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Who are you?

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For most of us, most of the time, our identity works for us so we do not question it. But when it does not feel right, or is under threat, then we are suddenly made very aware of how central and vital our identity is. Grayson Perry.

Who are you?

The exhibition on portraiture and British identity on now at the National Portrait Gallery is a fascinating way to spend an hour to 90 minutes. #GraysonPerry

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What's it like doing a free online course that works?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 9 Feb 2015, 08:24

In earlier posts I've likened the courses on FutureLearn (don't call them MOOCs) to a good hardback book. This misses a crucial element: the connectivity with other students (I prefer to call then participants). I would therefore say, looking for a few lines to explain the appeal to the ignorant, that it is like joining a book club: everyone has the same thing to talk about.

The current course that I love is "Exploring Filmmaking' - storytelling is universal, and that's what this is about. 'Boyhood' winning the BAFTA last night also reasserted the joy, pleasure and value of stories about our lives as they are without special effects, superheros, drugs or murder: Growing up is drama enough.

 

 

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Diaryland and the writer's itch

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 Feb 2015, 08:29

1,783,027 words, 1,879 entries over 5,091 pages if printed off. 

This how I left my first blog.

It barely scratches the surface of the memories a brain can recreate. I tried. I have in there repeated efforts to recall the very first things I could ever feasibly have formed as viable memories: or were they words and images put into my head by my mother much later? I also noticed that in the comments I have two years of conversations with the now published author Catherine Valente and, would that I could verify it, a short exchange with Norman Mailer. 

This diary is on 'Diaryland;' started in September 1999, finally ended in March 2006. It feels like landfill: there's so much stuff in there rotting away. Though it doesn't, it's digital. Closed because while I don't give a monkey's about writing on everything I have done, thought about or think where people can be identified it does cause embarrassment and pain. It took me a few years to realise that if I was receiving 200+ views an hour some of these people might know me. No one I knew ever, ever said they were there. Not for a long time. Perhaps they knew I'd close it down if they let on? I tried to obscure names and locations but that just got very confusing. I held a mirror along the Pennines and set everything that had taken place in Northumberland in Cumbria and vice versa. For people's names I tried initials, but 'JV,' for me is a give away, so I cleverly decided to change names by one letter in the alphabet, so 'JV' would become 'KW' and I'd give him the name 'Ken,' for example. I knew a lot of Sallys and Sarahs who all become 'Tamsin' or 'Tabatha' which threw my head into immediately constructing different personas for them. Ken and Tabatha sounds like the relationship between a Barbie doll and a Sacha doll.

There were a lot of 'Js' too for both boys and girls from the 1970s and there is a limited choice of 'Ks' to go with.

Only a few years later bumping into old friends from home and school have they said they knew all about 'X', and 'Y' or looked at the drawings I did of 'K' and the photo of 'T.' The greatest shock was getting into a conversation with my 'petite amie' from my school French Exchange when I was 17 - 33 years after we'd last seen each other. I'd posted a teen sketch I did of her and wrote up in detail how we behaved.

It is of greater value to me not 'cleaned up,' so I keep it closed though once again I'm drawing upon it constantly as it contains a substantial part of a diary I kept from the age of 13 to 28 and a great deal of stories that I wrote drawing on some of those experiences. These are finding life once again thanks to the OU's FutureLearn course 'Start Writing Fiction' and, once again, a close writer/editor relationship that has formed. It is, should I ever get published, a sound example of the value of keeping a 'notebook' as that diary, even as I conceived it age 13 is/was a 'writer's journal'.

What I find touching, then and again today, is that supportive friendships form with fellow writers or readers or editors that is enormously encouraging and guiding; people want my words. I feel like a kind of stand up comic on stage who carries his audience some of the time, then gets hit from time to time by a soft  'carrot' or a bendy 'stick' and subsequently re-adjusts his 'voice' to the one they want to hear. 

Marking five years since I started my OU degree and this blog almost coincided with a logical, deserving step into the legitimate world of e-learning as I completed an 'in-tray' exercise ahead of a second interview. As I prepared to mark this 'Five Years' (a totemic time period for any David Bowie fan) I thought I could be announcing this literal step onto a 'platform'. Though I also had in mind my response to it not happening:

  • no more job applications
  • no more OU courses
  • back to writing with a renewed vengeance and determination. (I feel the Start Writing Fiction course on FutureLearn has refuelled me. I've been a petrol engine trying to run on diesel all y life and they fixed that)
  • once again give a substantial body of unpublished work (manuscripts for novels, screenplays, TV series, radio plays) their chance. (I have made and found the time and was for a couple of years indulged by an agent and producers enough to get interviews to discuss treatments and first scenes. On reflection I was a chef who appeared to promise something delicious but kept serving the thing up either cold or over spiced. SWF has been like a short course in Cordon Blue cookery; I may not be there yet, but at least what I'm now producing is edible).
  • and commit to a two month sailing trip later in the year: the Atlantic via the Canaries and Cape Verde to Bermuda.
  • Meanwhile I have picked out one manuscript, something I dated March 2006 when I boxed it away, that runs to around 100,000 words and 42 chapters. I am revisiting, rewriting and posting this in little bits. It'll take at least six months working 14 hours+ a day.
  • eight hours a week 'work' fails to keep the wolf from the door. I could do with at least 20. 

On verra.

This OU Student Blog, a good deal of it already migrated into a WordPress blog, is coming to its natural conclusion. Five years is long enough. Until I study here again.

Elsewhere at:

www.mymindbursts.com

Writing fiction at:

www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com = password protected

Diaryland at:

www.jonathan.diaryland.com = password protected

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On keeping a notebook, diary or learning journal. On paper.

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Anything you might use. Think of yourself as an artist before the era of the portable camera. If you don’t sketch something now you’ll forget it. So with words and ways of expressing what you see, feel, do and think. Get those ideas and descriptions down as soon as you can.

Try to work them up that evening, that day. Within a couple of days. Think of this as nurturing a seedling that will have to be transplanted in a day, week, even in a year or five years time. It’ll wait for you, but only if you have made it robust.

Write, and rewrite, toy with it and layer it. Have you recreated a sense of the moment as it was experienced the first time? Maybe. This effort to recall the moment creates a multitude of connections in your brain, some logical, many not, some becoming fixed, some floating, all transformed every nanosecond more that you live. There is no stability in it, not on the page and never in your head.

Then use these ideas somewhere. In a short story, or in a character or context description. It’ll come in time. It’ll become easier.

No automatic recording device can do this for you. A gadget works in absolutes, in numbers. What it takes for you is fixed. Write it down.

Like many of us, I'm sure, I wordpress and go online. I conceive and store ideas on these things. None yet gets close to offering the emotional power of what I said, and where I said it forty years ago: in a school kid diary, in a letter to my grandfather, even typed up with the portable typewriter I got one Christmas. Boxed up and stored I know have a way back into the child's head, that young teenager's hopes and observations. I even printed out filed and boxed stuff from the Amstrad in the 1980s and the various MACs I had in the 1990s and that originated on the Psion in 2000. Anything I thought would be safe on a floppy disc, or Zip drive is probably lost. I can't figure out to read them on a modern device. A box full of paper is another thing.

At 53 my life has been short. At 89 my father-in-law is going through his 'archive' - an academic and educator his house has over the years become a physical expression of the contents of his brain. There are books three columns deep to the ceiling, there are bedrooms stacked with boxes of papers and newspapers. As most of his faculties fail he now has a PhD student at his side to give some order to his archive, and to his life. Sharing it with one, on paper, at this stage, has to be more rewarding and effective than doing it digitally in a blog with wiki-like affordances. 

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Five Years blogging here : time to reflect

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

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

They do however need to diversify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why everyone should have a look at 'Exploring Filmmaking'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Feb 2015, 05:56
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1 Once I directed film ... I once directed a film. It was short, like my career.

I'm pointing you in the direction of this wonderful example of a free course from FutureLearn (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Open University) that has just started because I believe you, a friend, your kids, or a colleague may love it ... and even transformed by it.

Explore Filmmaking

This is 'e-learning' of the highest calibre: so easy to do it's like watching TV while using Twitter.

With a little guidance.

I've lived and studied online learning for five years with the OU. I've been so hooked I've kept doing MAODE courses after I completed the MA.

From FutureLearn, my platform of choice having tried and studied all the ones that matter, I can share examples of courses for PhD WebScience candidates, History of the First World War MA students, first year Geography undergraduates of Climate Change and even those in their A' Level year. There are plenty of general ones too: 'How to succeed at: applications' and 'How to succeed at: interviews' from the University of Sheffield give you what you need, right when you need it.

This one, well, go see.

I think it's one for everyone with an interest in storytelling and the magic of putting it on the screen. We've all seen a movie, right? Enjoy as a viewer, a lover of storytelling, a drama hopeful in any role, or someone who knows such a person.

I wish I was 16 again with a parent who cared about the arts as a career looking over my shoulder saying 'that's for you.' Instead, like so many of us I don't doubt, I was told 'get a proper degree, get a proper job'. Sometimes the best advice is also the worst. The 'proper' degree has never worked, it's not me. Not my first degree, not my second from the Open University. I'm not work shy. I'll work 20 hours a day if I'm fed, clothed and watered. I just lack the ability to conform, however hard I try, however much my edges are scraped off, however old and ignorant I become. 

Go see.

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How online courses are starting to make a change to how we learn

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 4 Feb 2015, 18:15

Fig.1 A publicity still from my own short film 'Listening In.' Did you catch it on Channel 4? I know seven people who did smile

Marshall McLuhan had a lot to say about the medium being the message when TV came along in the 1960s.

I always put the message first and with online courses (MOOCs by another name?) I would liken them to books or TV programmes ... there are many as you can imagine for every kind of audience, by educational attainment, and subject. I agree that learning is inherently social.

Having got kids who could touch type before they could handwrite and use the Internet before they could use the telephone I have witnessed them learn, collectively, online in various 'online' activities - almost always with the very same people they are seeing during the day in class.

Platforms, such as FutureLearn are tailored for this - EdX, by way of contrast is not.

Learning outcomes must be an important raison d'etre for MOOCs, but I don't see this at all as being the only reason institutions are producing them. They are seeking to attract students to courses that are either taught on campus or online at a distance. If a MOOC on Aviation Comes of Age in the First World War attracts 5000 and 500 finish the course 50 buy certificates and 5 sign up for the MA then they have doubled their student intake to a niche subject. I'm making a wild stab at the numbers: I don't know what they were. I can hazard a guess by the activity in the discussions. They are producing them to learn from the experience, gain the in-house knowledge and support their educators and producing online content for their regular courses too. 

The numbers I do know are for the FutureLearn course 'Start Writing Fiction' which had 23,000 students to start with and bucked the trend by having 25,000 in week two. I can only guess at the numbers who made it through to the end based on the crude stats we have for 'MOOCs' to date. A new outcome for this course is that nearly two months after it officially ended people are still starting and still completing the course: I know this as I set up both LinkedIn and WordPress groups to support them and actively return to the course myself to refresh ideas and contribute to reviews of work submitted and discussions with those there.

By way of comparison, the University of Southampton WebScience MOOC is aimed at PhD candidates: I should now as I was one of those candidates and interview to study a PhD. I had no answer for my not having a medical degree or having done a randomised control trial before.

The 'Oxbridge Tutorial' is commonly used in the UK and is a tutorial system used at Oxford Cambridge, Bristol, Durham and LSE I believe. Is it also the Socratic Method?

The method of knowledge transfer may be the same but numbers are lower 1:1, or 1:3 max. A MOOC experience that works, at this level includes both Socratic and Madras approaches, for better or worse. Worse according to Oxford's Internet Institute (Rebecca Eynon) where cliques form around the leading student educators that appear to block out others.

PhD students may have to study on their own, but do they want to? MA students don't.

The Educators I know at university want to teach too.

Digital literacy, like any kind of literacy matters. I engage those who have been online for a decade and those that are newcomers. They pick it up pretty fasts if helped by others.

Other MOOCs I've looked at are aimed at those at school (High School in England) to help them with university entrance and preparation, I've mentioned an MA even PhD level MOOC while the Exploring Filmmaking would have been on TV in the past.

EdX won't let you in without paying.

Udemy is getting a dreadful reputation.

Lumesse is a corporate platform a bit like FutureLearn.

A gem of a Free Course from FutureLearn that has just started is 'Exploring Filmmaking' with the National Film and Television School. As you'd expect the value are top notch. A great mix. Bitesize learning. Great discussions. 90 mins to 2 hours a week - a lot more if you get deeply engaged. 

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Bambi meets Godzilla and Exploring Filmmaking with the NFTS

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Feb 2015, 07:49

Fig.1. When Bambi met Godzilla. Short film as recommended in 'Exploring Filmmaking'

I must share with you another FutureLearn course ... MOOC by another name. This is 'Exploring Filmmaking' from the National Film and Television School. It is rich, fun, and very busy with people of all ages from around the world. 

I can given many reasons for joining in (started yesterday), for those interested in e-learning then it follows a pattern that is common to all Futurelearn courses. They're becoming for MOOCs what Dorling-Kindersely became for books. 

I had to share this short film too. 'Bambi meets Godzilla'.

 

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The Oxbridge Tutorial is up for grabs

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 29 Jan 2015, 11:07

I have been studying full-time for a year - an MA in a traditional university with lectures, book lists and online completing eight MOOCs and even trying to start a module with the OU - I gave up on L120 due to some intractable technical hitches with audio and video.

My goal hasn't been to gain yet further qualifications in subjects I love, but to experience first hand the variety of approaches to learning that exist. Back to the classroom and online. The MOOCs I have done on FutureLearn are highly 'transactional' - I believe the way huge threaded discussions are managed and can be managed successfully recreates what some consider to be the Holy Grail of learning in HE, the 'Oxbridge tutorial' where a subject expert sits one to one or at most one to three to discuss a topic, set each other straight, and then return every week, or twice a week to do the same. Experience and research shows that even in a MOOC with 25,000 starters, in a threaded discussion that has 3000 posts, that groups of learners form: typically a mix of experts, keen learners with some knowledge and complete beginners. These groups can last the duration of a two month course and spill out into other platforms and meeting up face to face.

Transition education. Not a revolution, just building on the best of what has gone before and gradually taking others along with it.  

I like that after 700 years of keeping the approach to themselves that the 'Oxbridge Tutorial' as a way to learn is, online at least, open to anyone. 

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Kurt Vonnegut said:

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When writing a short story:
 
Use the time of a total stranger in such as way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for. 
Every character should want something - even if it is only a glass of water
Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.
Start as close to the end as possible.
Be a sadist. Make awful things happen to them so that readers can see what they are made of. 
Write to please just one person
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible
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The kind of thing that gets me excited

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From Alps

Fig.1 Weather Events

If global warming puts more energy into the system so that more moisture is held, therefore extreme weather events will include great precipitation too, whether it falls as snow or rain. 

Or was it like this in the Alps in 1888 too?

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Props

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 26 Jan 2015, 10:29

 

Fig.1 Mussel shells

Three times a week I teach swimming to kids age 7-12. All classes run for 45 minutes. Each week we work on a different stroke or school. Every time include some fun in the session rather than having them bash up and down the pool doing drills or parts of the stroke. The fun brings them back. At this age make it a drag and they either play up or don't show.

I do this thing called 'sea otter'. For one length, 25m, they have to pretend to be a sea otter. I don't need to show them a picture. Most can visualise it from a natural history film. The sea otter swims into the kelp and pulls up mussels. They bring a rock to the surface too, then lay on their backs, breaking open the shells and eating the content. I take them through the actions: long armed doggied paddle, duck dive to the bottom of the pool, onto their backs at the surface, a gentle flutter kick while they break open the shells, eat the contents, throw away the shell pieces then roll onto their fronts and repeat the exercise. I expect them to do this four to five times as they swim the length of the pool. Some like to make squeaking noises. All grin. All take their improvisation seriously and do a great job.

I tick off the long armed doggie paddle, the duck dive, the push off the bottom, the flutter kick on their back, and developing fluency and love for the water as all worthwhile. From this they improve their front crawl and back crawl, they make steps towards a tumble-turn and even diving (several don't, none do well) and they have fun - always deserved after 15/20 minutes of 'real' swimming: lengths up and down the pool to warm up, kicking with a float or on their back.

I play other games. Maybe three such interludes for a couple of minutes at most across the session.

Six years of doing this with this club and the teenagers laugh about 'otter' some even insisting once in a while to add it to their coached session where they are swimming over 2200m in an hour. 

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How do MOOCs compare?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 27 Mar 2019, 16:42
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1 Unexpanded mindmap using 'SimpleMinds' on 'How do MOOCs compare'.

There are tens of thousands of Massive Open Online Courses available. Their proliferation increasingly requires some means to differentiate types, to standards, and by review. Undoubtedly branding will have a role to play: it being easier to choose because the subject is delivered on a known and  trusted platform, such as Coursera, Udemy or FutureLearn.

What are they brands though? Like a well-known publisher such as Dorling-Kindersely? Or a brand of cornflakes? Courses are often the product of a specific university, but does this help when a course will vary also by faculty, and in particular by the role and lead taken by a subject matter expert.

The variables are considerable.

There are a couple of review sites which aggregate MOOC lists, such as MOOC List and CourseTalk. These, like reviews on Amazon, rely upon participants of a course to come in a post. I think of it as the TripAdvisor for e-learning. How reliable are these? It'll take years to bed in and impact on the product.

Meanwhile, as I still do several MOOCs in parallel I am trying to think about the kind of criteria:

  1. The Platform Provider
  2. Funding
  3. The Subject
  4. Audience 
  5. Champions
  6. Objective
  7. Brand
  8. Platform (Technical features)
  9. Cost
  10. Production
  11. Institution
  12. What next?

1. The Platform Provider

There are too many for one person to consider. And ample complexity requiring parameters. Some are not, or are no longer Massive and Open because they are closed, exclusive and paid for. Udemy has many thousands of short courses online, all with a price for participation, self-paced and lacking a sizable cohort to generate valuable 'connectedness' and 'collaboration', both important, identified theories of learning that have a significant part to play in e-learning. Funded by venture capital Udemy needs cash flow. EdX comes from Ivy League US universities Harvard, MIT and Berkeley offering undergraduate and postgraduate level, term long courses at a demanding academic level. They have no UK equivalent: neither Oxford or Cambridge have come on board. Although Edinburgh is on both EdX and FutureLearn. Whereas LSE and a few other top UK players are yet to have a presence. FutureLearn is a new, though rapidly expanding player: a wholly owned subsidiary of the Open University with partner institutions from around the globe, typically the UK and Commonwealth Countries, though with three partners from China too. It is the platform I am most familiar with having complete six MOOCs with another four on the boil. They make it look easy and I love learning in conversation with others. The Khan Academy is aimed at schools, while the likes of TED lectures, iTunesU and podcasts are all lectures online in one form or another, rather than complete courses with clear steps towards achieving specific learning objectives.

I am attempting to compare platforms, approaches and institutions by comparing delivery of MOOCs on Climate Change. There are probably a dozen, all variations on a theme, though the science shouldn't be different, even if the delivery is. They are: Exeter on FutureLearn, Melbourne, San Diego, Penn and British Columbia. I studied geography as an undergraduate so feel better able to form a judgment. 

2. Funding

Funding is complex, but it matters because 'he who pays the piper, plays the tune.' Largely funded by VC money the US MOOC providers are pressured to take fees, seek donations and sell certificates and other services. To a Brit used to the BBC anything with advertising in it, especially in relation to learning, smells of hogwash. On the other hand, branding and open sponsorship may be a necessary way forward. Even Wikipedia cannot do it for free. Once again, my knowledge is in the first instance at first hand as a 'participant' who has studied 'at a distance' with the Open University and paid for it, who has taken courses as CPD the traditional way at evening and weekend workshops, though also online by subscription. I have even paid heftily for a formal assessment which gained me a distinction and 10 credits towards a university degree. 

There is no 'free' learning: it is financed somehow. Learning takes time and therefore to plan, produce, put online and support. Even where the cost is carried internally as the learning is seen to have promotional or reputational value, it is coming from someone's budget. The relationship between the OU and the BBC, and the BBC and other British institutions is an interesting one as the assets the BBC creates by definition are owned by the tax payer so should UK citizens pay twice for something they have already paid for? The BBC though, like many others, create and provide content for use in learning under a Creative Commons licence. 

Funding, in tertiary education, comes from many sources, not least government subsidy, grants for research and sponsorship. Creation of Open Learning meets criteria, especially in relation to research, to publicise and share research findings. The dry academic paper is being superseded by, or at least complemented by, online offerings: a podcast at least an Open Educational Resource (OER) at best. 

3.The Subject

Who decides on the subjects to 'publish' as a MOOC? Publishers and broadcasters make choices for commercial reasons, often based on perceptions or demands of the audience. Are MOOCs create in response to student and participant needs and demands, or the product of individuals and faculties simply wishing to 'give it a go' or develop and share their pet subject with others. Is everything suitable for a MOOC? Is the subject, title and delivery considered in the kind of editorial committee that exist in TV, Radio or Print ... or is to more piecemeal and fragmented? Individuals and departments in universities traditionally operate in silos, indeed, many chose to be in academia, especially research, in order to focus on their niche interest without undue disturbance or interaction. I can see MOOCs that are championed by an individual, by a faculty and by a university. Inevitably some will be less well received than others. In all media there are hits and misses. Understanding what works, and what does not, is fascinating. Often it is like wondering why, in a small French town, one restaurant is packed, while the others are quiet. Though they are yet to produce them, I would expect and hope for MOOCs on art from St.Martins, MOOCs on sport from Loughborough. I would expect to see a MOOC on the First World War from Niel Ferguson. Why has a world leader, such as the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment, a no.1. faculty in the no.1. university thus far stayed away from MOOCs? They have podcast. They're on iTunesU. They stream some lectures and seminars. The next step is not so great. Or is it a case of a cautious institution taking careful note of research done on MOOCs. They are no panacea and maybe the step towards something that will have a better fit: exclusive, income generating ... 

4. The Audience

I resist calling those who do MOOCs students because their profile and behaviour of those I have done and studied is not of students, whether from school, at university or postgraduate. They are older, but not 'adult learners', far from needing the education, many have a Masters degree ... it is telling that discussions are anything but deferential towards the 'young' professors and even younger PhD students who present and moderate many of these MOOCs. Often the MOOC participant, who form the kind of TV audience that sits forward and interacts, is an MA student of the subject who may have ten or twenty years applied experience of the subject in business, government or teaching. For example, the MOOCs I am looking at on Climate Change always have vocal participants who have considerable experience 'in the field' for environmental agencies or oil companies. The academics are put on the spot, always rise to the occasion, and will surely learn from the experience as much as we 'students' do. Where therefore diversity and access? As TV producers know how in a digital world to cater for audiences of different ages and interests, so educators creating MOOCs will need increasingly to engage media professionals who know better how to target, appeal to and retain specific audiences. Whilst those creating MOOCs may wish to attract potential students to their undergraduate courses, I suspect that it is at best the teachers of such students, rather than A'level students who are getting involved. 

 5. Champions

Reputations of innovators in e-learning and whose talks go viral in a TED lecture become champions of online learning. Some become a brand that tens of thousands turn to. As free courses proliferate the bluntest and most effective branding is to have a champion, the educator at celebrity. We know that those with a TV profile with a following already will attract the most interest. In TV, even in corporate learning and development, the appeal of the broadcaster or presenter speaking on behalf of the educators is common place. Not all educators are broadcasters. It matters to have someone champion the course. If you want to study, for example 'Climate Change' and can choose between a dozen providers of a MOOC, who do you go with?

6. Objective

In formal learning objectives are the goal on which the learning is designed and assessments are undertaken. You are tested on what you are taught, and if you can prove that you have learnt what the material teachers you gain a grade of some kind. This in turn goes towards a qualification, or transferable credits towards a degree or diploma. This may appear clear, but there are other objectives at play: attracting students, even dissuading them if places are hugely oversubscribed. There are obligations to publish research. There are desires to join the 'e-learning race' and gain insights through doing even if it is not yet fully understood where the movement is headed. What does the course provider want from a MOOC? More students? Establishing or developing the reputation of an educator or department? Competing with others who are 'up there'? Because they have the funding? Vanity? Not to miss out?

7. Branding

The digital world is a free for all. It is competitive. Whatever you can imagine, someone is doing it. I was staggered to learn that the MOOC providers couldn't be named on the fingers of one hand. I think there are over 50 if you're counting and include various hybrids and anomalies. Many, many more if you venture into MOOCs that are not massive, or open ... say content created for internal use across a huge multinational. Sometimes these commercial sites and platforms are the most innovative, and of course, the best funded, for example, in supporting training in investment banking for brokers. Virgin produces e-learning for internal use - it is surely a natural step to create something open and online? The OU, with the BBC and at arms length FutureLearn makes a compelling, reputational sound brand. If anyone knows how to create e-learning that is attractive, appealing and of value this is the team. There are cultural differences though with MOOCs out of North America looking more like a multi-media version of Scientific American to the FutureLearn MOOC that is 'Look and Learn' - fun and accessible. 

8. Technical aspects of the platform

My expertise does not lie in picking apart and comparing the underlying technologies that support the different platforms. I can however relate to the discussions that have, for example, explained Facebook's success compared to MySpace ... that there were, or still are, underlying technical problems on MySpace that prevented its becoming as attractive as Facebook. I have taken and followed learning online since 2000 - joining the MA in Open and Distance Learning (MAODL) in 2001 while creating online learning through a web agency for commercial, broadcast and government clients. Our understand and aspirations for what was needed or could be achieved fell short of what bandwidths and the technology then could deliver, even if we spoke about 'stickiness', collaboration, likeminds and fun. 

9.Cost

The OU boasts that a multi-million BBC production such as 'The Blue Planet' is the kind of visual extravaganza it can now incorporate into, or complement with distance and online learning, a far cry from the black and white hippy in sandals presenting in front of a whiteboard as lampooned by Smith and Jones in the 1980s. It isn't as simple as saying costs, like those in the movie business, are divided between creation and distribution, though it is a useful starting point. In this instance the means of distribution is an interactive platform, that has certain affordances because of its underlying architecture and the skills, direction and motivation of the programmers. The content that is made available for, or put into this environment will vary widely based on the experience of the educators, the team they have around them, and how this is structured and led. In TV and print, a producer or publisher is the lead, or chair of such a group ... not the 'creative' whereas in academia the academic invariably feels they are the lead and should instigate decisions, sometimes without acknowledging that they have no expertise in 'external communications' or the platforms and approaches they want to adopt. Money is not set aside to use an external producer or production team, with sometimes, the results being self evident. Fine, perhaps, in a former age, for an internal audience of undergraduate students, but no longer adequate for a far more demanding open audience.

10. Production

Multimedia, which is what this is, draws on expertise that is a combination of skills that in the past would have been more easily denoted as radio, conference, print and TV. Production values and experience in all of these is required when creating online content because decisions should be taken in the context of the learning materials as to what will work best at different times, for different kinds of content. Also recognising the need for varieties of approach and making these appropriate. I have taken, or tried to take, modules that are back to back presenter to camera, as if listening and note taking for many hours is an adequate or doable learning process. On the other hand, I have been engrossed by an entirely 'gamified' Rosetta Stone as an iPad App - rich, complex, repetitive and at times tiresome, but effective as a language learning experience. Not all, or rather few educators, are natural broadcasters. Accepting their strengths in front of a lectern and not taking them out to walk and talk or present on location unless they can clearly do it, requires production skills. There is a language for conducting interviews using a single camera, and for recording multi-camera seminars. If the technician who sets up the kit has no understanding either of framing, or of editing, the result, however good the lighting and sound, will jar. These are all production values that need have to be bought in, or developed to a suitable standard inhouse. Audiences have expectations of certain practices across the media types. Poor practice in use of PowerPoint, for example, is not simply distracting ... people will quit a course on a whim. 

11. Institution

Increasingly leading players in many fields are coming to see that to offer open learning online is a natural progression from things they have already been doing for a decade: putting content online in websites. delivering short courses face to face, even recording podcasts for release as audio or video. There is less mystery behind how to create content and less need for owning and financing the platform. What we are seeing today, is the same transition that occurred as blogs migrated from do-it-yourself coded webpages in 1999/2000 through the first readymade platforms such as Diaryland and LiveJournal, to the 'off the shelf' ease and sophistication of WordPress. Indeed, for MOOCs, the commercial platform Udemy is offering a platform to commercial players.

Institutionally could early adopters trump the laggards? Might the likes of Phoenix and its global reach of associated universities trump traditional hubs of learning like Oxford and Cambridge which are currently proving reticent to engage? Or will inertia, reputation, funding, research and expertise see them grow into e-learning and their substantial foundations? 

Whilst it may appear that the Open University was made for the digital age, can a UK institution be a global player? What happens when an Oxford or a Cambridge can do what the OU does? Or don't they ever want to? Over the last 35 years the percentage of students at Oxford from private schools has shifted from 72/28 to 48/52 .... still not representative of the national split, but moving with determination to being accessible and diverse. Ironic then that staying out of online learning is perceived as necessary to preserve their tradition of tutorial based learning that by its very nature can only be elitist and exclusive. 

12. What next?

This is the hardest question and the one everyone wants an answer to. My guess is better than many another's because I've been riding this wave for several decades through linear video-based learning, to interactive and then online. Thanks to the OU over the last five years I now have the language to explain what has gone on and so make a reasonable stab at what comes next. There are several learning theories that can explain the way we learn, but only a few that describe learning approaches that are suited to the online experience: connected and collaborative learning are what makes MOOCs work. Although there are platforms too, such as QStream and Rosetta Stone that are in effect old-fashioned learning by rote or immersion with repetition constructing meaning. There are subjects, such as medicine and languages, which are suited to this approach. There will be increased fragmentation. We are, if you like, where the printed book was five hundred years ago. The book had yet to develop into multiple printed forms from the novel to the pop-up book (!) or diversify across every subject. Though change is far swifter, the variety of forms, by audience, by subject, by approach and duration is yet to flourish into the thousands of types I can envisage until there is a plethora of MOOCs as there are, or have been, magazines in the past. Some affordances are yet to be realised: feedback into FutureLearn, by way of example, is one way to measure and act upon ideas offered 'by the crowd'. Reasoned responsiveness will see the platform they have now move in regular steps into a different, and different forms. Logic suggests, to suggest an extreme example, that the tools, approaches and affordances of a platform catering to primary school children will be different to one aimed at PhD students. On the other hand, both of these groups find something on TV. With the exception of Ragdoll's 'In the night garden' which is loved by infants and PhD students in equal measure smile 

There will be unforeseen consequences. Will 'leasure learners', a stalwart of the OU migrate to MOOCs where there are no fees, just as much learning and a far greater sense of community engagement? Will MOOCs, as the OU does with an MAODE module, be something that runs in parallel with a formal module. In this instance students in the closed learning MAODE being joined by an open MOOC audience for a period of months. I can envisage an enlightened educator using his/her MOOC to support self-directed learning online, while also acting as the backbone for a formally taught series of classes where they use the readily package content of the MOOC to support their delivery. 

Those who want and need the kind of learning the MOOCs offered do not make up the bulk of the audience. How will those young people coming out of higher education who crave a university degree learn at this level when they don't have the funds to attend in person? How, when it comes to assessment, can they afford what remains an expensive process - sitting an exam or submitting a paper for formal scrutiny and grading under stringent criteria relating to potential plagiarism and to sustain standards?

For all their openness and credentials to support access and diversity do MOOCs simply 'preach to the converted' - refreshing an interest for those with a degree, or two, already? Where might a degree taught online be achieved instead of a set of A'Levels. Will it become normal to have more than one degree so raising the bar even higher for those who simply wish to get to first base? 

Is there, as was in the earliest stage of the Internet, a language bias with most MOOCs invariably delivered in English?

What else? 

Restricted access. Poor broadband. Lack of resources to run the MOOC. Lack of means, either time or money to do them. 

 Looking at it another, perhaps more subjective way, I'd like to know about:

  • The Wow factor
  • Usability
  • Changed Behaviours
  • Whether people act upon the learning experience
  • Learning Objectives achieved or not
  • Stickiness: Are people suitably engaged to stay with it and beyond?
  • Reputational
  • Mandate
  • Fun
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Have you noticed?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 19 Jan 2015, 07:36

 

It may be cold, but I'm sure for us in Lewes this is only the third night when we've had frost this winter. November was like October, December was not even much of a November. Weatherwise December no longer exists?

I'm loving studying Climate Change with FutureLearn.

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Why learn?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 19 Jan 2015, 07:41

Fig.1 After another twenty years? With age comes wisdom.

  • To get a job: a better job, to pass through a gate towards a graduate job, as a springboard to a job.
  • To gain a qualification: as above, though sometimes it is primarily a badge of honour and achievement
  • To feed your curiosity: a compulsion or desire to better understand a think for the pure sake of learning.
  • To renew a long held interest that may have started at school or with a first degree.
  • Because it is expected of you: your family and peers expect it.
  • To develop fluency in the subject for whatever reason - which includes some of those above.
  • To apply your learning directly to a problem : can be related to a job, research or intellectual curiosity.
  • To kill time: like reading a book, doing Sudoko puzzles or watching Soaps. A pricey way to fill part of your day though?
  • To meet like-minded people.
  • As a catalyst to who knows what.

 

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All great things come to an end

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 15 Jan 2015, 06:34

As I am not currently a student having abandoned L120 Ouverture: Intermediate French I no longer have access to the library. There was a time I'd have been heart broken- I cherish the intellectual indulgence of getting te exact paper I want, when I need it. I'm over at FutureLearn studying Climate Change of all things - and now editing not one, but two novels, which on word count alone come to over 160,000 words. That's a lot of editing to get on with. This side of me has been revived, thanks to the Open University and its creative writing taster on FutureLearn 'Start Writing Fiction.' I didn't so much start as pick up where I left off six years ago. If I can make or find the money I'll be back here legitimately on the 'Creative Writing' course. We'll see. Paying off some debts, fixing a leaky roof and clearing the mortgage are all pressing concerns too.

In three weeks time I'll have been blogging here for FIVE years. It has almost come full circle. Far from moving on I am in many ways back where I started: the archetypal missfit 'frustrated creative.' I'm not an academic, not even a journalist - may writing is forever too wayward. I got grades up from 43 to 92, but never got an average to a distinction - though I recognised in others something they had that I lacked.

A million views became an idiotic goal and driver - they're not even genuine views so much as 'ping backs;' on that score I feel like the autistic kid whose been duped. I'm a sucker for many things.

Has the OU MA been a huge distraction and unaffordable expense? I'm possibly even more unemployable than when I started having fairly abandoned what I was doing in 2008/2009 only now picking up those pieces part time further back than when I started.

On verra.

Adieu.

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Free Speech is the religion of the West

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 12 Jan 2015, 12:42

Fig.1. The three million in Paris on Sunday 11th January 2014 to show unity in the face of extremists and violence. 

It has been 250 years in the making, but free speech has, int the West, has surpassed both monarchy and religion. It is a product of and made possible the secular ascendancy. I write this less than half a mile from where Joh Paine espoused his ideas in the meeting houses and pubs of Lewes, in Sussex, England. He had a personal loathing for the aristocracy and land owners. He took his ideas to North America where his words were enshrined in the American Constitution.

A single faith is the religion of many people around the world; it means more to them than consumerism, more than education, more than the state, more than democracy or even life itself. It invariably denies freedom of speech.
 
A little over 300 years ago a teenage boy blasphemed in Edinburgh: he was hanged for his offence, sin and crime. Does it take this long for society to change? Will the world be dealing with the clash between beliefs, opportunity and cultures for many centuries? I suspect so.
 
Those living in the West, by birth or by choice, need to understand and respect our faith - this belief in freedom of expression. Just as we need to accept that in other countries other rules are the norm. 
 
We watched the events unfold in real time hope we could spot our daughter and friends in the crowd. 
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How to start writing fiction

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Succinct characterisation by Richard Flanagan in his Man Booker Prize winning novel "The Narrow Road to the Deep North"

"After his sentencing, his Australian defence council, a flabby man with wet, glistening eyes that reminded the condemned Korean of scalpel blades, pleaded with him to lodge a petition for clemency." p.320

"Named after the noted Melbourne gangster, because of both his surname and a dark charm – emphasised by damp marsupial eyes, at once alert and vulnerable, and underlined by a pencil moustache–the once sleek Squizzy Taylor was now very thin, a form that lent him a villainous look he had never before had, further adding to the aptness of his nickname." p.270

'He turned away and looked back at the bookshelves. He was in any case thinking of Ella, whom he had met in Melbourne while completing his surgical training, Ella's father was a prominent Melbourne solicitor, their mother from a well–known grazing family;her grandfather was an author of the federal constitution. She herself was a teacher. If she was sometimes dull, her world and her looks still burnt brightly for Dorrigo. If her talk was full of commonplaces learnt as if by rote and repeated so determinedly that he really was 't sure what she thought, he nevtheless found her kind and devoted. And with her came a world that seemed to Dorrigo secure, timelss, confident, unchanging, a world of darkwood living rooms and clubs, crystal decanters of sherry and single malt, the cloying, slightly intoxicating, slightly claustrophobic smell of polished must.' p.64

 

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What's a MOOC from FutureLearn life? It's as easy as turning the pages of a book

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 7 Jan 2015, 11:12

My interest is e-learning. A decade ago it was web-based learning and before that it was online learning ... as compared to 'offline' learning on an intranet or in a computer learning centre. Across this period, whether on Laser disc, CD-rom, DVD, or online the key words to describe a successful piece of learning might include: easy to use, intuitive, effective, measurable results, gamified and impressive. 'Impressive' for a corporate client has always been important - they want to see how their money is spent. It matters to jazz a thing up, to find a way to deliver exception creative qualities in both the ideas and the execution of these ideas. In H.E. this 'impressiveness' has been thin on the ground the experience and view of H.E. that someone talking to camera with a slide show or whiteboard will do the job; it doesn't, not any more.

At the risk of writing a list I want to think about the 'enhanced learning' experiences that have impressed over the last 15 years:

Audi Shop DVD - Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. Stunning animated 3D animations of the engine. Like a 3D animated Dorling Kindersley

What are you like? - Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. An interactive life and career guide for teenagers done in the style of 'In Betweeners' and 'Some Girls' - nailed the audience with creative tone and visual effects. This won BAFTAs, the IVCA Grand Prix and NMA Effectiveness Awards. 

Ideafisher - first on floppy discs, then a CD. It did in the 1990s what various websites do today by linking vast collections of aggregated ideas and concepts that it filters out and offers up. The closest I've felt to AI for creativity.

MMC - online marketing courses. These were, for me, in 2010, an early example of stringing the face to camera lecture together with course notes to create a course. Still more like a self-directed traditional lecture series but the volume of content was admirable and some of the tools to control the viewing and reading experience were innovative.

TED Lectures. Are they learning? Or are they TV? Are they modelled on the BBC's Annual Reith Lecture series? Top of the Pops for the lecture circuit so tasters and Open Education Resources for grander things. 

Rosetta Stone - iPad App

Pure simplicity. I love these. I gave a year to an intermediate course in French, learnt some grammar and fixed several problems with my pronunciation. Like that game 'Pairs' you play as a child: a pack of cards with pairs of images on one side that you pair up. With considered, only sometimes over art-directed photography. Repetitive, always in the language you are learning. The next best thing to being dropped in amongst native speakers as an infant. It just works.

iTunesU - The History of English in One Minute.

Not so much a course as a series of stunning and memorable cartoon pieces that galvanise your interest. The next step is to follow through with a free trial course through OpenLearn and perhaps a nudge then towards a formal course with the Open University proper. 

FutureLearn - the entire platform.

As easy as reading a book. I've done eight of these and have another three on the go (two for review rather than as a participant). Across the myriad of subjects and offerings there are differences, all gems, but some are more outstanding than others. It is no surprise that those MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) produced by the Open University are some of the very best; it's what you'd expect with their experience. Other university's shine through for their confidence with the the platform too, for example, 'How to read a mind' from the University of Nottingham. 

MOOCs I love enough to repeat:

Start Writing Fiction: From the Open University

I may have been through this a couple of times in full and now dip back into it as I get my head into gear. I'll do this as often as it takes to get the thinking to stick. It's working. I read as a writer. I will interrupt a story to pick out how a succinct character description works.  I'm also chasing up a myriad of links into further Open University courses and support on creative writing. For example: next steps, creative writing tasters, and audio tasters on iTunes. 

MOOCs I may repeat next year ... or follow similar topics from these providers:

Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: From the Open University with the BBC

World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: From the University of Glasgow with the BBC

MOOCs I admire that target their academic audiences with precision:

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham

Shakespeare's Hamlet: From the University of Birmingham

Web Science: How the Web is changing: From the University of Southampton

 

 

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How are different MOOC platforms shaping up?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 6 Jan 2015, 13:55

The competitors for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are fragmenting, some into commercial learning and development where payment is easier to take, for specific skills training such as graduate induction and by profession, say law, accountancy, banking and pharmaceuticals. These are MOOCs that are neither massive nor open anymore. All see the value in improving their learning approaches, and to attract and identify the very best potential candidates, but open education should be for everyone, not a replay of an elitist model of the last millenium. Peter Stockwell puts the qualities and potential of FutureLearn very well at the end of the first week of the ‘How to Read a Human Mind’ in which he commends the contributions made by participants, how the most scholarly step in to explain and assist the novice, and the ‘wiki nature’ of the course allowing educators to rejig their module as it is represented. 

By comparison, efforts to use alternative platforms such as EdX, Coursera and Udacity I have found to be such direct reflections of formal, campus based training that they prefer an approach that fails to exploit our burgeoning digital literacy. The learning environments are dated and labyrinthine. The only successes I have had here has been where educators have taken a closer interest in the activity of the students, but this could only be achieved by their committing additional time: taking part in discussions and adding additional content on the fly, which cannot be the long term modus operandi of a ‘massive’ course with thousands, even tens of thousands of participants. If universities expect MOOCs to deliver plausible candidates for formal courses this doesn’t need to impact on the quality or nature of the experience, it does however require a mindshift in the way universities expose and reveal their educators and teaching methods.

 

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Reading the human mind: reflecting on a FutureLearn MOOC

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 5 Jan 2015, 17:24

Fig. 1. How the six-eight year old me thought a farmhouse in the Ypres Salient looked like during the First World War in October 1917

For 45 years I have dwelt on how the images in my head associated with stories my grandfather told me about the First World War changed from those of a six year old, to an eleven year old, through my thirties and forties ... my childhood conception of the imained world depended on the little I had personally seen and experienced. When my grandfather spoke of keeping his machine gun in a pillbox pointing at a farmhouse held by 'Jerry' For three days I at first pictured an intact farm building, the kind I often saw in a rolling and lush Northumbrian landscape, with the heavy stone walls and full deciduous trees I knew from being driven down bouncy country lanes north east of Alnwick heading for Chathill and our fisherman's holiday cottage in Beadnell. The pillbox in my imagination would have had to been like those left from the Second World War on the beach that my brother and I played in - and used as a urinal. Age eleven a few ghastly black and white pictures from the First War and the title sequence from the BBC Series 'The Great War' coloured my imagination: it added a soundtrack, skulls and broken trees, but not the scale, nor the mud, not the rain, the cold, thirst and hunger. Although he could mimmick every shell the sound effects my grandfather made could never get close to the terrifying sound os something large and dangerous approaching and then the almighty bang that followed.

In my twenties I got to the Ypres Salient in summer: it was dry, a new autoroute split and the noise of traffic created a barrier. Several TV efforts at recreating the war failed, not least as my thoughts expended to take in the thoughts of a what it meant to be a young man in those conditions, that you were in and out for a bout of two or three days. The rest of the time if not on fatigues or carrying parties you were looking for things to do.

Only now, thoroughly immersed in hundreds of currated photographs and having looked on destroyed, wet massively scarred landscapes from open mining, having smelt rotting flesh - not human, but a dead sheep several days gone, am I starting to develop a true image. With teenage children of my own it is too easy to imagine the horror of sending them to war. Images of what happens to a body when hit by shrapnel or bullets, or blown apart by shells are readily available. There is little left for my imagination to do, other than to see another drama reconstruction and feel that nothing has done it better than 'All Quiet on the Western Front.' It looks dated, somehow caught in the early 1970s when it was finally made, but 'Johnny Got His Gun' leaves you with the desired sense of hopelessness, horrror and despair that one ought to have.

Fig 2. As it was. The dead behind a stone wall. The very same image my grandfather had while he sat it out in the remains of a recently captured 'Jerry' strongpoint.

75 years after leaving that pillbox with two friends burried my 96 year old grandfather broke down: telling his stories as stories had been his escape from it, but back on the same soil, at the very spot with the light and low landscape just as it had been it once again had become horribly real. He withered away after that as if the reality of the war brought home to him made him whither from the inside out.

For all this 'Jerry' to me is still a black cartoon cat and the 'Hun' something barbaric from the fall of the Romans as a drawing in a Ladybird book. We are our own film directors when it comes to reading; an author is a catalyst to our thoughts that can conjure up anything - which, in part, is the fun of it. We inhabit a world of our own in the orchestra of our minds, the author the composer, as readers we conduct, as listeners or viewers the director injects a piece of their own mind.

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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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What will you look and sound like twenty years from now?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 3 Jan 2015, 14:08

Fig.1 JV 2013-2033 - from one niece's wedding.

We'll see. My father died young age 71 so I'm less sure I'll make it to 73. Then again my grandfather made it to 96 ... the other to 61 or something. 

I stumbled upon this link courtesy of a fellow OU Student on my very first MAODE module way back in 2010. We're still in touch. It's a fun App from Orange. Take a current grab using a webcam or use an old photo. It generates an Avatar that will then respond to your talking to texting it. Weird.

I've found that if it 'grabs' the image first time it works. What does not work is massively adjusting the settings with an image that gave a bad fit in the first place.

 

 Fig.2. JFV 2014 - 2013 from another niece's wedding. 

And yes, I've already tried old photos of me in my twenties to see how accurate it is and put in friends to see what it does to them. I've had me speaking fluent French too - easier than continuing with L120.

In 20 years time

http://oran.ge/1I4Vjs0 

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A writer's idyll. Beadnell Bay, Northumberland

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 1 Jan 2015, 09:30

Fig.1 The old fishermen's harbour, the 18th century lime kilns and a late December sunrise over the North Sea.

The sun coming up over Beadnell harbour, the lime kilns on the left, Dunstanburgh Castle in the far distance, sand dunes at my back a two mile beach walk to the river 'the long nanny' to my right. 

Fig.2. The iconic 'Beach Court' B nB - owned by a member of Showaddywaddy by the way ... 

A light frost on the seaweed and sand, our dog wondering why I've stopped in the middle distance. Several days with the waves, the views, the fresh air ... and bonkers relations who like to take a quick dip in the sea at this time of year! Not even the dog is that daft. The two mile walk to 'The Long Nanny' and the footbridge over the river is glorious as the tide goes out. 

What's this got to do with learning? Everything.

Time to reflect. Time to look back to my years running around here as a child the parents and grandparents, the uncles and great uncles and aunts all long gone. And from time to time there's a little bit of history to take in:

Fig.3. Ebb's Nook, looking out across the point over the North Sea many hundreds of years ago. 

We're looking for a spot to scatter my late grandfather's ashes. He came up here and stayed in a house behind Beach Court in the 40s and 50s until his daughter bought a cottage here and we spent our childhood here in the 60s.  

Fig.4 The Point, Beadnell at dawn. Volcanic rock poking into the North Sea. 

I can sit here for hours happily writing, drawing and taking pictures. I have my 'writer's notebook' as the OU Start Writing Fiction MOOC course recommended. I make notes about a talking lump sucker fish I once scooped out of a deep pool at low tide and took home in a large red bucket.

On the horizon there are now the occasional massive cargo carriers, just as I see back at home looking across the English Channel at Seaford Head. To the south the silhouette of Dunstanburgh Castle is a coastal landmark. To the north the Farne Islands are easy to pick out as the Longstone lighthouse flashes.

Happy New Year!

Does the Open University do a module on oceanography? 

REFERENCE

Historic Environment Survey for the National Trust Properties on the Northumberland Coast. Beadnell Limekilns and the Links. 

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by Cathy Lewis, Thursday, 1 Jan 2015, 20:03)
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Sunrise on the Point, Beadnell, Northumberland

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 1 Jan 2015, 12:13

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Why is the way the sun starts and ends the day such a special moment? This last week, wherever I have been up and down and across England the sunrise and sunsets have been fabulous. From the point on Beadnell Bay on the northern edge of the Northumberland coast, to the Cotswolds and home on the south Sussex coast.

Permalink 1 comment (latest comment by William Konarzewski, Thursday, 1 Jan 2015, 05:00)
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