended which museums I could fit into my 1/2 day I have given myself on Wednesday.

Jonathan Vernon in the lobby of The World Forum, The Hague, The NetherlandsIronically, I was taking photographs as part of another Coursera course I am doing" 'Photography: Basics and Beyond', a hobbyist one.

I got back to the hotel and even found the energy to do 30 mins of that: I know from experience never to get behind with studying - a little bit everyday is the only answer. 

Writing up a day that packed in a week's worth of experience

I'd like to think I have a couple of weeks of thinking and writing to sort through it all. I realise now I ought to have recorded the '30 second pitches' of all the 'Posters' I stood beside (these are infographic summaries printed onto A1 sheets of academic papers - in this case on studies into e-learning, and of Coursera MOOCs in particular).

I also have a career to press on with

I am currently 'advising' indirectly a couple of faculties via the backdoor as 'alumni' in geography, history and the creative arts. I am also hoping that the University of Sussex will bring me in for interview (Learning Technologist), and I suppose, writing here because I am with nervous excited about to apply to The OU (again) to take up a role in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) supporting the design of online learning.

Nothing like catching it at the last minute: the application has to be in Noon Wednesday. I will be heading for Schiphol Airport then so I've got to cut and paste my CV into the OU format, and get my 'Personal Statement' written this evening. (Over at FutureLearn you just link to your LinkedIn profile and that use that as your CV). 

So, I'm still blogging 'here' and perhaps soon to be back at The OU. 

I see I missed my sixth anniversary of starting this blog - that was a month ago. I haven't exactly posted much this last year. 16 or so entries? I posted every day for several years and right through my graduate course 'Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education'. Maybe, at last (about time), that will pay off. 

The content I share from the 4th Coursera Partner Conference will be written with the respect it deserves. Some information is under a press embargo for another week, whilst the detail in some events or content I will only share in any detail in my 'learning blog' 'Mind Bursts' with the OK of the organisers. I met people who use competitive platforms, such as EdEx and Udacity, so it might not be a problem. I haven't met anyone who uses The OU offshoot 'FutureLearn' as a platform. They're not so dissimilar. 

 

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Learning

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It's taken a short, free Coursera course on 'How to Learn' for many lose strands of my thinking to come together. This light, video based run through the basics has depth: the references and reading lists are copious. I'll go back and read these.

As I continue to work online I now expect certain patterns to be in place including setting the context, short carefully selected 'chunks' of information and insight, repetition and testing.

It isn't The OU, but I'm currently learning about Search Engine Optimisation (online), Digital Photography (online), French and Spanish (offline with Rossetta Stone). I am also doing a more traditional course, in talks, tutorials and on the water to pass my Yachtmaster's Certificate (sailing).

An amusing note on this: I joined the Royal Yachting Association and my default name is 'Admiral Vernon'. No one at the RYA can figure out how to fix this as it appears to be 'locked'. 

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Learning how to learn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 16 Jan 2016, 07:15

 

My laptop mounted on a lectern and book stand

Standing at my laptop. A trapped nerve requires it. An old school lectern from a flea market and a book stand do the job. This, or a stool on the kitchen table perhaps?

I rather think all of us. Indeed all sixth form, college and university students, ought to 'Learn how to learn'. You'd imagine having spent long enough studying education to have an OU MA that I'd know something about the learning process, yet over and over again I will read something different or watch something I've not done before as the picture has never been either clear or stable.

And then along comes this free online course (MOOC if you will) from Coursera.

'Learning how to learn'

It's in week too. I feel as if several important and disjointed ideas, some I feel I had come to independently, are now being drawn together. I know The OU have, or try to do this somewhere, possibly in Open Learn and historically in a book first published in the 1990s.

'Learning how to learn' is if anything reassuring and encouraging to us all. I see too, now that I'm in my 50s, that a few of my old school friends have the title 'Professor' in front of their name, or QC at the end of it. It may have taken them 25 years or more to get there, but it was gradual and incremental and with no exceptions I have to reflect 'who would have believed it'.

 

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Colm Toibin on writing

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 4 Jan 2016, 16:11

 I caught this in the introduction to Desert Islands Discs on Sunday.  

Thinking is often the enemy of rhythm , you start something because an image a character a moment a scene moves almost of its own accord into rhythm. It seems to want to become a sentence.With writing thinking is often the enemy of rhythm , you start something because an image a character a moment a scene moves almost of its own accord into rhythm. It seems to want to become a sentence.

Colm Toibin goes on to describe what he needs to write: solitude, peace and silence. 

 

Colm Toibin goes on to describe what he needs to write: solitude, peace and silence. 

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Sailing the Atlantic

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I say 'yes' too often? 

I sailed the Atlantic last month: Nov 21st to Dec 14th. Home on the 19th and five more days to recover; I was 'land sick'. They don't tell you about that one sad The world slewed about whenever I got up. I reached out to grab things as if I was still onboard.

Ximera, pronounced 'Shimera' is quite a vessel: 58ft with a mast 25m high. Made in Germany then sailed by the owners (brothers who split the ownership 95/5%) to England, then around to Barcelona- I joined her from Gibraltar last year for a week.

Unable or unwilling to sail her for longer I joined Ximera in Gran Canaria towards the end of November. Two days prep then we sailed for Cape Verde.

It blew hard without hesitation. We sailed 8 or 9 nautical miles an hour, 200nm a day in a Force 5 with gusts of 25 knots. This impressed the two guys who had sailed the Atlantic 9 and 12 times before. I was seasick for a few hours: pitiful but it went. Just as well the swell was 3m and we bounced and lurched all of the way no matter how much sail we put up.

We are six: two have 40 years each of ocean sailing and multiple Atlantic crossings. The others have sailed since birth around the UK or Med. I feel like a passenger as I have at most 20 weeks of 'leisure' motorsailing and dinghy racing experience. I have responsibilities though: the inventory and cooking. I am made the 'quartermaster'.

Then three days in Cape Verde, in the only Marina 'Mindelo'. A crew change and onwards across the Atlantic to Barbados.

With six of us the 'watch' in pairs runs as follows: 06h00 to 10h00, 10h00 to 14h00 and 14h00 to 18h00 then overnight 18h00 to 21h00, 21h00 to 24h00, 24h00 to 03h00 and 03h00 to 06h00.

I learnt a good deal about people, about me, about teamwork and tolerance, about learning too. And I pushed my capacity to sleep anywhere - with the noise, sometimes violent movement and increasing heat and humidity. Half way across the Atlantic we went around in shorts and slept on towels - or didn't sleep at all. By the end of it I just collapsed and slept for 12 hours at one stage: we all did. Sailing through the night with powerful squalls damaged the kit and we came into Port St Charles minus the gib and geneker - both out of action from excessive gusts.

And I read three books (I review histories of the First World War), and I read five novels (the Poldatk series, nothing but light escapism after the first week) ... And we cooked our way through some memorable meals. 

 

 

 

 

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I spend my day reading and writing and call it work

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It isn't quite the 'life academic' but as the digital editor for The Western Front Association I spend a good part of my week reading and writing. I've learnt to be far less precious. I am more confident too in my writing ability. I just get on with it, proof read it with the app 'Grammarly' and move on.

Medical News Today introduced me to 'Grammarly'. I was expected, while there, to deliver two articles a day on medical matters based on press releases from medical research departments. We had to write in American or 'US' English. 'Grammarly' does more than any App I have used before. It 'infests' every sentence you write and picks up all the usual stuff and style, word choice, grammar, sentence structure and so on. Even though it is still wedded to US English only for now I do find it is a more smooth, intuative and ever present support that replaces the spellchecker and separate thesaurus I would use. 

Give it a shot: Grammarly.

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Further studies

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I will be joining the University of Wolverhampton next year to complete an MA in British Military History that I started at the University of Birmingham last year. This will bring my tally to three MA degrees, one BA degree, on top of other full-time postgraduate study, MA equivalent, at the School of Communication Arts. Bonkers. Had I known I enjoyed studying I should have gone the PhD route a couple of decades ago. 

I blame The OU for creating this compulsion to be studying. 

I have three jobs: digital editor, e-learning consultant, and swim teacher coach - fourth, though as yet unpaid as a sailing instructor. I rather want to do a cooking course too and spend a winter or summer season in a restaurant - that would stop me reading books by the stack.

No messing, I read and review two history books a month. I always look at these things and thinks 'I'll never get through that' then do. I then read it again. It is my respect for the author; I read them all twice. I think some of it is staying in my head too. 

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Cooking up an Atlantic storm

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Lamb tagine with dates, honey, almonds and pistachio

Whatever next.

I've had a couple of weeks to get my head around for the inventory for 6 to sail the Atlantic on the 19th. It'll take three weeks. Suddenly the weekly shop looks huge. 6 adults for breakfast, lunch and evening meal for 21 or more days. We are thinking of 4kg sacks of rice here. Of large quantities of dried, vacuum packed, tinned and frozen foods. 

And having produced a spreadsheet for the period I know realise I have given no thought to how long each meal might take to prepare, or washing up afterwards. Let alone if it is very rough. Or how much fishing we'll do - we will. I'm told one crew member caught a Merlin which fed them for the rest of trip.

As I blog everything I've set up Ximera Cooks

My teenage son has been treated to this lunch and evening over half-term. I'm loving doing it. A couple of disasters and rubbish recipes, others like the other really delicious. 

 

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EdD

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This is my only option left! I could go around in circles adding another degree, or two. Turning the two further modules in education I have into an MeD for example, or putting these together with another 60 credits from the University of Birmingham towards an Open degree.

The OU Student 'Next Steps' App has come up with doctoral research in education. As ever I come to this with a crazy deadline looming. Applications have to be in by the end of November. However, I am committed to something of an adventure on the 19th - I join a yacht to sail across the Atlantic. They'll want me on board to crew, take my stint on the helm and more especially I'm the cook who has been spending the last few weeks preparing the inventory to feed six grown men for three weeks!

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MA History Part II

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 23 Oct 2015, 05:39

I couldn't be kept away for too long. I feel the urge to turn the reading and writing I do in any case into a degree. I have 60 credits from the University of Birmingham towards their MA in British Military History studied part-time Oct13 to Aug14. A day long residential once a month with NO online support is not how I like to learn: not after four years with the OU. I could transfer to the University of Wolverhampton for some of the star academics in First World War history but once again would have to get myself 275 miles up various motorways once a month. In any case, I am coming round to seeing the First World War as a development in and natural outcome of various Empires developing their teeth, or losing them (Germany and Turkey) while other, France, Britain, and Russia hoped to keep theirs. The First World War was not 'won' or 'concluded' satisfactorily ... Russia remained in conflict mode, not least against re-emerging nations such as Poland, the Middle-East was fractured, while in Germany resentment grew. 

The OU got back to me to say they couldn't accept my 60 credits for this course at this level of study. I will, therefore, think about the transfer to the University of Wolverhampton to complete an MA in British Military History with the UK experts starting in October 2016.

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A new as adventure

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 23 Oct 2015, 05:40

I'm crewing on Ximera, a 58ft yacht, sailing out ot the Canaries arounf the 19 November, down to Cape Verde then across the Atlantic to Barbados. I am also the cook. There will be seven of us. Suddenly cooking for the family doesn't look like enoug. I have to plan the inventory too. 

I'm looking at fresh food out of port, and then more pasta and rice based dishes, some with sauces I prepare and freeze. I hate cooking from tins, but will have to. I'm not sure how much capacity thtere is for forzen. There is vaccum packed and dry foor too. 

Whilst cooking at home has always been a case of 'what's in the cupboard' and 'what's in the garden' or ... a quick trip to corner shop, supermarket, farm shop or quay, this has to be planned. I ma therefore working through some cook books for menus.

To start with I'll do a one week menu and simply multiply this three/four times.

Then I'll refine it, and share it with the rest of the crew.

With a month to go I also plan to try out things I've not cooked before on the family. More pasta dishes, more use of couscous as well as rice - curries for the first time as well.

Butternut squash will keep for a few weeks surely? Onion in a paper sack carefully stored. Onions as well?

Anyone out there got ideas? Done a 'great adventure' like this or regularly cook for seven adults and have suggestions.

My other thinking is to start vegan, add some milk products and fish, and have red and white meat frozen or in tins. These days that is how we eat, far less milk products, meat and fish less often and 'local'. 

I wonder if we'll fish?

 

 

 

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181 short of 5,000 posts

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I'm a sucker for the numbers game. I thought getting to a million views was enough. Suddenly I see another goal. Time was that this would be achieved in 181 days: I posted every day without fail for at least the first year of my OU MA degree. 

I currently post about twice a month. The OU will kill off my blog before I get to 5,000 posts as it is now 18 months since I was doing an OU degree. I think we have three years grace here, after which I will be toppled like a redundant Lenin statue and the next best thing will take over. My former tutor, Christopher Douce who has a far bigger following/readership if you measure it by the audience he gets to far, far fewer posts. He writes long, very long ... you get your money's worth of 2,000 even 3,000 words coverage. 

I tend to be more pithy and self-indulgent. 

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There's a new font

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I've looked at these pages often enough over five years to spot the change. Sharper text and icons, and a slight change in font choices?

Meanwhile, I once again question my sense in taking an MA in Open and Distance Education as the MA has provided me with none of the practical tools to design e-learning, or to code. I know the theory. I can talk the hind legs off a dog. Which I guess has prepped me for selling. Which is just as well, as I have moved on from writing about Angelina Jolie's breasts and will from Monday be writing about e-learning to the City.

I was writing about Angelina Jolie's breasts in relation to her double mastectomy.

 

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How to write 500 words

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I can write 2,000 words. I can write 5,000 words. The OU taught me. This is academic writing. How do I become a journalist though? How do I take the same papers I've read for years and reduce them to a few hundred words without getting my head in a knot?

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Thank you OU. You've taught me to simplify the complex

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It has taken a few years longer than I had hoped, but the intellect that the OU stretched, spat out, embraced and developed is now being put to good use.

It is like writing a TMA every day ... and then cutting the word count by a quarter. The intention to make sense of academic papers as they are published; it happens to be on medicine. No, I am not an M.D, but the OU has taught me how to think and express myself.

Children of warmer, less controlling parents 'grow up to be happier.'

This article gets a plug, but it could have considerable resonance with some OU students. Brought up, as some of us were, in the 1960s, we could have had parents who were more controlling than others. They in turn, in my family at least, had their parents who brought them up in the 40s under very tight control.

So it does our heads in forever more?

 

 

 

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/298898.php

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Nudge learning

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Prompted at the right moment - you can having suprising effects.

I caught this on BBC Radio 4 at 08:45 this morning on the way to the dentist. Yonks ago I started a blog 'nudge learning.' It's not a new idea at all. In advertising, for decades they have taught creatives that all you are doing is influencing a shopper as they reach for a product to buy theirs not the other one. In corporate training they have 'just in time learning' where you 'position' the learning alongside the job: you learn as and when you need to.

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Student skills

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1. Reading.

Faced with a 385 page hardback history book (on the role Indian soldiers played on Gallipoli) to read and review I settled down to get through it on Saturday morning and got to the end midmorning Sunday : with notes. Best practice is then to read it again - right away. You can be suprised by what you missed the first time, so much so that it feels like reading a different book. More notes then write a review. I used to type up those notes: no more. The review is an adequate aide memoire. 

Engage with the content, so talk with others about it. Give the information a chance to embed. 

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Absense makes the heart grow fonderis on

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It is that time of year when I must commit to further learning or postpone. I now have three jobs: quite enough to keep my fully occupied and even learning - at someone else's expense. As content writer for a massively followed global medical website I research and post content based on the stream of academic papers being published (around three articles a day); as the digital editor of a First World War website I write and edit, and in both cases post content online - between two and five articles a day - manage the websites and feed/moderate social media. For pleasure, and 'work' I read and review books too - I reckon on a thorough review of two books a month. And when I'm not doing that, to escape from the computer screen, I both teach and coach swimming: typically 7-12 year olds being taught and developed through our club and then typically 13-15 year olds being coached. It works. And when the swimming stops or reduces I sail - again with a club, as often as not out in a safety boat bouncing along the south coast. Busy enough? Not much in the way of e-learning other than a little consultancy for a financial trainer. Have I used my MA in Open & Distance Education? Only on the latter, though maybe further in due course. Picking up an MA in British Military History is on the cards. 50% there, but got enough on my plate and I am more immersed in the subject than any student any way. 

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How to create eSmart content design for your readers

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 22 Jul 2015, 18:12

Years of writing, learning and working online and I reduce it to this to explain to others

From E-Learning X

 

Whilst 'content' is arguably still 'king' - without something to say, said well no amount of design or 'e' will fix it - the smart side of things: how content interacts, connects, behaves and reports all adds to the experience.

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

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

What has the OU prepared me for?

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

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How should the First World War be taught in schools?

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

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

How do you introduce the First World War to students?

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

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

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

 

 

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Museums in the 21st Century

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Online courses have a role to compliment other ways of sharing artefacts and communicating ideas and views. Would a book or TV programme replace a visit to the museum? They are places to visit, to walk around, in company or alone. And to return to over and over again. Apps and MOOCs are no panacea, nor replacement technology. What is more I believe they will require refreshing far more often than the typical museum to hold people's interest. 

Family associations, variety and interactive. People clearly have an affinity to a particular space based on reasons of culture and personality. I like to be surprised, so the quirky matters, or evidence of a curator's choices. There might be a gem of world renown or a curiosity crested by a local artisan. Ancient and contemporary might sit side by side. Visiting the De La Warr for an exhibition of a designer's life story the end of the gallery had a vast open table strewn with magazines. There were pieces of card, scissors and glue. While listening to and watching a video documentary we were invited to create our own works. I went back five times with different family members. 

The most memorable, earliest and favourite museum visits as a child was to the Science Museum, as was in the 1960s I guess, in the Exhibition Park, Newcastle. Many of the exhibits operated with the turn of a handle or the push of a crank: it worked. You saw something happening. Was it self explanatory? Keep it simple. Museums go wrong when they make it too whizzy. 

The museum experience with a child, or as a child, reveals so much more - to play off their curiosty, mystery and mischevousness. You see everything with fresh eyes. (edited)

Fascinating as a visitor to museums, someone with an interest in e-learning and learning and with an editorial role in a 'museum like' website ... that perhaps needs a base in the real world. A case of giving the virtual bricks and mortar.

So what next? The virtual museum? How about converting a cruise ship into a museum any twking it around the world 'The Museum of the World.' It's a radio comedy but I love the chat show 'The Museum of Curiosities' because in a kind of way between the comedians and the academic guests a serious pint is made about treasuring ideas, the quirky and the personally chosen oddities. 

I found the Museum of London like this - multiple ways of interaction, a few discretely placed computer screens tucked away at the end of one gallery, but also a selection of tough information boards that you pick up and carry around. So you find your way to interact, to pick through the information ... being of universal appeal though is tricky. Curators have to let go of their egos and put the visitor first. 

I like the concept of architectural design and the building it produces as a 'conversation.' It makes me think of a heart too, of values with doors that open and close, with the flow of people through, around and out ... and back again. It matters, in my experience of museums, to become a friend of a place: to return to museums you visited as a child with your own children, to go their with friends to hang out for coffee and to eat, even to meet business colleagues to walk and talk around and with the exhibits. It flushes out the mind.

'Community Art' adds vitality, shows respect to the immediate community and gives that artist and others like them a necessary boost. I cannot help but reflect on the number of times over the last few years where the thing that has left the most lasting memory from a visit to the museum has been a piece of community or contemporary art produced on a theme from the host museum - it brings the thinking and imagination into the current moment. 

I've studied mobile learning and the web for a decade so this is music to my ears. It recognises too how contemporary forces have to be part of the dynamic that influences the design of a museum. As I thought, coming to this course, thinking about the modern museum will inform my views on what is required in the design of an effective learning website. It makes me wonder if something like Wikipedia, for example, is too fixed in its presentation that is book-like, catalogued and even linear. Like a modern museum information needs to be freed and offered in more of a carousel or kaleidoscope. In other words reflecting or mirroring the way the imagination functions in the human brain. 

Besides the invaluable process and community contribution, when, where even how else do curators, designers and trustees otherwise set aside so much time to think through what they plan to do first? This alone is of huge value. Thinking it through over an extended period of time with an emphasis on the lifeblood of the museum: its visitors. 

I can think of two occasions where different museums have very clearly set out to 'choreograph' the emotions: the IWM, London and the 'In Flanders Fields' Museum, Ypres. In the former visitors had to stoop down to look into a partially hidden cabinet that contained children's shoes, all in a heap, from Aushwitz. The act of getting down felt like getting on one knee to speak to a child. In the latter, entering a tall, vertical space masked from the rest of the 'gallery' you intially find blank walls, then you turn up to the roof and find a dozen, maybe 16 photographs of soldiers horribly disfigured by the war. Once again, the physical act of twisting to look up played a part in setting you up to feel 'off kilter'. 

'Empathy,' opportunity to reflection, clearly signposted options ... the Holocaust exhibition at the IWM was closed to anyone under the age of 14 without an adult to supervise. The 'In Flanders Museum' piece was also making the point that the mutilated veterans were 'hidden' and kept themselves hidden. This relates also to the way artists respond to events, in these examples, to world war and violent conflict. I enjoy galleries as 'fringe events' alongside curated museum objects as it takes the museum artefacts in a direction where a curator dares not go. At the 'In Flanders Museum', even in the wee 'Talbot House' museum in Poperinge 'contemporary art' was shown to good and intriguing effect. It is after all our take on the past that 'populates' the public space that is the museum. 

 The world and how we behave in it keeps being shocking: nor is it confined to the safety and 'sanitised' past. Who would create a display showing an IS fighter beheading a Westerner? We have to face, feel and understand duch things if they are to be addressed. Like 'emotions,' 'controversy' makes you think. No museum would last, though some open, that bore the visitor. Do we remember things that bore us? On the contrary. These days, whilst my curiosity is very easily satisfied, I still like to be suprised. To be asked or be made to see things differently.

Does a museum even need to 'inform'? Is wonder and the motivation to discover more enough? I ask in rekation to a visit to the Design Museum, London in 2012. Wonderous and inspiring, with often text like tags rather than explanation and infirmation ... all of that you got from a website then, or later. Motivate a visitor and they read up on a thing. and then return? 

A fascinating point about the difference between an emotional response that evokes pity compared to one that evokes anger. I now wonder if the experiences I shared created the feeling of pity, but anger is what was required. These were images of the mutilated faces of combatants from the First World War in the 'In Flanders Fields' Museum, Ypres and a 'collection' of children's shoes in the Holocaust exhibition at the IWM, London. Ange might turn me into a pacifist ... or a politician. To want to do something, somehow, about the continual violence inflicted upon anyone: children, mothers, combatants ... Anger then would have required the 'presence' of, to use a term from storytelling, both the protagonist AND the antagonist. So, in the first case we'd need images of the weapons that caused such mutilations: shrapnel shells and machine gun bullets; while with the Holocaust exhibits we'd need to see Auschwitz guards/soldiers. i.e. there has to be somewhere to direct our anger, and then direct it further up the 'chain of command' to the leaders that caused these conflicts. 

We learn because we forget. We have to revisit what we are trying to learn if we are to remember it. We construct knowledge and understanding therefore by going back over things we have done or experienced. Frequent visits to a museum gradually allows some of what that museums says and contains to rub off on us and make its impact. 

 

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Design Museum

Would you swim in the Atlantic? A friend asked.

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My response -

As long as you don't swim too close to large ships or get caught in a trawler net. I'd stay in shore rather than 50 miles out. Try the first 20 yards off the beach and don't get out of your depth. Seriously, rip tides are a terror, I've been caught in a couple. Even I always swim with a kicker float on a piece of string ... something to grab onto in case I get cramp or caught in a current. Oh, and I might even wear a wetsuit and a woollen hat.

I'm sailing the Atlantic at the end of the year. I don't intend ever to be in the water unless there is an emergency. I won't fall in as I'll always be attached to a harness. I'm asthmatic so falling into cold water is dangerous.

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I'm once again loving an online course from FutureLearn. This time it is 'Behind the Scenes of the 21st Century Museum.' The parallels between the 'theatre' and 'community' value of the modern museum and vibrant websites are tangible: both want to attract, retain, educate and please a wide variety of visitors. Though websites don't have closing hours.

At the end of Week 3 and fascinating roundup of the week, including the myriad of comments, led to a discussion about the worth of a museum creating an emotional response: such as 'pity' or 'anger.'

I now wonder if the experiences I shared created the feeling of pity, but anger is what was required. These were images of the mutilated faces of combatants from the First World War in the 'In Flanders Fields' Museum, Ypres and a 'collection' of children's shoes in the Holocaust exhibition at the IWM, London. Ange might turn me into a pacifist ... or a politician. To want to do something, somehow, about the continual violence inflicted upon anyone: children, mothers, combatants ... Anger then would have required the 'presence' of, to use a term from storytelling, both the protagonist AND the antagonist. So, in the first case we'd need images of the weapons that caused such mutilations: shrapnel shells and machine gun bullets; while with the Holocaust exhibits we'd need to see Auschwitz guards/soldiers. i.e. there has to be somewhere to direct our anger, and then direct it further up the 'chain of command' to the leaders that caused these conflicts. 

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Echoes of my OU Student Days

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It's only seven or eight months since I came out of formal education with the OU. I am settling into more of the same elsewhere, as Digital Editor for the Western Front Association which is particularly vibrant right now due to the centenary of the First World War. I also continue to take part in OU Student Consultation Forums as a volunteer - sharing my 'wisdom' as a learner who survived the entirely online experience of the Master of Arts : Open and Distance Education ... and a wee bit of the OU MBA programme that had a Residential week and regular tutorials. And I have one or more FutureLearn courses on the go too: currently on Museums of the 21st Century, the First World War : Trauma and Loss (from the OU) and a new one on Climate Change from Space deliver by the European Space Agency.

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