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Design Museum

Not a word

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 9 Jul 2014, 10:01

Fig. 1 You turn your head to take in the view and risk getting run over

I came out to Spain on a one way ticket with instructions to get a bus, followed by a four hour cross-country hike. My ignorance of Spanish is so great that before I even go into a toilet I have to keep an eye on whether men or women and coming in and out.

Ask, ask ... ask.

Even if neither of you have much clue what the other is saying. I tried writing out a few phrases, such as 'where can I get the bus too ...' and ended up showing this note to people. I nearly got a bus to La Lina, Grenada ... rather than La Linea, Concepcion. I would have ended up 200 miles in the wrong direction.

In awe as the bus came over the rise of a mountain and in the distance the cliff face of a mountain rising out of low cloud in front of a channel of dark, busy water. I was looking across the straights of Gibraltar. Bus cracked on at speed. I could have sat there for the day. 

Spanish courtesy of Rosetta Stone. This is so good at perfecting pronunciation that one phrase and I get a stream of Spanish back. More useful is one of those 'Spanish Basics'. 

We stepped back into England to watch the Germany Brasil game in a British Pub in Gibraltar. Very odd. What is it with Gibraltar? The curiosity has me again.

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Gobsmacked

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Fig. 1. MarineTracker.com

This blew me away. A service that tracks every vessel at sea. For various levels of monthly subscription the service will do all but helm your tanker, yacht, motorboat across the world's oceans - that is coming.

It isn't quite Google Streets - you can't drill down to live satellite images at sea level. 

Will DVLA track every vehicle on UK roads one day? Why not? All driving offences will become a thing of the past or be prosecuted the moment they are committed. And we take a step further towards the driverless car.

Then tracking people; voluntarily. Why do that? Having a snail-trail database of where you have been. It would be interesting to analyse how, ant-like, we go about our lives. The commute would be seen for the almighty waste of time that it is.

Would it be ethical to microchip your kids? Or a parent with dementia?

And regardless of this what kind of services could be offered to someone whose whereabouts is always tracked? To some considerable degree we allow this and encourage it as soon as we turn on a mobile device? I don't speak a word of Spanish - yet. I'd like through my phone, with an ear piece, to have a one-to-one tutorial as I attempt to cross the country to locate the above yacht when it puts into port in the next couple of days. 'Just in time' language tuition. 

Other things I don't want to look up. 'Tell me about ...' and I am promptly told about the thing I am looking at in a language, and style that suits me ...

Far fetched?

Artificial Intelligence offers a way forward to bring unprecedented levels of personalised learning to millions.

Those with a smart phone and speedy Internet access; so neither inclusive, nor fully accessible or even without cost. So severely limited in that respect as a harbinger of education for the world. 

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Making Memories

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 13 Oct 2014, 08:45

Fig.1. The muddy sides of the River Ouse, Piddinghoe. At low tide.

We are very good at forgetting: it's vital.

We see, feel, sense far too much in our daily lives (which includes when asleep). Come to think of it what on earth was I doing on a student exchange to North America last night where I am twenty years older than my hosts ... (probably sums up how I feel about the workplace).

See. Some memories are made for us, or by us whether or not we want them.

Learning though requires us to gather, create and retain stuff. Some of this stuff is forgettable; it doesn't resonate, or is poorly taught or expressed. Or we simply don't get it the way it is expressed, or the first time around.

Fig.2 Neuroscience of dummies

Make it a memory

At an OU Residential School the session on revision was packed. The tips made us laugh: sucking a choice of Polo Fruit sweets by subject theme - when you come to the exam repeat and each sweet will link you to that period of revision. Odd. But it worked often enough for me to convince me of its value.

 

Fig.4. Ebbinghaus and his 'Forgetting Curve'

The science from the likes of Hermann Ebbinghaus and his 'Forgetting Curve' simply indicates how something fades, unless you go back to it a few times over several days over which period you make it stick. It doesn't say anything about the 'stickiness' of the memory in the first place. Sometimes this stickiness is made for you. There is drama, there is an explosion. Most likely, by chance, the learning is anchored by some unrelated event like the fire alarm going off - that won't work for 50 different things though.

Fig. 5 Multiple ways of making 'it' stick: read (book and e-book), highlight, tag and take notes.

If the module, or your tutor isn't doing it for you then the next step is to dig around for a book, video or image that does it for you.

Most likely, and of far greater value, is for you to turn that lesson into a memory of your own creation. There is always value in taking notes, so never listen to the presenter who says 'no need to take notes I'll give you the slides afterwards'. Never trust the quality of the slides. What the person said will be of more value then the slides. You, and your handwriting, and your doodles are how it starts to become a memory. Then when you write up or rewrite those notes you do it again. You make it into something. 

Fig.6 The River Ouse at low tide.

I'm fixating on the horror of drowning in a shell-hole in the First World War.

Ever since I was a boy those images of cowboys and Arabian princes sinking into quicksand has horrified me. What must it have been like? Walking the dog by the River Ouse at low tide just as it turned the gurgling of water backing up and filtering into the muddy bank gave me the shivers. That sound was ominous. It made a memory of the walk and the thought. It's also what is sustaining me as I work at a short story.

Fig. 7 A family memory of a wedding in California. Will it stick?

We've talked about 'memory making' in the family.

It is the event, and the sharing of the event. My late mother-in-law was horrified that her daughter couldn't remember a road-trip they did across the US when she was 13. I concluded that she hadn't remembered much, or couldn't remember much when it was mentioned out of the blue, as the trip was never shared. Conversations are and were always about current and future events. This is why it helps to get the old photo albums out from time to time. But there's a loss. Do we make them anymore? Visiting a mislabelled album online is never the same. 

Fig. 8. My late grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM with the author Lyn Macdonald at the spot north of Poelcappelle, Belgium where he buried two of his mates - 75 years after the event. He recalled it 'like yesterday'.

Recalling the First World War

Some veterans would talk, others remained silent. Those who did not want to remember could and did forget. My late grandfather was a talker; it drove my mother mad. I came to love his recollections. Clearly, there were events that would have burned themselves into the memories of these men, but unless they talked about it, in a veteran's association or with family and friends it was not going to stick. No wonder veterans would seek each other out over the decades. Nudged by histories and movies their memories could be changed though; sometimes they came to say what was expected of them 'the rats were huge, the generals useless, the German bunkers impenetrable, the mud up to your waist, the sound of the individual shells ... '

In conclusion

Whatever activities and devices are built into your module, you are responsible and can only be responsible for making something of it. Take the hint. Engagement takes time so make the time for it. These days it is made easier through the Internet. You can keep a blog to share or as a learning journal; you can talk it over with fellow students either asynchronously in a forum (or blog), or synchronously in a webinar. You can 'mash it up' with images, grabs, doodles and annotations. You can make it your own. It'll stick if you want it to but superglue requires effort. Someone else 'sticks it' for you and it won't happen.

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The Tragic Poker Game: World War One on the BBC

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 6 Jul 2014, 08:03

Catch the short pieces by Prof. Chris Clark on the First World War.

He's the author of 'Sleepwalkers. How Europe went to war in 1914'. He's a compelling, easy to listen to historian. A linguist too: he is adamant about the need for historians to do first hand research in the original language - he has German and French at least. An Australian whose accent has vanished after a decade or more in the quads of Cambridge.

Listen, then think again.

Personally, I have come to not wholly agree - which cost me a few marks short of a distinction on an essay on the origins of the First World War which I wrote by amongst others, by extensive reading of the OU's Annika Mombauer's edited anthologies of original documents. These are fascinating to pick through so that you can construct your own point of view.

Christopher Clark believes that a) the Kaiser, had he real power, could have and would have prevented the outbreak of a general European war b) that between the French and Russian's had been planning for it and were 'up for it' as the prospective of a test of strength developed. 

No war, no Russian Revolution?

No war, dynastic monarchies still ruling Europe?

No war ... 

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vs. Dependency

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 6 Jul 2014, 07:57

You'll never learn a thing if someone else does it all for you.

There are the extremes of course of 'looking at someone else's notes', to reading their essay, to collusion where someone assists you big time. Then there is cheating where someone else writes the paper or sits the exam. What I'm talking about is 'taking the plunge'. No video or e-learning course will teach you to swim; you have to enter the water and take your first strokes.

But somethings we like others to do.

I am rubbish with cars. I have put diesel in a petrol car and added oil to the screen-wash. I can check the oil (now), do the screen-wash and check the tyres. Little else.

When it comes to blogging the beauty of this OU Student Blog is that it is straightforward and has been simplified and clarified in various ways over the last couple of years. 'Out there' you can have yourself an equally simple blog, say on WordPress. Fine, until you venture a tad further and want your own domain name (.com), or to add credit card payments (to sell stuff and to invite donations - we're all poverty stricken students right?). It is too easy to become overwhelmed, to fear clicking on the wrong thing. I have deleted a blog. And I have paid for a fancy theme and some other knobs and whistles that I didn't really want. So you find someone else to teach you, but there is a fine line between being taught and having someone else to do it for you.

Struggling to get ww.mindbursts.com in the right place I booked some time with a guy I'd already done some short courses with. He's great, but in some respects like a concert organists who knows how to pull all the bells and whistles with ease - what makes more sense, for him to spend two hours trying to show you how or to do it for you in 15 minutes?

I called early for 30 mins and he was on another call; three minutes later, following some simple instructions I'd done what I was going to ask him to do sad I just have to commit, just have to jump in, get my hands dirty, find out, make mistakes (so long as they aren't expensive).

 

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Universities value research over teaching

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 4 Jul 2014, 09:29

Fig. 1 Grabbed from The Times earlier this week

This may be the case but it has not been my experience with the Open University. What about you? Of the seven modules I have done five of my tutors, several professors, otherwise with doctorates in education, have all had a healthy and current record of research. I like to think that they make the time for the stimulation it brings to their practice; that content with students adds something. Those Associate Lecturer's who did not have a background in research made up for it with their attentiveness and love for 'their' module - hard to say which makes the 'better' AL, to be indulged, or to have a sharp mind strategically offering you their insights.

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Visualising Instructional Design for e-learning

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 3 Jul 2014, 06:28

Fig. 1. 'Swimming Lanes' design for e-learning course on 'Starting a Business'. (C) 2014 Future Learn and the University of Leeds.

I keeping doing e-learning modules for a variety of reasons:

for the intrinsic value of the course (I have started companies a couple of times before, modest affairs, always profitable and want and even need to do so again. Simple, low turnover, service-based, a unique idea or product).

for the lessons I learn from the experience given my interest in e-learning. This is my third FutureLearn module, only two weeks duration. A wee piece of perfection. Informative. Clear. Applied. Enjoyable. Connected. Varied. If you study for the Master in Arts: Open and Distance Education (MAODE) you will come across and even create your own planning charts like the one above. This is a gem. It is so easy to see how the thinking has been realised. It is a pattern that is instantly transferable.

Clarity is crucial. Good design is simple. It is also a pleasure to look at.

Future Learn has some gems. E-learning is coming of age. 

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The origins of the First World War - as a rap

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Fig. 1. Origins: Rap Battle

You can fault it; Joffre doesn't have a word. And George V had nothing to do with taking the British Empire to war 100 years ago. He was a constitutional monarch; we should look to the cabinet and Foreign Minister earl Grey in particular. Kaiser Wilhlem II, also a constitutional monarch had far more influence over the appointment of senior officials, though it is Reich's Chancellor Hoffman Hollweg with Moltke we ought to lampoon as the German rascals who went on the offensive in a drive to build a more substantial German Empire. While Tsar Nicholas II is represented by a bear of a man, while the Tsar was short and slight. Franz Josef, the elderly Austro-Hungary Emperor, signed what his officials put in front of him. 

A great way to introduce the subject? Humour gets your attention. Or overly simplistic?

Remember the lines and you might have the basics of the origins too. Schools won't permit because of the language, though young people will watch it anyway.

You've only got 17 days left to view or download.

Inspired? Controversial? 

The First World War: Origins: The Movie?

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The power of seven

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 6 Jul 2014, 08:23

Fig.1 The way I learn with the OU

Rare is the person, my late father and daughter are this rare beast, where you can read or listen to something and 'get it' first time. I'm the opposite. I have to listen once, listen again and take notes.

That's three.

Read the transcript and notes. Then listen again and realise what is being said is very different to my first perception.

That's five.

And then share what I think is being said in a forum such as this - often to be told that I still haven't got the main point.

Which makes six.

I know that 'understanding' feels like, which is the goal.

If at this point there is a marked assignment to do then I'll be OK.

The assignment makes seven.

For some of us this takes repetition and variety. I like to think that having to do it this way the learning is deeper, though I have my doubts. We all have our own ways of doing these things

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E-Learning Works

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 1 Jul 2014, 08:14

Fig.1. The remarkable rise of the game-player turned racing car pro.

Successfully translating the experience of the game-world to the real one successfully heralds a tipping point in this kind of e-learning. The Times ran an article yesterday on the progress of Jann Mardenborough, a global-Virtual F1 teen online game-player sensation. Mardenborough has taken what he can do from his bedroom to the race track and by all accounts is demonstrating that enough accurate and useable adaptation has occurred; that the kit, software and download times put at a game-players fingertips an experience that is a simulation, not just a simplified gamification.

I have found that Rosetta Stone works - the gamified language learning App. 

I have studied and tried QStream (used to be Spaced-ed) and know that it works too (more in this blog)

On my third and fourth Future Learn online modules I both enjoy and value what I am learn and wonder at the coming of age of the platform: clear, smart, intuitive, friendly, a partnership of student choices and control, a variety of ways into and around the content (though this requires a degree of digital literacy confidence and experience).

 

 

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You do one and you hunger for more!

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I describe Future Learn modules to people as one of those expensive coffee table books rich with illustrations, with the benefit of having the author and fellow enthusiasts around the table. Works manual, 'how to' encyclopaedia? Anyone who is or has been an OU students knows the score. Self-directed, but with carefully thought through guidelines and activities.
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Why?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 27 Jun 2014, 07:04

Fig.1. Santorini Islands. 3D, tectonic plats and the magma chamber below.

Four years of studying learning at Masters level and have I got the motivator down to one three letter word? Why?

'Why' feeds the curiosity and evolves into an interest, understanding and love - even an obsession. Do you want to know more? Do you keep asking why?

As it was cheaper to fly out to Santorini for six days then two or three (accommodation provided) I find myself out and about. Thus far I have done what I call 'the Google-car' trip around the 70 square kilometres of the island: I've turned down every alley and lane to see where it takes me. This included what I'd describe as a couple of 'lobster pot' twitten-like walled alleys, as well as a 2 mile dirt track that came out at that rare find - the secluded beach with a ramshackle cafe/bar and a handful of sun-loungers. This is a spot I've been back to already to escape the tourist crowds along the cliff-top thorough-fares of Oia and the beach at Kamari.

Fig.2. Cape Skaros facing North West from Imerivogoli. 400m up a cliff.

Questions started at dusk yesterday when I decided to walk down to, around then scrambled onto what my older sister insists on call 'The Tit'  (Cape Skaros). We are staying in a B&B just the other side of 'the view' costing for one week what people 100 yards away pay per night!! (Hotel Casa Bianca). 

Fig. 3 Layers of volcanic rock types on Cape Skaros, Santorini.

Most of the rock on the island(s) is volcanic and of several different types. There are layers like a trifle. The search in Google for 'Santorini Geology' leads me to several articles of increasing levels of sophistication. I'm now downloading a paper from the OU Library which will push my capacity to understand and thus lead to the references, further questions, perhaps a forum and certainly some basic texts on geology and vulcanology. GPS tags all over the island have shown that it is pitching off the horizontal all over the place. They suggestion that tens of millions of liquid magma are entering the chamber below which suggests one of two kind of events: the minor earthquake and emissions of poisonous gasses and perhaps lava (last time 1956?) or, less likely, the 10,000 to 35,000 year event which last occurred between around 1600 BC which had a catastrophic regional if not global impact.

The other curiosities that got my attention was a museum of Greek bagpipes or 'tsabouna'.

More like the Northumbrian pipers. The curator of the tiny remains of a 13th century Venetian castle demonstrates some ten of the instruments from the collection in regular concerts. I had another of a taster to want to go back.

And the pre-Minoan archaelogy. Not quite Pompaie but remains of those from the island some 3,600 years ago. 

REFERENCE

Evolution of Santorini Volcano dominated by episodic and rapid fluxes of melt from depth

Is a module on intermediate French the right one for me? Maybe it should be geology. 

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Feeding one's curiosity

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Fig. 1 Santorini - the vertiginous volcanic cliffs

How did Santorini form? A volcanic mountain, far bigger than Krakatoa, exploded and the centre of the island sand 200 to 300m. For the detail, the layers of rock, the difference kinds of volcanic formations, I'll need to drill a little deeper than the local tourist guide.

 

Fig.2 A chapel, church or cathedral around every corner

I estimate that you can't travel 200 yards without finding another chapel. And like the above, you find yourself descending the cliff face and find it leads to ... another chapel.

I sense the Easter Island effect here - anyone who could afford one financed its building? Or they were simply very religious. 

Here for a family wedding. Its surprising how much reading and writing you can get done in the ample 'down time'. 

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Artificial Intelligence - the answer to giving another 200 million a university education?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 23 Jun 2014, 10:20

Fig. 1. The Observer in the late 1970s did a piece that suggested by the 21st century we'd be racially a mix and the weather would be everywhere like 'San Diego'.

Artificial Intelligence - Androids too would need to go to school and university. I've been catching 'Do Androids dream of electric sheep' on Radio 4 (Blade Runner, the movie version of the story). There's much said about replicants having no childhood. To be of value to their human masters they would need to grow up as children too, not least to build, rather than be given, knowledge. Initially segregated, then intergrated; first slaves, then ‘free men’ and ultimately a fourth gender to go alongside male, female and transgender.

Might the Open University one day have artificial associate lectures? Always available? 24 hours, 7 days a week. Like a SatNav, after all, one part of the AL's role is to nudge us students along in ways that are, to the educator, painfully predictable.

Students are sheep, not wolves? 

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

 

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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 sad 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?

Love of your 'teacher'

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 sad

Actually I need to become a fish sad 

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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