## Personal Blogs

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## Problem-based learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 19 Oct 2014, 06:45

Fig. 1. Lettuce Soup

A glut of lettuce is made into lettuce soup.

So simple. So refreshing cold. I goodle 'lettuce soup' then pick from the BBC recipes. Or Delia.

• A lettuce
• A cucumber
• Two bunches of spring onions
• A couple of potatoes

Do the soup thing.

Lettuce washed, spun, shredded. Cucumber diced. Spring onions chopped. Potatoes peeled and chopped.

Sweat in a pan with a little olive oil, then add a couple of pints of stock.

Season

Blend

Serve

That's it.

Repeat the recipe a couple of times and the lesson is fixed. It doesn't freeze well. Making your own stock is a right palarva - well worth it, but time consuming. This can be frozen. With vegetarians in the house I make up three batches of stock simultaneously:

Beef - with bones from the butcher, an onion, carrot, potato, bouquet garni.

Chicken - from the Sunday roast, as above.

Vegetable - roast a variety of root vegetables with onion, then slow cook in a couple of pints of water with bouquet garni and seasoning.

The problem I find is that the homemade stock is irresistibly good and is gone in the first serving, with seconds ...

Dealing with the rocket glut by making it into pesto with chillies.

Any ideas for knotweed?

On the learning front, very tedious. I read through a small stack of books using those slithers of PostIt notes, then transfer the notes and quotes to an exercise book: longhand. Finally, as I am about to do I type these up, sifting and editing further into a Two Column Google Doc - first column the text, second column the all important reference. There is nothing more draining to find later that you cannot find the right reference for an idea or quote that you want to use in an essay. p. for page number. KL. for 'Kindle Location'. I have yet to see advice on the best way to reference from an eBook version of a publication. I go with the principle, which is to show with precision clarity if and where your ideas and facts having knowing come from someone else - which is just about always, surely?

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 24 Jun 2014, 07:54)
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## Learning on the job

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 22 Jun 2014, 07:18

Fig. 1. Working in the Alps

Five months up a mountain working hard transports the gap-year student from school or college-kid into 'worker'. Long hours, responsibility, a foreign country and environment. The above typifies the roles on offer, the only other being the elusive ski or snowboard instructor that is only achieved with 12 weeks of intensive on the slope training.

Thirty-five years ago you were dropped into a position where few if any spoke English. My French was ropey and I'd only been driving for a few months but I was expected to park guest cars, always negotiating snow and ice and a very tight fit. The pressure and challenge of applied learning is radically different to learning through books and classes.

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## Is falling in love linear?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 21 Jun 2014, 08:09

Fig.1 A teenager on a quest for love

As a sixteen year old virgin the feelings I had for a girl had me indulging the sensations and plotting where it would go. It ended in tears - she took a fancy to my older brother. If anything happened, it was all in my head. She said I was in love with the idea of being in love. True. I wanted to record and reflect on all that I was going through, attempting to find a pattern in it. Any pattern, any model, is a crude simplification of reality. Learning above love or learning about learning as I've been doing these last four years is just as messy.

There's a dangerous interface between the academic and the popular, the scholarly paper and the journalist, where a plausible hypothesis passes for the truth. In the New York Times earlier last week a reporter interpreted the entry in a blog where the author suggests that learning isn't linear, but logarithmic. There's a ring of truth to it: achieving a grade, for example, above a certain figure (it differs by person, subject, module, stage in learning, proficiency and aptitude for the subject). There's also a ring of truth in the suggestion that some things are toughest at the beginning, while others are toughest at the end. The mistake is to think that such a model can be applied universally.

Any linearity is a model, an interpretation of reality, not reality itself. Several models I would refer to as alternatives to logarithmic and exponential, offered by this author and the NY Times journalist's misinterpretation would be:

Fig.2 In the flow

a) a straight diagonal line at 45 degrees with 'In the flow' as the title to illustrate the theory of getting 'in the flow' as a product of responding to stress on the one hand and learning or coaching to meet the challenge on the other as developed over decades by Miihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Fig. 3. The Forgetting Curve

b) the 'forgetting curve' developed over a century ago by Hermann Ebbinghaus

Fig.4. The Learning Cycle

c) the learning cycle, so a circle, developed by David Kolb.

Fig. 5 The learning thermal

d) My take on this is of an ascending spiral - which assumes constant progress. The reality is that we often hit turbulence, change or minds, come back to ground, gain a propeller, lose a leg ... Enough. I'll work this up when I can in a separate 'paper' and post in due course.

Oh heck. There are another two models I need to add to this:

Fig. 6 Activity Theory

e) Activity Theory, which is a triangle with six interconnected nodes (Yrjo Engestrom) and

Fig. 7. Network Theory

f) 'connectedness' (George Siemens claims credit) which is the 21st century take on an ever-present vision of how we learn ... which is related increasingly to 'network theory' which is complemented by current thinking on neuroscience - put crudely that all thoughts and ideas, their creation and memory are the product of the brain connecting at least seven now recognised clusters in different parts of the brain. Is 'network theory' the science behind the assumption of connectedness though?

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## How to learn?

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I'd got this down to one word 'love' as in 'love thy labour'. I wonder if 'fascination' would be a better term to describe what drives the successful learner. Or 'enduring fascination' that takes you through the good and bad times.

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## Speedy access to and consumption of the right information when you need it

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Fig.1. NHS Choices

In 1999 Jakob Nielsen wrote a book on 'Web Design'; his principles hold true over a decade later, indeed, NHS Choices could have been designed by a team with this web design bible on their desks.

We read differently when faced with a screen. We read differently when there is a urgency to pin something down. This is learning as consumption, and learning 'just in time'. It is also applied learning. Simply returning to these pages does, in time, enhance the likelihood that you'll recall the content, but what improves further on this are the patient comments - or any other, subtle, incremental adjustments that refresh the viewing.

The problem, by way of comparison, with Wikipedia, is that the content has become overworked and the more the experts get involved the more impenetrable it becomes. A filter is required that personalises the experience so that the content that you are exposed to develops alongside your understand of what it says. Are their pages that know that you are still at primary school, secondary school or an undergraduate for example. This too would be too crude based on subject specialism. Or does this come down to your choices from those offered by the browser? If you are in higher education that you automatically use Google Scholar and read peer-reviewed papers rather than webpages aimed at the general public.

This isn't aimed at medical students.

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## A writing exercise

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 19 Jun 2014, 18:56

Put a descriptive adjective on a sheet of paper and put these in a box. Pick a word then write for ten minutes. In small groups share.

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## This works

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 19 Jun 2014, 07:52

Fig.1 Character

Story is character, and character is indicated through actions clearly associated with a set or single character trait. Game for yet another stab at getting some fiction finished and published this is proving its worth. Whether I can sustain a story about a young man sinking ever deeper into the quagmire of a crater-like shell-hole full of mud in Flanders in early October 1917 (First part of Passchendaele during Third Ypres) is another matter.

Meanwhile my inability, or procrastination over taking a module in Intermediate French (L120) has garnered a response from OU Student Services: I have another six weeks during which time I can figure out how to pay for it. 1p for ever view of this blog would do. Instalements. Not that this will arm me to take on the French Legal system over a timeshare my late father bought in 1973 I should study Law, but it's the wrong kind of law.

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## What supported, loving, inspirational learning looks like?

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Fig. 1. My sister and her month old grandson. (c) S.J.F.Mitchell (2014)

Is love the best form of education?

Their love of the 'subject'

With motivation who needs the Internet or books? Both help. Classes help. Having and giving the time helps. Support helps. Parents play a role, and should they be around, grandparents even more so because they are there.

On a quest to find some international plugs (I failed), I stumbled upon the cards I used to give the eulogy for my late grandfather. He died in early December 1992 at the age of 96. He left school at 14. He talked about the First World War and I watched him, never idle, in the garage and garden. When do undergraduates or graduates get to 'watch' their tutors 'at work'. That would be an insight, and inspirational. Or is this in part what one gets during a PhD?

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## This will not do!

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 17 Jun 2014, 09:49

Fig. 1 My A' level Geography exercise book

Somehow a handful of exercise books and files from my A'level years have survived three+ decades. On very rare occasions on stumbling across these in a box, in a garage or shed, or attic I've glanced at a few carefully drawn diagrams or maps, smiled proudly at the grades achieved in the final pages, but never stopped to take a careful look at the truth.

The truth when I read it made me faint. Was I that bad? Was the teacher so blunt? How come I didn't go ape-shit and promptly quit the course?

If I wish to I could seek enlightenment in the diary I kept at the time; I have little doubt that on a teen quest for 'love' there were other priorities in my life.

Reading this I fear my brain has buried my feelings; it's as if I am reading it for the first time. Every page, 'only twelve', are lightly scored through. In all credit to a brilliant teacher - I believe, ultimately that all but one or two in the class got an A grade 18 or so months later, he offers a bullet-pointed suggestion of an essay plan. The 'half-term' reply to this gets a C-- and a middling response that clearly indicates that only an 'A' will do. All of this experience is new to me in my schooling to date. Threats usually failed, seven years previously having done badly in a French Test I was threatened with a caning if I didn't get x% minimum in a retake ... after half-term. My arse was saved; I suspect my response could have been as violent as the teacher's had he come near me ...

When it comes to the 'carrot and stick', my experience is that I need both applied and given firmly.

Four essays and as many weeks later this teacher's response is somewhat different:

Fig. 2. Same Geography exercise book, four to five weeks later.

It is odd, though invaluable to be reflecting on this some 35 years after the event. It relates to learning; I'm not teacher-trained. It relates to e-learning too, at all the levels where it is offered. How does or can the technology be used so that a teacher or tutor can provide blunt, constructive feedback in a way that achieves its aims for the individual student? How did this teacher get extraordinary results out of a class, many of whom I knew well and would have rated themselves at the D/E level of likely attainment?

Fundamentally, I feel, is that he, and most others I had during these years were a) vocational educators b) brilliant at their subject c) practitioners.

This teacher was cold, but hugely enthusiastic and knew the subject down to the tiniest detail. He knew his art and gave classroom presentations that came from his soul, not from an Edexcel textbook on his desk. A year later he frankly said that he would teach us what we'd get in our first year at university to maintain our interest ... to keep us simmering as exams approached. And as the 'Physical Geographer' he would often start a lesson with photographs of a climbing trip in Scotland or flying a glider over Northumberland.

Fig.3. What kind if daisy is your essay?

At the end of this particular exercise book the teachers fills half a side of A4, in red biro, doing his best, now for the umpteenth time, to get me to understand what an essay at this level requires; it is here that he draws takes up drawing a flower, a daisy, suggesting that the perfect essay has five or six petals and a simple step, not the twelve petals, or lopsided, or trunk of an essay that I could produce.

The purpose of the essay, especially assignments that are not graded, are multiple but never, from I can see, used in the e-learning produce by the Open University. Where is the chance to find your feet, to have a go and fail, to learn through trial and error how to get it write? What role, in any case, would a tutor play to improve an essay style, or to simply help a student get their approach right? And what is the value in assessing a student in a modular form when they cannot expect to be anywhere near to mastering their subject until they've been studying for a year?

How can this vital, human component, make its mark in e-learning?

Artificial Intelligence must surely offer a smart answer; how else can the many millions who are denied an education at this level have a chance at the experience?

Tellingly, I see that there are comments made in these text books that I struggle with still. I write too much, but in the essay where the purpose is to gather in and focus multiple ideas from several sources in order, at a later date, to refine and prioritise what YOU personally think matters, then more is far, far preferable and necessary then the essay with the limited word count. What happens otherwise is that too early in the learning process the student is expected to reduce down a substance, their research and thoughts, which in the early stages are bound to be on the thin side. From this 'thin; input a thinner essay is meant to be the basis on which the student takes their learning forward.

There has to be a better way.

Or alternatives.

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## Why some e-learning is evil

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 16 Jun 2014, 11:31

Fig.1 Student marginal notes in a second hand book

A couple of weeks ago it started to dawn on me that in some respects e-learning is evil; I lost the thought a couple of times a) because I was driving my daughter to her last A' Level exam at the time and b) starting to compose the ideas my wife felt the need to share with me some pressing thought and I did her the courtesy of holding everything to listen - not just to look as if I was listening (a man things?), but actually take it in to offer a response (another man thing?) The thought was lost.

Rummaging through boxes of text books in the hope that I will find a plug for an imminent trip to Paris by wife and daughter (a post exams and 18th birthday treat), I stumbled upon a book on 'The Causes of War' by Michael Howard and the thought returned:

E-learning is evil because it negates a student 'learning how to learn'.

This matters as most graduates don't apply WHAT they learn at university, but rather the process of learning itself; that application, thought, time, discovery for yourself, seeking out your own meaning, interpretation, sharing, nervous first attempts at constructing an opinion or stance, building on this through mistakes, correction and further reading, attending lectures, seminars, and tutorials. It is NOT a case of consuming within tight confines content that has been specifically constructed for you to follow, to the letter, without little expectation, or desire for you to wander off on any tangents of your own. This has been my too frequent experience of modules in the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education as with few exceptions the module is written and presented to you like a huge stack of packed lunches for you to eat your way through, without deviation, pretty much day by day for a period of weeks and months.

This is a convenience that suits the nature of distance learning - to hook you into a diet of these set-meals that can collectively building into a degree. The tough reality and self-evident experience of learning is that few students are ready to be assessed until a year, if not two years into their subject. Otherwise the pattern of grades is surely likely to be a gradual step by step, incremental improvement from the 40s, to 50s, to 60s ... and hopefully 70s and even 80s.

I would far prefer to master my subject first and then be assessed and in so doing get 70s and 80s across the board, once the cumulative effect of sustained learning over many months has had the opportunity to mature.

There is probably therefore a lesson to be learnt here for the reasons why Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) fail - they fail because they promise a trick that in learning never works - there is no short cut, the brain doesn't allow it, thoughts and ideas take time to mature. Which brings me to the fallacy of so much e-learning that tries to suggest that a revolution in learning is occurring, that there is a quick fix through gamification, having Google and Wikipedia at your fingertips and worst of all by reading condensed books, or courses that hand you all the answers on a plate in a ready-meal, or drive-in take-away manner that may satisfy at the time, but fails to deliver in the long term.

Six of sixteen MA students doing a Master's degree with the Open University have recently completed degrees with the Open University; we often compare thoughts. We're universally derogatory of both approaches! Learning is a pain in whatever form it comes, but the answer would be a developed blend of both worlds and approaches.

Books, the printed form, certainly have a place. It is a pain to read a book, to identify salient points with notes into a book, or with PostIt notes, and to filter these into a format where they can be preserved and then later applied in an essay or presentation. It is this pain, and the time and effort it takes to condense books, to gather your own thoughts on the ideas of others, and then to construct your individual take, with support from your faculty (tutor, chair, fellow students) that builds your confidence so that you write what you think, not what the you are required to express, in a format that can be marked by an autonomon.

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## A picture is worth a thousand doctor's appointments

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 16 Jun 2014, 11:38

Fig.1 Lichen Planus

Since I can remember, perhaps age 7 or 8, I have suffered from a toothache-like or earache-like intermittent pain in the side of my face, sometimes leading to stomach cramps and nausea. Every decade over the last four I go through a round of tests which last week, completing a series of discoveries and insights that have spiralled to this conclusion - I am diagnosed as getting 'Lichen Planus'. I even had on my phone a list of some 23 allergic triggers: foods, drinks, airborne pollutants. It ties in with both asthma and rhinitis and weak or faulty, localised, response of my immune system.

I'm not the doctor, but it is the case, and perhaps increasingly should be for all of us, that we not only hold our personal medical records, but take a professional-like interest in their contents, not to burden the Health System, but to aid in the pinpointing of problems, to help prevention alongside medication.

It took a chance visit to the dentist the day after a trip to the GP for prescription painkillers. And a photograph, not this one, but to 'capture' what was going on various efforts to photograph the inside of my mouth meant that I could show the GP what was going on during a flare up.

How many ailments could and now are rapidly diagnosed in this way?

Meanwhile, self-discipline requires that, amongst other things, I avoid:

• certain toothpastes and mouthwashes
• alcohol (bear, wine, cider ... purer spirits might be ok)
• chocolate
• tomatoes
• certain refined flours
• apples
• cumin seeds
• spicy chinese and indian foods
• chocolate digestive biscuits
• cheap pasties
• certain perfumes, bleaches and paints ... the car screenwash set's my face off

Actually I need to become a fish

Meanwhile, I carelessly tried to register for a module ten minutes before registration closed and appear to have missed it. Intermediate French will have to wait.

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## On the benefits and drawbacks of having an obsessive nature when it comes to learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 13 Jun 2014, 06:12

I love the pursuit. I get a thrill from tracking down the reference in the reference. If this means that reading a book requires me to read six books, then so be it. I come out the other end not only having read the book, but having constructed my own understanding of it by getting closer to the sources the author originally used; invariably I form a different opinion, sometimes one that makes we question how the author drew these conclusions as my own thinking are different. This is when you see how, like journalists, even authors of academic texts, of necessity, have to be selective. This is particularly the case with history where interpretation of the past is exactly that; a turning over, sifting and retelling of the events.

The drawback of an obsessive nature is when you feel a compulsion to see every episode of Game of Thrones, and when you're not watching the series you're reading up on the cast and crew in IMDB.

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## E-Learning so good you want to share it?

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The best ads are so good you want to share them - you tell people about the ad on TV, you talk about the poster of magazine spread that you have seen - because it is controversial, because it is effective, because it is memorable. You are persuaded.

Why can't learning online be this good?

Inspired moments where you feel compelled to share a lecture, a tutors ideas, an infographic, a paper or book? Why must it all be so worthy, so dull, so predictable, so regurgitated and unoriginal?

When will liking and sharing a lesson, in whatever subject, put that lesson, or idea, thought, essay, talk, map to the top of a student's search so what they see makes them think, has them remembering and creating thoughts and ideas of their own?

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## TNK

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Is it true, nothing or kind?

(See below)

This has been bugging me, as I am consciously excitable and enthusiastic about whatever it is I am doing so will voice my thoughts in search of the truth, hoping that what I';m saying isn't vacuous and as it is academic then there should be no question of whether it is 'kind' or not.

You pass a stranger walking the dog. You mention the weather, or football and you are immediately guilty of opening your mouth for no worthwhile purpose. Better to say, 'What a lovely dog you've got!' which is kind, more than nothing ... though whether it is true or not is open to debate (or undebateable).

You might say more than 'lovely weather we're having' and say 'that high has established itself and looks like giving us a long spell of settled sunshine' TRUE ... but you may be talking to a BBC weather presenter.

Say nothing at all?

Just smile kindly and let the person you pass on the path fill in the detail.

Pernickety about many things my late father considered all small talk a waste of breath; how are you, the weather, football ... though you could stop him in his self-indulgent thoughts by mentioning a kite you'd spotted. Each to their own.

'Lovely weather we're having' someone says to which you reply, 'and amazing cloud formations, have you noticed ... look, what does that one'.

Where does flirting fit into the pattern?

You whisper sweet nothings into her ear as you grin, cuddle closer and reciprocally place hands in places that hint of something more.

Is it kind?

That depend. If it is first date can you tell yet whether it will lead to fifty years of marriage, three kids, six grandkids and a mortgage?

Is it true?

'I love you' ?

Where's the truth in that? Your truth may be their ability to indulge you.

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## New blog post

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 9 Jun 2014, 00:08

Perhaps these could be the guidelines for contributing to a community blog such as this?!

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It's so rare I have to be in it. I will read and nod off in the sun. I will add PostIt notes and later type these up onto a laptop. I've been known to hide the screen in a cardboard box to reduce glare.

It works for me. I especially like being told when my brain has reached overload and I can sleep for a bit. And potter around the garden to break it up. Putting out and taking down washing. Pricking out seeds. Giving up on the beans and peas. Putting in some more tomatoes.

Sitting a written exam when it is a wonderful day is not so hot; if you have two exams then you miss it all. Not quite a day at work you should tell the student though.

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## E-learning is at best clinical, at worst sterile

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 Jun 2014, 05:51

'Sterile' is apt; I'd be more forgiving ... 'clinical'.

I'm reaching these conclusions courtesy of a comment and discussion below. Thanks Cathy.

I am very aware of wonderful of examples of e-learning used in the education of Junior Doctors (search Spaced-ed and QStream below) where understandably we expect them to know, to perfection, the bits and bobs of the human body.

Learn, repeat, test, and achieve higher grades as a result of using the QStream platform.

'Sterile' is apt in any of the humanities where interpretation negates any kind of 'tick box' approach that might suit the costings of the assessment process but utterly fails the need for considerable discussion and interpretation.

To challenge my beliefs and expectations of learning I am already half way through a more traditional Masters Degree. I am 'reading' for this degree in every sense of the word. As I inch ever closer to a distinction ... three, then two marks off ... I put this down to my curiosity and personal pursuit through references and footnotes that are of interest to me.

I'm being disingenuous here of course. E-learning is fast becoming a mirror to 'learning', its scope suitably vast and varied to accommodate the good, bad and ugly of the genre. In particular, how learning objective are met will indicate the appropriateness of certain approaches; a learning by rote platform such as QStream is of great value ensuring that Junior Doctors know their stuff, but would be the wrong approach to teach philosophy. Often, history is a prime example, course context and prescribed texts are easily complimented with your own further reading. TED-like lectures work as an inspirational starting point. I swear by the game-like affordances of Rosetta Stone.

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## Trying to jog my memory - is 'e-learning' the 'ready meal' of learning?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 7 Jun 2014, 05:42

Fig. 1. Somewhere along Dyke Road yesterday morning I had this thought ...

I had a thought on 'the evil of e-learning' as I drove my daughter to her final A' level exam. She was flicking through some revision notes on cards and intermittently going to her phone to listen to clips of John Donne she was hoping to remember. A bit of e-learning there. I meant to write down the thought but was driving. Six hours later it comes to me again, I write 'e-learning is evil' as the title of one of these posts (I use my student blog as a learning journal and portfolio) and my wife bursts in with some exciting news that I am eager to here and not wanting to be rude I'm sure the thought will wait ... but no, it had gone.

I'm reflecting on this now in the hope that it'll come back to me ... I may have to drive out to my daughter's school simply to see if that jogs my memory. I'd like to think the idea I had was profound, but I've lost it for the moment. I need to get those parts of my brain that were active at the time re-aligned ...

Four years and seven OU modules and a passing thought about the nature, possibilities and weaknesses of e-learning comes and goes.

It'll come to me.

Everything will need to be as it was yesterday. I'm unlikely to have my daughter in the car if I drive out there ... she's done with school I guess during the exam she got a text from Glyndebourne to ask if she'd do an afternoon shift which is where her Mum took her in the afternoon - so much for celebrating!

There was something about the moment, reflecting on the end of her secondary education and what she's gained or achieved, the relevance of her circumstances and who she is ... using her iPhone to scroll through podcasts of readings of John Donne ... with sets of handwritten cards. The radio was off; I knew it would have been a distraction. I didn't speak. All the more reason to having given my head the chance to think, where there is a chance there is more activity internally and less competition from external inputs.

Was that it?

E-learning externalising the knowledge and spoon feeding someone else's interpretation of the answer? E-learning as the 'ready meal' of education? That learning the product of a collection of images and impressions? That a tricky quotation my daughter was trying to get to stick, like a PostIt note to the back of her head would forever be associated with the myriad of ways in which she was introduced to the passage, wrote it down, re-wrote it selectively from her A' Level English folder, and was now, in her way, listening to it and reading her handwritten revision card ... and that yes, on quizzing her in the evening over supper she'd referred to the quote as well and was quite chuffed with the whole experience.

This is it.

That e-learning risks stripping out a mass of personalised contexts that make the learning memorable and personal, and even worthwhile. Looking back on my seven modules (so far) with the Open University everything done online (and I have thousands of posts and thousands of screen-grabs and notes on it) on reflection, risks having been very clinical. Not all of it. Not always. But the idea of learning online 'by joining the dots' scares me. What's the use of that?

I'm going to have to go and sit in the car.

If I'm still stuck then when I drive my daughter to work later this morning I may see if any of it comes back to me. There is method to this; I know from years of clawing back dreams, those most wispy of experiences, that the closer you recreate the very moment of thought, the more likely enough parts of your brain will fire up to bring it back ... or, in the neurological sense, to recreate an approximation of the thought.

We did speak. Something about exams. The stress, value and differentiation in grading of them. She spoke about Lear, I spoke about Hamlet. In the back of my mind I was reflecting on the benefit or otherwise of our children having their parents both together and at home. We've not been sticklers for revision, rather enablers, helping them see the value and need to get on top of their subject, and to help them or allow them to vary the pace by still seeing friends, getting out, some footie or the gym ... I wonder though if streaming TV series and movies back to back will be my son's undoing; yet I recall I would often have had the radio on as my companion to revision. We'll see. I know that what works is the ability to focus; if you want it to the brain will tune out the distractions.

E-learning is massive and complex. It's neither a panacea, nor an absolute. Can it be too clinical though? The context in which we learn, engaging all the senses, has a profound impact on how and if we form a memory and can then keep it.

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## Future Learn

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Fig. 1. The above is a screen-grab. This is the link to Talk the Talk

These are an important step in expanding the appeal of e-learning - quality, free, online courses that serve multiple purposes: free learning, PR for the institution, feeding hungry minds ...

They typically require only two to four hours of your time a week - unlike the formal distance-learning degree programmes that require 16 - 22. Typically a very short video, some reading, some questions and research makes up each 'activity'. They are a taster of what these universities offer undergraduates, graduates and distance learners.

I've done two already (Web Sciences with the University of Southampton, Hamlet with the University of Birmingham), and a third of a similar ilk (First Steps into Teaching in Higher Education) offered independently by Oxford Brookes.

Explaining them to someone I described these as the 'new hard back', that sumptuous coffee-table book. You browse, you enjoy ... and then you engage. They are inspirational more than hardcore - though they do test your thinking with assessment too. Like one of these coffee-table books there's a bit of showing off too. And they're free. A great way to test the water in relation to self-directed learning online.

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## The worst of both worlds rather than the best

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Jun 2014, 06:09

Fig .1. The Dynamics of Doctrine: The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine During the First World War. Timothy Lupfer (1981) Combat Studies Institute

Sometimes the technology lets you down. Here, having tracked down an obscure book I discover that it is only available in 'digital form' - though it isn't. Rather it is a series of 80 photographs, not even scans and these are presented in landscape form too small to read without expanding the page.

On an iPad the pages flips to horizontal unless you lock the screen. To read the text I have to enlarge each photograph one at a time. I cannot highlight, or annotate. I cannot search. I cannot link instantly to any reference or footnote.

It had better be worth the effort to extract the information that interests me (it will, there is very little on German tactics on the Western Front while there is a mountain on what the British were doing).

The effort to read this book will, whether I like it or not, make what I read more likely to stick - the effort is more likely to result in stuff going into the deeper recesses of my memory rather than floating on the surface.

Usually books that have had this done to them are printed out, on demand, and couriered; I have a few. Again, with mixed results, some brilliant and book like, one I have like a bad photocopy on glossy paper.

The error was during the inputting. Some student operative faced with a stack of books to put through the digitising system didn't line this up. Or, perhaps, this has been copied from a microfiche? That would explain why it scrolls from left to right.

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## What do you learn from a TV series like 'Breaking Bad'?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 5 Jun 2014, 09:14

I cracked some ten days ago; unwell, not so unwell I couldn't flop about the house, bored and managing to read, but my brain too lacklustre to take notes or think. So I tried this.

The pilot episode was magic - like the second act of Macbeth. It all happens and you're left eager for more. 36 episodes later and it goes through a slow patch, but now I'm on the home run and can see the premise of it all. This happened to coincide with a sessions I attended on writing fiction in which I learned that 'character is plot' - in this case character is also premise and story arc. So, not on a creative writing course but there's a load to learn about writing fiction here.

$3m an episode!? Shot on 35mm film.$200m for all six series?!!

It shows. The production values are those of a movie.

The Open University has equivalent production values; you get into bed with the BBC on 'The Frozen Planet' or some such and spin off Open Learn tasters and various modules. But as a learning platform does video teach? Rather does it inspire and motivate?

Drama is about how you are made to feel, not how you come to think?

Advertising persuades, it has to. Why are 'educational videos' more like TV commercials then?

Donkeys years ago we made 'advertorials' - extended, persuasive, corporate, sponsored learning content put out on video, then distributed by satellite and eventually put on internal networks. I have to wonder if a leaflet would not have worked better and achieved as much for less, but as it was pointed out, no one read the leaflets, at least a training manager knew his workforce had watched 'the video' because they had the attendance sheets.

Were they given a test afterwards though?

That's the way to turn it into learning. 'After this video, or episode you will be given a test on .... '

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## What to do about odd socks

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:56

All my schemes and ideas to tackle odd socks have failed: days of the week, patterns, colours, all black (they fade and stretch in individual ways only known to a sock) ...

The answer of course, in summer at least, is not to wear them - I prefer 'deck shoes'.

The other response, something my son adopted years ago, is to wear odd sock and not give a damn. Here the answer is at least to wear odd socks from the same set.

I then rather wonder if I couldn't have odd trouser legs to match?

Is it then a case of the problem being in the eye of the perceiver?

That to the colour blind (or blind) there is not problem. The socks are all clean. They are all the same size (odd that in a family of four, but between my wife, daughter and son we do fit the size 6-8 sock).

That one solution to a problem is to ignore it.

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## Career guidance from the OU - Part 1

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:21

Horticulturalist

I have to wonder if the career advice should not come before you take a degree rather than afterwards. I cannot figure how from the multitude of questions that I answered that it came up with this.

Did IT know that age 13 1/2 I had the entire summer term off school as my leg was so badly broken and that I used this time to work through the Reader 's Digest 'Gardening Year'? My efforts some 40 years on pale: back then I was doing both ground and air propagation of rhododendrons - successfully pulling off the second plant a year or two later. Maybe that was my calling, instead education got in the way and the parental requirement for a 'proper degree'.

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## On being an OU bore

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:25

Seven modules later and in four years I believe I have had ONE face to face conversation with a fellow student. A couple of weekends ago I sat with a friend who creates learning content for a national museum: I realise know what a bore I became as over two hours I fear I turned every conversation back onto learning in general and e-learning in particular.

Finding like-minds online is one thing; having them in front of me is another.

I've noticed something awkward too - a couple of friends with whom I share all sorts through Facebook who I see around town; in the past we'd greet eachother, catchup on personal and family news, even have a coffee - now we grunt, mention something we caught online and move on. As if by knowing so much more about our goings on that small talk is pointless, and more intimate chat now redundant and likely to be repetitive.

Returning to 'like-minds' and the value, even craving to 'let it all out' - this is where there is significant value in the residential school. It matters to have the opportunity to put your enthusiams and problems with a module in words and to see and feel the response from others.

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## Amazon makes e-learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Jun 2014, 11:56

Wikipedia gives you an answer, whereas Amazon delivers the book.

Wikipedia spoon feeds a ready-made response, whereas Amazon offers many points of view. These days my book reading has grown hugely as, whether a book or eBook, I use each book like a stepping stone to another. As I read I form a view on the authors most often cited and invariably, as a result, order the next book. It may be out of print, but is available as an eBook or print on demand, it may be 100 years old, or an ex-library book, or come with a dedication. The learning journey I take I feel is my own.

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