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Posting fiction at Startwringfiction.wordpress.com

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

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

Connectivity should equal support, not just access to information. 

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Reading and writing with fresh eyes

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

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

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

From E-Learning IV

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

We learn through repetition; not simply learning by rote.

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

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

Reading matters as much as writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She expands on these.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Recreating that OU student feeling

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 24 Mar 2015, 12:13
From E-Learning VI

Need to plug a gap between courses or just can't stop e-learning?

I'm currently fighting my cerebral way through:

The Mind Is Flat

Understanding Drugs and Addiction

Community Journalism

Medicine and the Arts

Each has something to recommend though the humdingers are 'Understanding Drugs and Addiction' and 'Medicine and the Arts' : beautifully and thoughtfully done. Education as entertainment? 

 

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The Seven Sisters towards Beachy Head from Seaford Head

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2015, 07:42

 Fig. 1 Jeremy Irvine (War House) and Dakota Fanning (loads of films) on Seaford Head looking towrds the Seven Sisters.

This gem of a film is also from the director of "The Magnificent Marigold Hotel.' Dakota Fanning is a 17 year old dying of cancer with a wish list. Her performance is wonderful and she totally credible as English.

What's odd here is that the bench is pointed away from the view towards some gorse bushes and lacks a dedication which all such chairs have up there. I know because I walk the dog here often. Today I stumbled upon the largest camp of film lighting, catering, wardrobes and other support services I have yet seen. Are they filming Iron Man IV down there?

I have thus far stumbled upon the filming of a scenes from Atonement, what I was told was an Eastenders special, a TV commercial and picking up shots for Harry Potter (It's where the World Quidditch game is played).

Do you live next to a regularly used film location?

As a boy we had Alnwick Castle up the road. Long before Harry Potter they filmed something called 'King Arthur and the Spaceman' in which I was an extra all one summer. I was 16. I was the 'King's Guard Special' to Kenneth Moor's Arthur.

 

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The Brian is authentic, the mind is a squiggly line?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015, 17:26
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. Grab from The mind is flat. 

Across FutureLearn videos the name caption always come up right of screen whether or not there are one, two or more people featured. Does this kind of thing bother you? There are no fewer than THREE opportunities to brand this as 'The University of Warwick' - one would do, none are necessary. We know that this entire course if from Warwick. See them: Branded watermark in the top right hand corner, on the strapline (the least necessary and most erroneous) and yet again in the video time line ... there is a fourth if you include the page this grab came from. 

Other amateur antics include surreptitiously reading off notes, glancing away at the camera operator, having a second camera or wobble cam as if this a Jamie Oliver cookery course, that's before we have to think about the antics of the video editor who wants to prove that they should be cuttin pop videos.

Otherwise I love the learning and discussions and the argument for multimedia being 'good enough' rather than of TV broadcast quality is largely right: overly produced is just as bad as amateurish.

Anything that gets in the way of the message is wrong. Otherwise the above is perfect: an authentic exchange and share. So, authenticity rules? Mistakes and all. Speak the language of the fluid internet conversation. Keep it simple. Employ people with experience who know what they are doing. 

From E-Learning VI

 

Fig.2. Nick Chater and Jess Whittlestone. Co-stars of 'The Thorny Birds'.

 

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How many people have started the MAODE because of this blog?

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Two years in a contact has signed up, others I know have, along the way, at least done a course from the MAODE with me. Whilst posting all this content externally at www.mindbursts.com and here hasn't earned me a penny I'm glad the OU are getting students as a result. Perhaps they'd give me a course gratis as I can longer afford it. I have 60 credits towards a history MA and 60 credits towards an M.Ed. I rather fancied Creative Writing though smile 

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Inspired by The Thorn Birds

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 14 Mar 2015, 15:36
From Writing

Fig.1. The Thorn Birds. From my iPad

Every few weeks my writing output collapses as I wonder where on earth I am going with it. A few weeks ago I thought 30,000 words along the lines of 'Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging' would be good enough and about the standard and tone of what I was producing as I wrote up the antics of a 15/16 year old with his eye on any pretty girl. 

A second character appeared and grew. She took over the lives of two others and developed a life of her own.

I have both these two age six or so onwards.

Somewhere I got a whiff of 'The Thorn Birds' and so have had a couple of days reading what I vaguely remember as a TV series of Rachel Ward. It was on in 1983. I picked up bits of it. I had assumed it had been on far earlier than that, more like the mid 1970s. 

Anyway, this story told over sixty years has its appeal as a model. There is more sense to it as the lives of the immediate family around the central characters are brought to life than my determined efforts to thread together a group of girls from a Form Photograph. 

 

 

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One day all TV will be like Euronews

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 10 Mar 2015, 12:49
From E-Learning VI

The transition to a mixed media approach to news that is neither print magazine or old style TV news coverage has finally been achieved by Euronews. You don't know if you are reading, listening or viewing as the total experience merges all three.

One day all information sharing will be like this. You read it or view and/or listen all in one go seamlessly rolling between formats to suit your head's needs. 

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Life Logging and education

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 Mar 2015, 03:34

The idea of recording our daily lives is an ancient one: records, journals, letters and papers have been kept for centuries. Only recently has it become possible to keep digital versions of our day. There are reasons why we forget though; there are reasons too why our perceptions of the world aren't that great either. 

I happen to be one of those people who started a diary when I was 13. I had the misfortune of being sent away to school from the age of 8 too. As well as the diaries I have bundles of letters I received from the age of 8 to 16 - I refused to return to the 'institution' my parents were subjecting to me and got it to a 'normal' schooling.

Only in the last couple of days have I taken a close look at a diary I started almost exactly 40 years ago, or at letters I was receiving at the time. When my mother died I received a bundle of letters I had written to her as well. I never expressed to anyone, or was asked, how I felt about being sent away to school, though I remember my first night as vividly as my last. Reading back feels as if I was subjected to a prison sentence. For all the privilege, tenderness, trust and love was removed. Something as simple as a hug became a rare thing for holidays. There was, thankfully, none of the abuse, you hear of. Though boys were caned, and slippered. The torture was bottling up feelings and learning to deal with problems in your own way - even friends could, if given too much information, turn against you.

I was bashed through a sausage machine and have only rarely been able to reconstruct the person I may have thought I'd be age 7 or 8. Poor little rich boy? I didn't ask for that, or the violent breakup of my parents when I was 8. At least I've given my kids stability and love. One just left the nest and it was delightful to reflect on how much time as a family we have been together: barely more than a few days apart in her lifetime. Society should above all else value stability in families and an open, revealing and liberating education rather than a closed, introverted and exclusive one. 

I am not surprised to find, even where some of them have the money, that not one person I know who either went to such school age 8-13 or 13-18 has sent their children away. There are so many reasons why it was wrong them, and no better today. Today he problem is separating young people from the world they belong to instead of mixing up income brackets, race, religion, genders and even age groups. If I had influence, or power to change the way we educate our young people in this country it would be to open it up, by legislation. Nothing destructive, but to expect and develop a better mix, rather than the current exclusivity. We should abolish the charitable status independent schools have to start; what is charitable about an elitist institution? They should be open to public scrutiny and expected to earn it: 50% fee paying, 25% on reduced fees, 25% free places? 

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Enjoyed 'Ida' - loved 'Chinese Puzzle'

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After a 12 hour + writing marathon yesterday I managed to follow two movies: the polish Oscar 'Ida' which is moving and beautiful with an actress of iconic cookiness and ability. And then the third part in the trilogy, worthy of an oscar itself, 'Chinese Puzzle' set in France and the US and happily mixing between French and English.

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Scene Building

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Who am I? (Point of view). Who is accessing this scene for the reader?

Stay in that person’s head – same applies to omniscient narrator. Stay in their age, their voice, their way of thinking/see/noticing, because of who they are and where they are, both emotionally and physically, and contextually (time of relating this story).

Now, from that person’s viewpoint, i.e. you are him or her:

What can you see?

What can you hear?

What can you smell?

What do you touch?

What do you taste?

i.e put me in that place.

What are you doing?

Show me state of mind/emotions/reactions

What are you saying?

What are you thinking?

With thanks to Susannah Waters for this.

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Like 20 EMAs in one go - and as many choice words

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I've written over 100,000 words since November, half of this in the last six weeks. Guided by the OU content I have access to: OpenLearn, FutureLearn and books I am now editing a first draft of a novel. This is only possible thanks also to a reader/editor I 'met' on the OU 'Start Writing Fiction' course on FutureLearn last year.

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What the OU has taught me

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

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

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

I am writing at www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com

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

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

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Why you should follow Stacie Pidden's blog

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 18 Feb 2015, 08:39

I've followed Stacie's story since she started blogging here in February 2011. 19 I think. She has been waiting for a lung and heart transplant for the last four years while studying with the OU and sharing life, family, friends and events like we are all buddies. Good for her. Her wit, openness, struggles, honesty and attitude is life-enhancing. Ironic given that she personally doesn't know if she'll live out the year. She refuses all approaches from boys because she can't face having to tell them straight away, or a little later, that she might not have long to live. In between frequent visits to hospitals in Papworth and Hospital she shares her birthdays and christmases, her TMA struggles and visits to the theatre, concerts and the Harry Potter Studios.

Last week she appeared on Good Morning Britain to launch the 'Give a heart' campaign on Valentine's day ... she needs a heart and lungs and is one of only 17 or so people awaiting such a transplant in the UK. Follow her blog and learn how long it took to get onto the list, and then the heartbreak as hopes constantly raised and dashed. 

Life is worth the fight

She has been waiting for a heart and lung transplant for nearly three years. 

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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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