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Smart Cities

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We are deep within an old debate on the Economist about Smart Cities and whether they are empty hype. 

Confusingly the proposer and opposition seem to be arguing something not entirely opposed! One is concerned that any development is principally developed from the bottom up in an organic kind of way, the other sees the value in that but also argues that the best results will come when there's an abundance of data which is something larger corporations and government agencies can more easily collect!

I think that Smart Cities are inevitable. They may not look like the utopian visions of urban perfection depicted in some sci-fi films but as our individual lives become more and more dependent on data driven technology then it seems inevitable that our collective lives will as well. 

Here are some examples of 'smart' innovations which make my life (as a city dweller) easier:

  1. Apple Maps. I use this even on regular and well known journeys as it is live and helps me avoid the worst of the traffic.
  2. Uber. No more must I phone a taxi company and find they have no cars near me so I must phone another. Now I tap the app and a car arrives within ten minutes to take me where I need to go. And I don't need cash. It's already connected to my debit card.
  3. Just Eat. I can experiment with a variety of local takeaways without them needing to push a glossy leaflet through my door
  4. Birmingham City Council - I have a login which allows me to report missed refuse collections, get up to date information on things like school closures, even report a dead animal which need to be removed. 

I realise this is all 'small fry' compared to the vision being debated but I can easily envision a future where other innovations begin to make other areas of my life easier. I'd love, for example, an app which directed me to the nearest coffee shop with a few spare tables on a Saturday afternoon! It would require me to be tracked and live data from the cafes but it might share out the business more fairly and ensure that customers get a better experience as none of them have to queue for too long or sit in a too crowded environment. It would also help staff who could manage a steady stream of customers rather than long queues where people are getting grouchy. 

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Slogging and blogging

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Week 10 has been full of interesting H800 activities and full of Anna's professional and personal activities so it's been something of a busy time and I reach the first day of week 11 without having really done justice to week 10. 

I am not sure if it was intended but I feel that week 10 has been inviting us to consider the motivations of people, institutions and maybe even ourselves. 

We began by thinking about Wikipedia and how much we could rely on it given what we know, and have learned, about the politics behind the editing and writing process. Wikipedia seems, on the surface, to be benevolent and good; concerned with making as much information available to as many people as possible without charging. It is easy to understand their model - they don't pay experts to write the articles and check for accuracy - they engage experts with the overall ideal and get them to do it for free! And they do! The credentials of the 'experts' are not checked and anyone can self proclaim as an expert. Vandalism and mischief should abound surely.... and yet neither do. The project is now so big that almost all edits - both mischievous and genuine ones - are checked very quickly and Wikipedia remains remarkably accurate overall. I find myself trusting Wikipedia because all of those mischief makers can't stand against the majority of people who stand with the Wikipedia ideal and want to give the user good, accurate information. 

Of course - an analysis of Wikipedia for 'facts' (the population of nations, the height of mountains, the careers of politicians) is one thing. An analysis of Wikipedia's reporting of 'issues' (Palestine and Israel, gender politics, abortion law) may well reveal a particular worldview prevails. 

Next we looked at Stack.com (and I quickly went to similar sites such as Quora and Yahoo answers) where individuals ask questions and other individuals answer them. The questions are often very practical 'how do you....' rather than the more non specific 'should someone....' Individuals who see a question may also vote for the answer they think is best. I have found these sites very useful. Again - I am aware of the potential for mischief but if someone has asked 'how do you poach an egg?' I would not expect hundreds of people to vote for 'place the whole egg in the microwave without cracking the shell'. I rely on the desire of people to be right - and give /confirm the right information - and the desire of people to be helpful - and give / confirm the right information - over the desire of people to cause mischief or discord - and deliberately give / confirm the wrong information. Of course this benevolent assumption is rather thrown into sharp relief as we learn more about how both the EU referendum in the UK and the 2016 US Presidential election seem to have been deliberately influenced by false, inflammatory and deliberately discordant use of social media in particular and the internet in general. 

And then blogging. I felt a small smug thrill as I realized I was ahead of the curve on this! There were some very interesting articles about what happens when blogging is required (it's not good) and how students use blogging in studies (see all my former posts for a wide representation of reflection, ranting, catharsis and thought development). 

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Neutral Point of View

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The first activity of Week 10 was to do with Wikipedia. 

I love Wikipedia. I know that anyone can edit (vandalise) it, I am aware that most of its regular editors and writers are white, educated, youngish men, I would never rely on it an emergency BUT I love that the sum total of human knowledge seems to reside there! Even the plot of various books, TV shows and plays. There are long articles about fictional characters! 

A bit of directed digging this week has exposed some things about Wikipedia however. I was vaguely aware that the toxicity of 'revert wars' was akin to the nastiness of the comments section of a Daily Mail article about Brexit, however to read the environment being described as it was did alert me to the extent of the problem. I do know that I can't edit Wikipedia anymore since my teenage son went on a Wikipedia vandalizing spree and my IP address has been put on a 'naughty list' somewhere. (Which does, at least, reassure me that action is taking against deliberate vandalism and mischief). 

However - as a user I am not sure this will affect me. I wonder if it should but I don't think it will. Wikipedia not only reminds me 'where do I know that actor from?', 'is Great Gable taller than Helvellyn?, and 'where is the Sargasso sea?' (All recent Wikipedia searches) but it also acts as entry level information on academic and professional studies.

I work for a medical training company despite having no medical training! I have to proof read (for accuracy as well as spelling and grammar) questions written by doctors to test other doctors. I also write questions myself. I sit surrounded by medical text books and with NICE, Patient.co.uk and GPnotebook permanently tabbed on my screen. Sometimes I still struggle to understand though so at that point I often revert to Wikipedia. Not as a primary source - more as background reading! I learn the vocabulary and some key basics in jargon free language. I can then return to my more reliable sources with more understanding and knowledge.

In H800 I have also used Wikipedia. At the beginning terms such as 'behaviorist' were thrown about and whilst I had a vague idea of what the term meant from a sociological point of view I wasn't sure how it pertained to learning. Where did I go to catch myself up - Wikipedia! I didn't cite Wikipedia (even Wikipedia says you shouldn't do that!) but it did furnish me with some useful starter information.

The question we are now pondering is about the 'neutral point of view' which Wikipedia aims to, claims to, present. I have never seen anything which suggests there's any structural bias or systemic attempt to present a single worldview but this is not evidence that no such thing is there. Most people believe their choice of newspaper to be unbalanced and neutral whereas in reality it just matches their own worldview (including me! The Guardian is super central and moderate!)

I can see that news outlets have a ideological position. I can imagine that Wikipedia might even though I can't see it myself right now. And that got me thinking - doesn't everything get written by someone who has their own worldview? Even academic journals?

Our next activity is to do with online question sites and how much we can trust the answers that complete strangers give us, and should we trust the other complete strangers that upvote the answers. Like with Wikipedia - the question is -

How much should we trust each other?

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Weeks 8 and 9, slogging and misunderstanding

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Weeks 8/9 were actually spread out over 3 weeks. Week 8, a week off for Easter, and then week 9. Weeks 8 and 9 actually shared activities which I (numpty) had not realized. I slogged away to get through week 8 so I could enjoy a bit of a break (catch up!) and was still a whole activity from the end when week 9 was supposed to be beginning. I'd worked hard in week 8 and the week off so I was a bit fed up. Then I saw the activities for week 9 were the same as those for week 8. Hence the week 8/9 I suppose!

I'm not sure if it was this slog and misunderstanding but these weeks felt very much like a slog. The first block of H800 was what I expected - how do people use technology to help learning and how well does it work. These weeks fit in with the 'Technology Enhanced Learning' but in a way I hadn't thought about - using technology to design lesson plans, and learning plans more broadly. 

Of course I can see the benefit of this. Planning lessons on a sheet of paper must regularly result in a bit of a scribble as new ideas are inserted, difference activities swap places in the time line, things are crossed out. Planning lessons on a word processing document may result in a tidier plan but surely there is more scope for using technology that simply replacing a paper sheet for a laptop screen (which will likely be printed on a paper sheet). 

It's obvious when you think about it but, it seems, more complicated to enact than to imagine. 

We looked at a wide variety of 'learning design templates' which attempted to provide a base for learning design which encouraged designers to look at their overarching pedagogy, how balanced their program was and what resources would be needed - and then represent the lesson in a graphical and visual manner which could not only be used by the teacher but could also be shared for reuse and repurpose.

The templates we looked at seemed old. There was a few good ideas and some neat tricks but I felt like there must be versions of this which are newer and more streamlined. I asked the Facebook hive mind (I must have almost 100 teachers / educationalists on my friends list) and asked what they did. Some used online templates but after a little digging they were all simply online forms which they completed and then printed. None reported using a template to assist in their planning, simply to record it. Some of them reported 'downloading' complete lesson plans and such like from various (paid for) sites online. 

Later on we looked at 'schemas' (yeah - I had to google that!) which helped us map activities along three spectrums:

  1. Individual and Social
  2. Active and Passive
  3. Information and Experience

Despite our discussions about the value of participation and student centric learning - I am still convinced a variety of activities is the best way to learn - even including some passive, information and individual ones! (Such as reading a journal, watching a video or listening to a podcast alone!). 

I enjoyed this mapping as is was a more general and 'big picture' activity. I am finding the very specific 'nitty gritty' activities are harder for me to engage with. The bigger picture things I find I can apply to my experience - as learner and teacher - and also to my context. I find it harder to contextualize things from specific to general than from general to specific. 

Anyway - weeks 8/9 are done! (Thankfully). Week 10 beckons and looks interesting! 

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TMA01.... 68%

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 3 Apr 2018, 10:28

I have been stressed over the past days about the TMA score. I feared it would go badly, hoped it would go well but I hadn't considered my own personal 'badly to well' grade boundaries so now I am now sure how I think I did! 

I got good marks for my forum participation which I expected. I have been active and have received good feedback from both my student colleagues and tutor about my contributions. 

I dropped 3 marks (our of 10) on spelling and grammar which is a slap in the face! Though the feedback notes a couple of OU style omissions (which I confess to having deliberately omitted because of the blasted word count!) which may have been a problem. 

My biggest mark drops were not properly relating things back to my own context (it turns out my own context is not the rich seam of technology enhanced learning examples which I had previously assumed it to be!) and dodgy referencing. The second is especially annoying as I had an extra 24 hours in which I could have reviewed this again but I submitted early to get it out of the way. 

So I have a good 'Pass 3'. 2 marks off a Pass 2. This TMA only counts for 5% of H800 so it doesn't matter much in the overall scheme but it does and will affect my psyche and attitude. 

I am trying to use the Easter Break to crack on but everyone else is on their break which means getting on is tricky as H800 is more collaborative the further it goes! 

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Narratives, representations and designs

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The beginning of week 8 has been building up to the concept of learning design. The first four activities have been very time consuming in terms of what was asked of us, and also of the thought space the ideas have occupied. 

I think I have arrived at something of an epiphany though.

A learning narrative is simply telling the story of learning. All of us have learned and all of us have taught - even if only in a very informal sense. Any parent has taught their child simple things such as the names of colours, types of food, species of animal, different vehicles and so on. None of them write this down as a formal plan. No mum wakes up thinking 'I will teach my toddler about cows today and therefore we shall go to a farm' but if their activities take them past a field of cows and the child takes an interest then she may stop and point to the animals. Explain that they are eating the grass and that we get milk for our cereal from the cows. They may talk about how the cows are black and white and how they're bigger than a dog but not as big as a horse. This is all very informal and responsive to both the environment and the interests of the learner.

If the same mother was asked 'How did you teach your child about farm animals?' she may write down:

  1.  We went for a walk past a field of cows and my child pointed at the animals
  2. We stopped to look at the cows and I asked my child what colour the cows were. My child said the cows were black and white. The child then remarked that the cows were big.
  3. I pointed to a dog walking by and said the cows were bigger than the dog and asked if the child could think of any animals the cows were smaller than. The child thought and then said that a horse was bigger than a cow.
  4. I asked the child what the cows were doing (they were grazing) and the child didn't know. I explained that the cows were eating grass. I told the child that the cows turned the grass into milk and asked when they ate milk. The child said they'd had milk on their cornflakes in the morning. 
  5. The child then lost interest so we continued with our walk.

This list represents the encounter. It describes what happened, some of the thought processes and some of the ways the teacher (parent) directed the learning of the child by answering questions and offering new information. This is more of a report than a lesson plan but the same information is conveyed and the learning experience has been represented in a way which could be analysed, reproduced or repurposed by someone else.

If this encounter were to be 'planned' then the lesson plan may look like this:

  1. Take the child for a walk close to a field of cows
  2. Assess the child's interest in the cows. If the child seems interested encourage them to speak about the cows. The child may remark on the size, colour or physical characteristics of the animal
  3. Ask the child if they have any ideas about the behavior of the animal - what does it eat, where does it sleep, what does it do?
  4. If the child seems interested tell them about milk production and see if they can associate milk with their day to day lives.
  5. Continue chatting until the child has lost interest and then move on. 

This lesson 'plan' is still very learner focused and is in-keeping with a constructivist theory of education - allowing the learner to build on their existing knowledge and learn that which engages their interest. 

A learning design is the next step and may take a broader approach. It may involve planning for any necessary resources, extension activities, and have a more formal plan for setting a learning objective and assessing learning outcomes. It may be more generally worded so that the same lesson idea could be used for other animals! 

I am finding it easier to grasp these concepts when I apply them to the education of young children. I think this may be because it is a setting I am familiar with even though I have never been a school-teacher. I have had four children, I have 'taught' in many mother and toddler / playgroup settings, I have taught Sunday school lessons for my entire adult life. I can easily see how informal, formal and specifically designed learning both differentiates and converges. 

Applying this to classroom learning for adults (or lecture theatre, online tutor group) is more straightforward than applying it to my own setting where our e-learning platform essentially has no interaction between student and teacher. I am having to mentally separate interactive e-learning from online revision. What we actually provide is the latter. This is challenging but I hope that H800 will allow me to develop our services to be more broadly helpful to our learners.  

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Block 2 and this gets real-er

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We are now a week and a bit into Block 2 and it feels different. I had my doubts in Block 1 but I did, at least, feel like I was understanding the material. I may have been interpreting it wrongly but I was understanding it on a level! 

Block 2 has started in a very different manner! Firstly I have not yet received a mark for my first TMA and am feeling mildly insecure about that. I really want a mark.... but I really don't want a bad mark! 

Our first few activities were to do with Learning Design (which I think means lesson planning!) and I have been confused! It took me a while to realize that all eight lesson plans were for the same lesson and it was the actual lesson planning design template which we were assessing. This, once it became clear, was actually interesting. I have asked my Facebook friends (loads of teachers there!) how they plan lessons. I have had a number of responses but they've mainly been to do with sticking to the curriculum than with the template they use. I need to find a way of asking the same question in a less ambiguous way. I can see that a good lesson plan may make the process of teaching, and learning, more satisfying even if the essential elements of the lesson were unchanged. 

I've also decided to go back to basics and become a bit more familiar with some of the basic theories of learning. The words 'behaviourist' and 'constructivist' are being used as if we should know what they mean... so maybe I should! Early on in H800 someone linked to a marvelous website which gives concise and easy to understand definitions so I plan to read them, blog about them and refer to them as I move forward. 

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Getting away from it all and Getting it

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Twice this week I have read a paper, found it impossible to comprehend, and then abandoned it for a while. 

The paper by Zimmerman about IALC (Interpersonal Action Learning Cycle) felt preachy and irritating before coffee with friends and a workout at the gym.... but somehow made a lot more sense afterwards!

The exercise about Learning Design almost reduced me to tear before I did some mum taxi duties and made a sandwich and now I think I get what the exercise is about (though the fine detail may still require wine!). 

I wonder if my subconscious is working away at some of this even when I am not concentrating on it. I have had a few 'light bulb' moments when I've stepped away from the laptop and the OU website for a few hours. 

I approached this course with a traditional education model in mind (how stupid am I?) and expected to be able to read diligently and listen carefully and then simply understand the material. I was not prepared for post graduate study to ask more of me than that. However - I can absolutely see the value in this way. It's just hard work! 

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Student Online Rooms

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 20 Mar 2018, 11:49

They really want us to use these! Really really!

I understand the theory. I can see that discussion what we are learning, how it applies to our experience and practice, and how we can move forward as a student body is valuable. Imperative maybe. I certainly welcome the chance to bounce ideas, concerns and frustrations off the very people who really are sharing the experience. 

However - I am not sure that John Seely Brown is right when he asserts that the distributed learning group is just as effective as the situated one. 

This could be, at least in part, a technological failing. At present we all have audio and a screen on which we can write messages (although only on the whiteboard and not in a chat format). We can see who is in the group and who is speaking. However - when speaking I can't hear what anyone else is saying so don't know if I am getting 'hmms' of approval or questioning. As with all web based technology the risk of a shaky connection means that the conversation is not seamless. And the lack of actual human people and all of their body language and cues is really sorely felt. 

I think I like my tutor group a lot. I think - were we to meet in a Costa for coffee - then I'd get on well with all of them. But using the online student rooms leaves me either sitting through an awkward silence for fear of starting to speak at the same time as someone else.... or 'taking charge' and worrying that my colleagues resent my assertiveness... or simply listening and not really participating.

It is also difficult to find times to 'meet'. We all have busy schedules and trying to organize it through a forum which people may only check once a day leaves little opportunity for spontaneous chat as might happen if we were on campus together. 

We have a Facebook group which is outside of the OU which I have found more immediate. I wonder if a tutor group WhatsApp group might actually be really useful. I don't even know how to propose that though! 

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A word saving diagram!

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My last blog may have contained a hint of a moan about the word count in this TMA I am writing. This word count has been my nemesis for the last few days as I have edited and rephrased and contracted almost every sentence of this assessment! My overactive brain keeps thinking of things I should have included but hadn't so I keep writing new sentences and then having to steal words from previously written ones to make room for it! 

And then I made this diagram. I am hoping to both demonstrates my understanding of the key concepts we are being asked to discuss and also adds a little personal interpretation. (I am also hoping it doesn't reveal how massively I have misunderstood the whole thing!)

The acquisition metaphor is represented by a one way, downwards pointing arrow from teacher to learner. We are all familiar with this type of learning - it's where a teacher tells us stuff we are supposed to remember. We remember the stuff for papers and exams and (very occasionally!) real life. 

The participation metaphor is represented by a four way arrow between learner and learner, teacher and expert practitioner. This is because there is no one way we learn through the participation metaphor, but the flow of knowledge is also not one way. It flows in all directions.

The study group method - so enthusiastically espoused by John Seely Brown - is a two way arrow between learners. Learners work together to extend their own understanding and thus learners are both learners and teachers. The learning is organic and no linear but the opportunity to properly discuss and debate ensures that better understanding is reached. 

The authentic environment situated cognition learning theory is represented by a one way, though horizontal, arrow from expert practitioner to learner. In this learning type there is still an expert. Teaching may not look so hierarchal but the flow of knowledge and expertise is still one way. 

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TMA 01 - minus 4 days

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Thursday, 15 Mar 2018, 22:18

I don't know what they want.

I can demonstrate that I understand the papers and other materials they've directed me to

I can give examples of how my thinking about learning, and professional practice, has changed already

I can see how different learning theories fit with different learning practices

But I don't know if that is what they want..... 

The word count is horrifically low. In 500 words they want me to explain how a single H800 activity reflects (or doesn't) my own experience as a learner / teacher AND evaluate the activity as a part of the module. Now I assume I have to give some indication that I understand the material but that takes a couple of hundred words. Relating it to my experience or practice takes another 250.... so it's a mere sentence or two to evaluate the activity. 

And I have to do that three times. For three activities. From three separate weeks. (But not from three of the activities which we have had tutorials about!)

And then there is a discussion about those three tutorial activities. I am to discuss how much they reflect my experience AND engage critically with the text AND refer to other associated writings both within and outside of H800 AND make use of the forum posts and contributions of other students AND include a picture or two to support my argument (what? I am supposed to be making an argument?) AND all of this must be done in 800 words! 

I had a full length essay to hand in two days ago but I am so unsure. I have edited, re-edited, cut and pasted, checked the word count a thousand times. As I drive to work, or lie in bed, or watch TV, or do anything really new thoughts come to mind which I suddenly think are key and must be included. So something else must be jettisoned. But what? I've already taken out every adjective. I have phrased things as economically as it is possible to phrase them. 

Thankfully there are 10 marks for spelling and grammar! So I won't get a zero!

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Doubting

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Thursday, 15 Mar 2018, 22:26

In the introduction for week 5 we were told that the workload for this week as much reduced as they were aware we would be starting to thinking about our first TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment) which is due in 9 days time.

For a start - week 5 has not been a walk in any park! There are a lot of things to get through and whilst I appreciate not all were mandatory there was still a lot. I have not left any optional activity undone as yet - I know it might sound foolish but as I am such a newbie I don't want to risk missing out on any learning or important concepts and ideas.

This week has sent me on quite an enjoyable rabbit warren (can I introduce a new verb - warrening - for when you find yourself a dozen links on from your original article having explored multiple offshoots en route?) as I looked at the work of Wesch. Wesch is an anthropologist which, odd as it sounds, feels more familiar to me than the education and psychology environment I have found myself in. However - the work of Wesch, in common with so many others in my H800 journey to date, has intrigued me and got me thinking but NOT about technology enhanced learning! I am thinking about learning, and technology, and societal change, and educational pedagogy but I am not putting these together in quite the way I think I am supposed to be. 

Which brings me to TMA01. In this I am to choose three activities I have looked at so far and report on them and relate them to my current practice. I could choose almost any which have intrigued me. I could choose almost any for which I had to apply a sociological or philosophical or political analysis. But I have to apply my own experience in learning. 

I have written my first two 500 word sections and I think I am on the right track but the third is proving difficult. Is the sentence 'this form of learning simply won't work well if technology replaces the actual people' an example of 'relating to technology enhanced learning'? I am also suddenly flooded with self doubt. I am not convinced I am clever enough for post-grad study. I understand the material (on one level at least) and I can make links and connections between various arguments (in one sense at least) but I am doubting my ability to write an essay which fulfills their criteria. 

Nine days until it must be in! I have the full word count already. I haven't answered all of their questions... I think! 

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The participation metaphor - at Wembley

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 4 Mar 2018, 16:56

I am not a huge football fan. In fact - I'm not a football fan at all. But I am married to a huge football fan and am mother to two more huge football fans so I have not been able to escape fully from the daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and annual ebb and flow of the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur!

When young and newly married I went with my husband to a few live matches. I enjoyed them. There was an exhilarating atmosphere and there was usually the promise of beer and burgers at some point. However - I have not been to an actual match for over 20 years. I rarely watch football on television and I have perfected the glazed look just enough to prevent too much football talk being thrown in my direction. I can't block my ears to the shouts, chants, songs and cheers / groans though!

But yesterday they had tickets to see a match at Wembley (where Tottenham are playing this season whilst their new stadium is being built) and my brother and nephew had to drop out due to illness and snow. We had two spare tickets for one adult and one child so I got to go along! 

And whilst watching Spurs beat Huddersfield 2-0 I thought about the participation metaphor of learning! I knew the songs to sing. I knew who a lot of the players were. I knew most of the rules of the game. And crucially I had a couple of experts close by who answered my questions about some of the minutiae. Within an hour I had learned enough of the rules to convincingly join the community of 'Spurs Supporters'. (My bright red coat was problematic it seems... but it was freezing cold and my red coat is toasty warm!)

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Activity theory.... and was it developed as a Marxist critique of education?

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The paper I needed to read for Activity 4 of week 4 was by far the most challenging I'd had to read so far. 

I was unable to glean from the paper an explicit definition of 'Activity Theory'. I understand entirely that defining complex concepts often takes more than a sentence, or even a paragraph but I was struggling to get even the loosest grasp which was problematic given that we were supposed to read and comment on the paper in student forums. 

Engestrom tried to take us through the three generations of Activity System theory (variously known as expansive learning) and the 5 principles it espouses plus the four questions about learning which it contains. There were also three levels of learning. Confused yet? I was.

So far in H800 I have felt at a disadvantage due to my studies to date having not been in either education or psychology as it seemed that these were the two disciplines most of our vocabulary and concepts were coming from. However this time my sociology degree came into the fore and was very useful! As a sociology student the one thing I can sniff out a mile off is a Marxist analysis! And once I had identified that in the 5th principle "the possibility of expansive transformation, a collective change effort" and in the 3rd learning level "radical questioning of the context" there was a Marxist revolution I worked backwards with that in mind and it all came into focus! 

In our current society we tend to look at the individual and how individuals shape their societies, their cultures, their history and their values. In a Marxist analysis the process is often reversed and the individual is seen as much a product of their society as society is seen as a product of the individuals. Once I had comprehended that an 'Activity System' was a culture which informed the actions of individuals whilst also being informed by those same individuals the argument being made became clearer. 

This epiphany also made the case study make a lot more sense!

The case study was of health professionals in Finland who were finding that the care offered to sick children was patchy due to inadequate communication between the carers. This was not only inefficient and frustrating but was also potentially dangerous. The problem was solved through meetings, negotiation, input from all parties involved and a few failed attempts. The learning message here is that organisations learn as well as individuals but that there is not always an expert in a learning situation. In fact - in this case there were many experts but each of them was only expert at a small part of the process. In order for the big picture situation to improve it was vital that the teams and experts collaborate and make compromises in their practice and expectations. The health care system, as a whole (activity system) had to learn by listening to the experts within it. 

Once again I have been challenged to remember that learning is not something which only happens formally and within educational institutions. I think this is going to be the most fundamental life lesson I will get from these studies. 

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The culture of learning

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 15 Jan 2020, 13:14

Very often my husband will ask me 'What does xxxxxx mean?' He's come across an unfamiliar word whilst reading and he wants me to define it for him. (He's an engineer, I am a vociferous reader). Every single time I ask 'can you read the sentence to me?' I think he has suspected that I have used this as a cheat but often I know what the word means but my explanation will only make sense to him if I explain what it means in that sentence.

I was therefore delighted to read this in the this week's discussion paper:

Experienced readers implicitly under stand that words are situated. They, therefore, ask for the rest of the sentence or the context before committing themselves to an interpretation of a word. 

The paper "Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning" by Brown, Collins and Duguid explains this repeatedly using different examples. Their basic point is that learning anything isolated from the context in which it is used, or the culture of the practitioners who use it, will not lead to robust understanding.

Certain cited examples resonated with me more than others. The way that children and young people expand their vocabulary by simply living in the culture of their language makes so much sense to me. The idea of learning a language, or expanding your vocabulary, armed only with a dictionary is absurd. 

Later in the paper the authors refer to 'tools'. In this context these tools could be mathematical formulae, grammar rules or scientific facts, but it helped me to envision them as hammers, chisels and machinery. (The authors also use this equivalency). It is very possible to acquire a tool but be unable to use it. It is possible to learn how to properly use a tool but not understand why it is useful in any wider context. A useful member of any community will not only be able to use a tool but to understand its place as well. 

The argument being built is that formal education settings (principally schools) give their students a multitude of tools but never the experience of using those tools as part of a wider culture. They call the mind the way that apprentices learn their trades - first by being tasked with the simplest jobs but all the time seeing how the operation works, how the experts develop their craft, the vocabulary of the profession and the culture of the community. A school provides none of this context to the learner - they are handed tools in isolation from the culture in which they are supposed to be used.

The school has become a culture in itself. The tools acquired are those necessary to thrive within that culture of knowledge which can be distributed, assessed and then tested. Exams may be passed but the learner is no closer to being a practitioner, much less an expert in the subject matter they've learned. They are not enculturated.

The paper, then, however goes on to suggest how maths could be taught differently and I have to confess the 'different way' looks a lot like how I recall being taught maths in the 70s and 80s.

The principle takeaway message seems to be that education does not prepare people for life within the culture of the practitioners of their field of learning. The apprenticeship alternative is much better at creating practitioners rather than people who are educated in facts about the practice.

In real life I can absolutely observe this. My husband works for a motor manufacturer and recruits engineering graduates. Not one of them is 'ready to go' as they begin their career. They all need many months of acclimatization to both the realities of the workplace in general and to that employer specifically. The company also runs a successful and competitive apprenticeship scheme where young people can spend five years working within the company whilst also attending university to acquire the necessary knowledge for their discipline and a degree. Similarly my eldest child is training to be a primary school teacher - it is clear that he learns much more in his placements than he does in his lectures. 

However - I am reluctant to summarize the article the way I first reacted to is - "School is Stupid". School (or formal education in general) provides the general knowledge necessary to hang specific skills and cultures upon. No skilled engineer can get by without basic and advanced maths within their skillset and they cannot learn the advanced maths before they've mastered the basic maths. Every teacher must be able to read and write. Without those basic skills then all of the classroom time in the world will not make them competent teachers. 

Examinations and tests may not demonstrate robust and usable knowledge but maybe they do demonstrate something else of value - tenacity in study, a foundational level of knowledge and skill on which specific expertise can be built, tools which will be reviewed and revisited later in life when their use and purpose become clearer.

Additionally I am reluctant to throw 'school' under any bus as it also fulfills other purposes. School is one of the few things almost all people in developed nations (and increasingly across the globe) have in common. There is much to be learned in the interaction with peers, the response to structure and the linear (though poorly situated!) acquisition of knowledge. 

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Defining Learning

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Prepare your own definition of learning.... should take 3 to 3.5 hours. 

I suppose the length of time allocated to this activity should have alerted me to the fact I was on a rabbit warren journey - deeper and deeper, more and more forks in the burrow to note and come back to, no signposted final destination and all whilst in an extremely unfamiliar environment. 

I began at Wikipedia which is a strategy some may roll their eyes at but I defend it nonetheless. Wikipedia is written in language I understand and, in the event of a term or concept being unfamiliar to me, it's likely to be underlined in blue and will deftly take me to a place where I can learn that straight away. (And then, before I know it, I will have 42 Wikipedia tabs open on my desktop and will still be clicking!)

The Wikipedia article was a very good starting point. I was pleased to immediately be able to recognize some words which aligned to Sfard's Acquisition Metaphor and a few which also brought to mind her Participation Metaphor, as well as concepts such as Identity Change. 

I then went to my favourite online place - the OU Library! I literally searched 'What is Learning?'  and the first hopeful hit was a book called What is Learning? by Mark Haselgrove, dated July 2016. I was very hopeful about this book as it was written in a very readable style and there were concise chapters. Hazelgrove described very well how learning is not restricted to people (animals, plants and machines all 'learn') and he made practically no mention of education or schooling at all. He began at the start of the human journey with Habituation, moving on to Conditioned Responses and there is kind of stopped. Whilst I absolutely can see how vital these early learning experiences are (we learned not to touch a fire as it hurt, we learned that if we didn't wipe our feet we got told off) I think that this is only part of what I am being asked to define. 

I then found the book How We Learn by Henry Boyd Bode. My initial search made me think this was published in 2007 but the opening paragraph (where the word 'man' was used in a context where both men and women clearly should have been) made me double check and I saw it had actually been published in 1940. He made the distinction between learning a skill as an apprentice and learning 'the three Rs' as a pupil and how the method must necessarily be different. I was interested in the way he described the fact that 'learning theory' is (or was) little thought of by teachers and students who simply do what they have always done without question, and with the desired outcomes. His book went on to be far more psychological and even philosophical so I book marked it - trying to kid myself I'll come back later to learn more!

My third, and most successful hit was Education and Learning: An evidence based approach  by Mellanby and Theobald from 2014. There is a nice mixture between theory and examples to demonstrate it. They look at the purpose of education, which must (surely!) be connected in some way to the purpose and nature of learning. The most interesting idea in the first few chapters is the idea of education is for the reproduction of a culture. I initially recoiled at this idea - imagining history lessons reporting colonial triumph or literature only celebrating the works of homegrown authors - but I realized that the term was intended to convey the passing on of values and, as they quoted Thomas Arnold as saying, "The best that has been known and thought." 

I have also asked my considerable number of Facebook friends for ideas. Many are teachers, all have been students, but I don't know if any have studied H800! I'll report back!

My tentative first draft of the 'answer' to the posed question is: Learning is both spontaneous and deliberate and protects and maintains the learner, their community and their culture; it can be seen in the gain of knowledge and understanding; it can be for the improvement of the individual and others.

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Metaphors for Learning

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Tuesday, 20 Feb 2018, 15:30

The main activity I have been engaged in on Week 3 of H800 is reading a paper by Anna Sfard about metaphors for learning. I have been quite gratified to see that my reading, reflection and learning thus far have already led me to similar thoughts as those expressed in the paper albeit with a different vocabulary.

The two 'metaphors' described as 'Acquisition Metaphor' (AM) and 'Participatory Metaphor'.

Acquisition metaphor characterizes knowledge as a 'thing'.

"the growth of knowledge in the process of learning has been analysed in terms of concept development. Concepts are to be understood as basic units of knowledge that can be accumulated, gradually refined, and combined to form ever richer cognitive structures."

Or

"The language of "knowledge acquisition" and "concept development" makes us think about the human mind as a container to be filled with certain materials and about the learner as becoming an owner of these materials."

It is easy to identify how this metaphor is used in education at all levels, and even more broadly within learning. Even the most ‘immersive’ of learning environments such as a young child acquiring language I am reminded of how life with a young child involves a lot of answering ‘what’s that?’ kind of questions. Parents usually continually ‘transfer knowledge’ for their offspring to acquire – “Look at the car. It’s a red car. It’s going fast.” The child is taught the words and concepts car, red and fast (aside from the connections and associated grammar).

Schooling seems to be very rooted in the AM. Especially in the contemporary ‘data driven’ atmosphere of league tables and Ofsted reports. Children are taught facts, methods and concepts which can be easily quantified and tested. The test results are compiled and the schools compared to one another (not to mention the children themselves) based on them. The danger is that schools will teach children to pass the test to acquire the right data to be compared favourably. (My personal view is that this has already happened).

Our familiarity with the AM means that we (or maybe it is just I) gravitate to this kind of education after school as well. When I go into ‘learning mode’ I seek out experts who can inform me of facts. The expert may be a person, a book, a journal, a website – but I want the information to be presented to me in easily digested bite size chunks. My early experience of the Open University has been slightly alarming in its open approach to learner initiated learning. Where is the text book? When are the lectures? What ‘facts’ should I be memorising?

I found it harder to identify specific examples of my own learning by PM. Maybe that is because I have conflated ‘education’ with ‘learning’ and have undervalued the skills and knowledge I have gained outside of a formal educational environment. In feeding back in the student group forum the example I gave for this kind of learning is kind of embarrassing! I used the example of learning to be a parent and housekeeper. So parochial! However – it is well known that children don’t come with a text book (or at least not one single text book!) and that cooking for a family is a significant task which requires skill, knowledge, planning and flexibility. Like almost all parents I felt like I was making it up as I was going along and certainly I had more coherent theories and strategies of child rearing before I actually had children to rear! However – 20 years on the task is in hand and going ok!

Others in the group have suggested areas of PM such as driving and using a smart phone which I think are good examples. Skills you simply cannot learn without actually doing them. Skills where trial and error are a key part of the learning process. I would also add swimming, playing a musical instrument, dance and sport. There are facts one must know, things to learn and acquire – but without participating in the activity you cannot master the skill.


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Reflections

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 18 Feb 2018, 19:51

I am astonished by how many things I have never considered before! Over the last two weeks of H800 these dichotomies have begun to crystalize in my mind:

Education vs Learning

Education (specifically schooling) is linear, systematic, ordered, knowledge focused, teacher-centric, data driven, testable, general

Learning is immersive, organic, understanding focused, learner driven, specific

Knowledge vs Understanding

I *know* how a plane flies - the air goes over the wings faster than it goes under the wings. It makes no sense to me whatsoever so I don't understand how a plane flies. 

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Reflections after a day at a university

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018, 23:28

I've spent today with my daughter who is applying to universities for 2019 entry (she's planning a gap year) and we have been at Lancaster University.

Part of the day was spent with current students in the course she is likely to take. One student - Lewis - said these things which I though it worth recording:

"I find I don't learn that much from my lectures, I learn far more from talking about it at my tutor groups afterwards."

"They record a lot of the lectures. Some people watch them rather than go to the lecture but it's also useful if you want to check on something and can watch it again later."


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Changing pedagogy in education around the world

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018, 23:29

Look on the Web for up-to-date information about another country with low resource and infrastructure that has adopted a different pedagogy and consider an explanation of the differences.

This was the instruction for this part of this week. 

Where to begin? Well - I've learned something and I headed into the OU library instead of to Google! Initially I searched for changes to educational pedagogy in Botswana - it's not quite a country I plucked out of the air as I had a glorious day there in 2016 and fell in love with the atmosphere of the country as well as the amazing scenery in the very small corner I saw. 

I found this article: Problem-Based Learning Pedagogies in Teacher Education: The Case of Botswana

I was very interested in the article but it became clear that this was not exactly what was being asked for. Botswana certainly qualifies as low resource and low infrastructure but the article was about a small scale experiment rather than a national effort to change their educational pedagogy. 

I then went less specific. I selected 'education', 'foreign countries' and 'pedagogy' and then limited the results to anything from 2014 onwards. 

The next article I found was this one: Using Technology and Mentorship  to Improve Teacher Pedagogy and Educational Opportunities  in Rural Nicaragua

This article seemed very relevant. There was a lot of material about why the current system was unsuccessful by many measures and some of the things which have been, or could be, done to tackle those issues. However - again it seemed like a small scale experiment rather than a national policy. 

Finally I found this: Bringing a student-centered participatory pedagogy to scale in Colombia

I think I have it! Whilst there isn't a lot about technology in here there is a lot about the value of student centred learning, the teacher as facilitator rather than fact regurgitator, learners working in peer groups and so on. 

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Week 1, H800. A post-graduate newbie!

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018, 23:31

I have not formally studied anything since 1996. I signed up to do MAODE in a mad moment when I thought I wouldn't be busy by the time February rolled around! I really didn't know what to expect and I was apprehensive.

Technically week 1 has been slightly less of a challenge than I expected. Whilst I use computers and technology all the time I have only the most passing familiarity with how anything actually works and I was somewhat intimidated by the idea that there would need to be a wide variety of materials to download, save, print, annotate and so on. I bought, just this week, a new laptop as our old PC showed itself unfit for the job. I've also bought some USB headphones. 

I am under no illusions that week 1 has been an 'easing in' exercise. We have watched, read and listened to people who have made interesting and thought provoking arguments and points. We have conversed on the forum (so far it's been very friendly and supportive - long may that continue) and I have looked at some of the extra reading and also followed some links provided by others in my tutor group. I have found it fascinating.

Things which have grabbed my attention this week:

1. A reflection on the short and long term effects of the invention of the printing press in Europe was simply mind blowing. As a sociology graduate the details about the lengthening of childhood - not for sentimental reasons but simply because it takes longer to learn to read and write than to speak and listen - was so interesting. This sent me on a train of thought as I considered the impact of other technologies in a much wider and long term way.

2. A TED talk linked to by a tutorial group colleague by Sugata Mitra inspired me! His account of how organically children can learn by themselves with little adult intervention (The School in the Cloud) turned my experience and expectation of education upside down. I reflected on how this could work in a context where formal schooling is the norm and whether adults who have been formally schooled in a western setting may be ruined for this kind of peer to peer learning. The SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) seems miraculous but I wonder if it can be effectively used alongside more traditional and familiar schooling methods or if it really is an either / or situation.

3. A webcast (Dr Ian Rowlands) about the 'google generation' multi tasking also made me think a lot. (I watched it and then read the transcript). In common with the interview with Gregor Kennedy there was a discussion about whether the generation who had grown up with the internet were fundamentally different in their learning behaviours, or if they simply were using new technologies to behave exactly as all generations have behaved. I recalled my own undergrad studies where I could often be found with ten books on a library desk, a few folders crammed with print outs and photo copies of journal articles and a fellow student to discuss things with. I was a pre-google multitasker! My (tentative) conclusion is that learning to be a focused student has always taken some people some time and that the advent of the internet hasn't altered that - it just makes the multitasking (procrastinating? distraction?!) easier to log and count.  

So far many of our resources have been very old (2008 may not sound that long ago but it was before widespread social media penetration and before the smartphone was ubiquitous) which concerns me a little. Surely the changes between 2008 and 2018 are at least as much, if not more, than the changes between 1998 and 2008?

I am looking forward to exploring the online library. A few experimental searches have convinced me it is a veritable treasure trove of fascinating and relevant material (not to mention fascinating, irrelevant and time consuming!).  


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