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Hearing the Worst

Moving, engaging, important.

Alive with Cancer

“You are going to have a horrible time,” the doctor said, “a really horrible time.”

I had turned up for what I thought was a routine appointment with the consultant. He looked at his notes, then at me, before leaning over his desk and telling me that the test had come back positive.

I did not feel any physical pain, but a numbing sense of shock. His words were well meant, but not reassuring as I found myself going into battle with cancer.

After the diagnosis, I had a million questions, ranging from – can I be cured, how are you going to treat me and – the most pertinent question of all – how long have I got? Like millions of others, I suffered an agony of uncertainty and anxiety.

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The Vegan Weekly Shop

This covers meals for a five day though missing the porridge oats. Breakfast is either porridge with soya milk, grated cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup or spinach and cherry tomatoes on toast. Lunch is often an Asian soup based on coconut and yeast flakes in a vegetable stock with garlic, ginger, and any combination of veggies: carrots, cauliflower, brocoli, mini corn. Evening veggie burgers made in a variety of ‘flavours’ with chutnies made from dates, or sun dried tomatoes, or pasta and pesto. Pesto typically basil based, but often might include avocado. Parmesan replaced successfully after much trial and error with a mix of roast pine nuts, pistachio and cashew nuts put through a spice grinder with yeast flakes.

Experimenting with recipes from a number of books – some more challenging than others.

Head down and write !

Paper Work Pens

I was brought up on a fountain pen. Snobbery at my boarding prep school equated Biros, ITV, Radio 1, comics and guitars with a different class and one that they were not going to indulge. You develop your handwriting with an ink pen age 8-13 and there’s no going back. Writing with a Biro I find is like trying to scratch your name in ice with a ski-pole.

Hear I am, prefered time of working 3.00am to 5.00am, head down, collecting my thoughts, ploughing through reams of paper as if I was sitting a time examination.

I think it works, for me at least. The ‘Muse’ joins me after half an hour and the ideas flow. I then sleep on it. Further ideas and fixes bubble up and I add these before breakfast. If I don’t write it down, by the evening it is lost. If I add it to the many hundreds of pages of Google Docs and notes it is as likely to become buried in electronic fluff.

In the image above I’d been brought to a halt by an empty ink cartridge. These have become costly. £4.50 for a packet of five cartridges! I must go online and find a supplier.

 

Cut and Paste vs the Computer

IMG_1703.jpgAround 2011 during the Master of Arts Open & Distance Education I resolved to give up on paper entirely: no files, no printing off and all books on Kindle. This time round I stay off the computer except for wordpressing, posting essays and supervisor feedback. Instead I am back to my teen student days of pen, paper, scissors and Sellotape and large scraps of coloured paper. It works for me, even if it is somewhat time consuming.

What I haven’t understood is that greater academic skill at taking notes from references would greatly reduce the need to compost, then filter down a mass of too much information at a later date.

Getting there. This 15,000 word dissertation on the behaviour and mood of volunteers as they enlisted in early September 1914 is not due until July.

 

Cowspirary Debunked

Cows Mt Capburn

Cows on the meadow off Stanley Turner looking toward Mt Caburn, Lewes, Susssex

 

Cowspiracy

This is an agenda-drive, single-answer to the world’s problem, California and US centric production.

There are problems with its presentation, the production techniques and approach and the choice of and use of evidence, and the ethics of how they treat those interviewed.

This is not a BBC Horizon or Panorama, or a BBC / Open University production. In GB we are used to the highest production standards. Ask yourself if the BBC would broadcast this.

 

Cowspiracy is the TV equivalent of the News of the World.

The story telling technique and style is to use exaggeration, scaremongering, a pastiche of the Hollywood storyline template, and exploiting tropes and clichés of the investigative documentary genre.

  1. People and organisations that do not wish to take part are assumed to be guilty of a cover up just because they do not wish to respond to emails or the presenter doorstepping their offices..
  2. Doorstepping and gratuitous use of ‘hidden camera’ angles suggests that those approached have something to hide – that is not proven; they just cannot respond to every nutter who presents themselves at their door waving a camera.
  3. Using emotive scenes where animals are killed or culled.
  4. Unnecessary and gratuitous lingering on a duck as it goes under the chop then cutting later to the presenter puffing up his cheeks and shaking his head. Yet this was an example of small-scale backyard farming that in reality is one of the answers to decreasing industrial-scaled meat production.
  5. The presenter playing the role of Jesus in the wilderness. ‘Someone like us’ – not a journalist, or academic, just a member of the public making his enquiries. He claims to be going on a learning journey but follows a singular path to prove his hypothesis.
  6. Scaremongering by making unqualified claims about potential mass extensions of species and lines such as ‘we’ve stolen the world from free living animals’.
  7. The death of an activist.
  8. Shot choice and cliches: tuna fishing, animal culling.
  9. By the end of the film, with lingering shots of California trees there is a distinct ‘hug a tree’ atmosphere.
  10. Cutting away to the presenter and his easy to read body language and facial expressions.

 

The Evidence

  1. Emotive, exaggerated animated graphics that are unrepresentative of the evidence they purport to come from making  naive scaled-up calculations to illustrate the problem and make projections.
  2. Inadequate introduction to those interviewed i.e. their context and stance relating to the argument.
  3. No interviews with the people who wrote the reports, news paper, magazine articles the ‘evidence’ was selected from.
  4. The quality of the research is weak. The sources poor, biased, limited and often of no value.
  5. The assumption that ‘peer reviewed papers’ were read and used throughout, when in fact only three are given on the website as ‘facts/
  6. Failure to adequately cross-reference and corroborate the ‘evidence’ uses.

 

The Ethics and Legality of some of the interviews

  1. Setting up an interviewee to be mocked/humiliated on camera then putting this online.  
  2. Recording before and after the interview to get the person off guard then using this. It must be assumed that a ‘release form’ of some kind was used, yet did these people know that the material would be used in this way?
  3. Showing and naming children on a sustainable farm who were indirectly mocked. If I was the parent of this farm I would have taken legal action against the producers.
  4. Using access to a sustainable farm and a backyard farm to mock them and in the case of the sustainable farm probably doing significant damage to their reputation and trade. Implying that what they were doing is worse than industrial farming was ludicrous and revealed the presenter and the programme makers to be unscrupulous activists not documentary filmmakers.

 

CONCLUSION

A single issue mockumentary aimed at animal activist vegan supporters.

More like a recruitment video for a movement or cult produced for believers to support their preconceptions.

The US is the guiltiest party, with by far the greatest consumption of meat per head in the world.

Abuse of selected evidence too often using newspaper and magazine journalists as the supposed ‘expert’ sources. (See the website).

Causality is complex but the presenter wants to reduce it to one thing

 

Do Your Own Research. Draw Your Own Conclusions

Go to a reputable source such as the Oxford School of Geography and the Environment and find and use only peer reviewed papers in reputable journals. Take nothing for granted, check the papers cited in these papers and construct your own understanding of the issues.

Use Google Scholar if you don’t have access to a university library.

Don’t just read the relevant papers. Follow up the lines of argument and researched cited by these papers too.

Don’t buy the DVD or T-shirt.

 

‘The Reputation Game’ You’ll be engrossed for days and changed forever

Reputation Game

The Reputation Game is a compelling read that has you nodding along in agreement, turning the page for another insight and then pausing to take in the academic research. Written by a former Financial Times journalist and PR guru David Waller and a Business School academic Rupert Younger, the blend of the journalism and the academic gives you two books beautifully blended into one.

I find you become engrossed for hours at time – it has that ‘can’t put it down’ quality, but also as it skips through so many examples and references that any of these can form a satisfying quick read making it good not only for a commute, but to flick through between stops on the underground.

I know a dozen people who should have a copy, one who probably wishes he had written it. On the one hand I can send them this review, on the other I might just buy them copies and tell them why they should read it and how it well both be a pleasure to read and of value to them either because they have a ‘reputation’ to maintain, build or rejuvenate, or because they are in the business of doing this for others, both individuals and organisations.

Amongst many, often interviewed for the book, in relation to ‘reputation’, you will gain insights into:

 

Roman Abramovich

Lance Armstrong

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi

Michel Barnier

David and Victoria Beckham

Benedict XVI aka the Pope

Jeff Bezos

Tony Blair

Sepp Blatter

Usain Bolt

Susan Boyle

Richard Branson aka Sir Richard

Gordon Brown

Warren Buffett

George W Bush

Caligula aka The Emperor

David Cameron

Jimmy Carter

Charles Windsor aka the Prince of Wales

Winston Churchill

Nick Clegg

Bill and Hillary Clinton

Jeremy Corbyn

Robert Downey Jnr

James Dyson aka Sir James

Elizabeth Windsor aka The Queen

Roger Federer

Niall Ferguson

Margaret Hodge

Steve Jobs

Boris Johnson

Tom Jones aka Sir Tom

Bernie Madoff – interviewed in person by the authors.

Theresa May

Max Mosley

Horatio Nelson aka Admiral Lord

Barack Obama aka President

John Profumo

Vladimir Putin aka President

Cecil Rhodes

Saddam Hussein

Maria Sharapova

Joseph Stalin

Ivan the Terrible

Margaret Thatcher

Donald Trump

Mark Zuckerberg
And when it comes to business and organisational reputation you will learn about:

 

Adidas

Amnesty International

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

The Bhopal Disaster

The British Army

Buzzfeed

Cazenove

The Catholic Church

CBS

BP

The Deepwater Horizon Crisis

Domino’s Pizza

The EU

Exxon

Facebook

FIFA

GlaxoSmithKline

Goldman Sachs

Google

Innocent Drinks

IS

The London School of Economics

Nestlé

Philip Morris International

Rolls-Royce

Rowntree

RBS

Unilver

Union Carbide

United Airlines

VW

Wonga

Zimbabwe

 

And in doing so you will learn about:

 

Capability reputation and character reputation and a whole lot more. Some of which will make you smile, much of which you can apply.

 

Chunking

Computer Free

Gone is the computer. Here is a fountain pen and paper. It is easier to spread out, easier to gather up ideas in bundles … better for brain? This has the makings of a dissertation.

Familiarity and mastery

Your head gets into a place it never wants to leave. You take command of a subject and want to build on it.

Or should do. I resist mastery in favour of novelty.

So I have to find ways to keep everything fresh. To seek out the challenge.

The new role of ‘Learning Facilitator’ at Coursera

According to Coursera, the 'learning facilitator', a new role that they are developing and will wear several different hats: managerial, technical, social, and pedagogical.

Coursera goes on to say that "effective facilitators must know how to guide learners in their learning journey, provide formative feedback, offer technical guidance, foster community, and communicate in a way that encourages learners to construct knowledge together".

This 'facilitator' role is somewhat more demanding than the current Coursera 'moderator' who is there simply to nudge things along. This Facilitator role sounds more like the Open University 'Associate Lecturer' (AL) – a practitioner, a graduate of the course they support, and typically someone at PhD or PhD candidate levels. The Coursera moderator is merely someone who recently took the course on which they plan to moderate and gained a score of over 82% and have done the Coursera E-Moderator MOOC.

The development of the Coursera Facilitator is in line with their move increasingly towards developing undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses.

Where Coursera will struggle is expecting facilitators to have enough technical knowledge to do much more than answer the most basic technical questions: they need to know where they can turn. Also those who have invested so much to gain this greater academic knowledge required to be a facilitator will expect to be paid. Coursera will be charging, as they do increasingly as they move away from the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Typical Learning Curve for Newly Learned Information


Developed by Hermann Ebbinghaus some 150 years ago while the hypothesis is sound the results are representative rather than an individual’s response. How might e-learning respond to the different capacities and inclinations of each learner to retain or lose the knowledge they pick up? 

A number of platforms have tried to address this, the most successful coming out of Harvard Medical school 6 years ago and more recently rebranded and commercialised for sakes training for the pharmaceutical industry under the name QStream.

Trained and experienced educators will know that they are constantly faced by the challenge of getting what they teach or facilitate to stick . How can these techniques be supported online? How do you educate a class of many thousands? Coursera are determined to crack it. As a Coursera Mentor it feels as if their technical team is responsive on a weekly basis to making improvements – improvements that increasingly come from the 1,900 volunteer mentors they have recruited and trained in the last two years, all of us completing a Coursera Community Mentor’s course before we are permitted to interact directly with students on a course we have already successfully completed.

It feels like being part of an educational movement and a pleasure to be in touch every day: you gradually see patterns in where people get stuck, where they need a hand, where the technology may trip them up, or the content could be improved. Everything can be refined so Coursera take the view that nothing stands still. 

These are the benefits educators commuting their content to Coursera get – opportunities to refine, and improve the ‘knowledge transfer’ part (the lecture typically) so that once ‘flipped’ they can give, in small groups by rotation something akin to the personal attention of the Oxbridge Tutorial. 

Tough Love

How we learn in an ideal realisation of constant growth expressed as riding a thermal

The Learning Thermal


Every day, as a Coursera Mentor, I receive notification from them in the form of an email indicating which student queries in the common forum require a response; every day I respond to one or two and in due course I get feedback. It is always a pleasure that my reassurance, prompt or suggestion is welcome. Having done this for 7 months I recognise a pattern: students (as I did) worry about assignments, which are of two types: peer reviews of submitted work and graded quizzes (typically around 12-16 carefully crafted questions). Both are tightly controlled: as a student you must review three pieces of work submitted by others (selected or offered from a rolling list as your cohort moves through the course) and to pass the course in its entirety, the quiz grade required, individually and collectively is high, certainly over 60%. 

Having done four courses, each with several increasingly demanding parts, I know how much anxiety these can cause, more so where I have paid a fee to be part of the assessed cohort so that I get the most learning out of it and gain a certificate too. We don’t like being judged or criticised, so peer reviews need to be done with sensitivity and completely fairly. The instructions  for assignments are specific: whether an essay, proposal or project write up, or another piece of submitted work such as a photograph, the factors that will result in marks being awarded and carefully spelled out. The student must then trust his or her work to a fellow student. Being a global and open platform Coursera attracts everybody who has access to the Internet: young, old, English a second or third language, at High School or a post-grad (even doctoral research students boosting their ego or doing a refresher). Some people take the peer review more seriously than others: you’d be unlucky if more than one student gave no more than a cursory review and worse, if they marked your work down on a trivial technicality (or plainly get their review wrong). On the better courses, and all I have experienced on five different Coursera courses (each having between One and Five substantial parts) the multiple-choice quizzes are well written and thought through; what is more, when you redo the quiz if your score is too low you will at least find the questions are in a different order, and nay find some questions are even different – you can’t ‘game it’ by repeating the test over and over trying different combinations of responses. Students new to this kind of learning experience and to opening their minds (and to some their soul) to strangers, get agitated: they panic, they fret, they even become inpatient and angry. The educators who ‘wrote’ the course or the platform itself can come in for a lot of Schtick. 
Standing back from it all, were I advising a group of educators about to embark on the creation of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), I’d advise ‘tough love’ – some educators, through experience, and by their nature, might be like this anyhow. It does no one any favours to produce a course where any component may be deemed at best ‘edutainment’ and at w0rst ‘amateurish’ or plain wrong.

‘Tough love’ gets results and in the longer term is what the student and educator wants. In a different field, coaching swimmers, something that grew out of helping out at a club where my kids were learning to swim competively, it has taken me a while (over ten years) through training and experience, to deliver ‘tough love’ whether the swimmer is 8 or 18. Unlike in an online course, in these live situations I can respond to strengths and weaknesses, spot failings and go back. Crucially where something isn’t getting the results I need I can call upon a collection of approaches. They cannot progress until they can do a thing correctly. Likewise, online, the smarter courses, blocking the way to advancing, will send a student back to review a part of the programme that ought to help them with an answer they are failing to get right. Better still the student is offered a different way of seeing the problem; the better courses providing more than just a reading list – they link to a specific paper, or book, or video. 

A few times, taking a series of courses on ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ I became stuck and had to go back over two weeks of material and find a different person giving a different explanation before the ‘penny would drop’ – it really was a moment of enlightenment, and getting the quiz score from something like 4/16 to 11/16 gave me such a great sense of achievement that I persevered until I settled for 15/16. I have to trust the designers and writers of the course than 16/16 is possible : students can get online and blame the course, not themselves, for being unable to ‘meet the grade’. Shame on the educators if they have made a mistake. Best practice is, in any case, to use information on any sticking point and go and fix it. It was one of the earliest findings shared by Daphne Keller in her TED lecture on the first course offered on Coursera that with tens of thousands of students the data would identify spots where the educators weren’t teaching something very well – too many students were making the same error to blame them so they went in and fixed it.

 I like the idea of building a course as best you can and then using the learning stats and student experience to go back and fix problems and make improvements: you build an obstacle course for the brain, but it is no good if too many people fail where they shouldn’t. Nor is it of any value to make it so easy to render the course worthless. I know Courses, entire platforms, that are educationally valueless ‘edutainment’, PR for the educational institution –  a taster of a campus based course. learning is not viewing: a timeline that indicates that you have clicked through 50% of the material is not worthy of a pass. Being flippant with a formative quiz is not funny; I’ve seen ‘educational’ quizzes where, like in a TV gambit aimed to get tens of thousands of punters wasting £1 on a punt the right answer is blindingly obvious from a choice of three. And paying to study at postgraduate level where 40% is the pass rate is so indulgent as to be diminishing of the institution.

The ‘toughest love’ is the examination hall; the ‘toughest test’ the real world. Would you want to be seen by a doctor whose course work in training repeatedly only scrapped above a 40% grade? And if the ‘learning’ was so easy did much go in and stick? 

At school, and since, the educators I have most admired were always the toughest: their demands and expectations were high. However ignorant you were, if you stuck at it and showed willing they got you over the bar, they’d never lower it. 

Watching TV you sit back and let it wash over you; you may even fall asleep. Learning on an interactive platform, as you should do in a lecture or tutorial, and certainly when writing an essay or sitting an exam, you ‘lean forward’ – you engage the brain – the harder you are made to think, the greater the struggle, the more likely you have learnt something lasting and of value on which you can build.

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