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Study Sets … like the Polish resistance

polishresistance

Is this the perfect ‘Set’?

 

Serendipity has me at the home of my 91 year old father-in-law. Considerably less active than he once was, he still spends his day either reading from an iPad, or, with considerable difficulty, writing and reading emails. (He is blind in one eye with severely limited peripheral vision in the other). Reading only from a screen about 7 or 8 words fill the screen. A young granddaughter is researching a piece about being a ‘war child’. Zbigniew Pelczynski was 13 1/2 when the Germans invaded Poland. He revealed something about learning that I had not heard before.

You’ll soon understand the relevance to learning and the relevance of posting it here: I interviewed Dr Pelczynski on the Oxbridge Tutorial system in relation to learning and the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education. He is a former Oxford Philosophy Tutor (Hegel) …  and East European Politics, and the founder of ‘The Schools for Leaders’ in Poland and other East European countries. Has he retired? Probably. He published his last book four or five years ago and made his last trip to Poland about three years ago.

One of his grandchildren, just started secondary school, had the following questions for him.

1). How old were you and your brother at the beginning of the war?

The war began 1st September 1939. I was then 13 1/2, and my brother was 12.

2). How did the war change everyday life e.g. did shops close?

Shops did not close and in many way life went on as before, however, with time food became more and more scarce and expensive. People who were poor had a very hard time. 

3). What did you do for family entertainment?

(I have read that in Poland things like cinema and football clubs were banned)

Well, entertainment was very much limited to the family and especially to birthday, christmas and Easters which in Poland are celebrated in a very big way. Cinemas were open, but the films were controlled so that one was only able to see that the occupiers, the Germans, wanted us to see. There were some interesting German films, but most of them were propaganda. I remember Jude Ze. about a a cruel Jew in the middle ages who caught children who cheated everybody and murdered children for blood. There was a tail that the Jews used the blood of Christian children for Jewish feasts. This was meant to make us feel very hostile to the Jews who were being greatly persecuted by the Germans at the time, put into Ghettos and later sent to extermination camps.

(The film he refers to is ‘The Eternal Jew’ )

There was no theatre, just light music entertainment, but only for the German soldiers who were stationed there and German officials. There were however some concerts in cafés, specially on Sunday at lunchtime which were very popular. 

Sport. The Germans didn’t allow any sport. All football pitches, running tracks and swimming pools were taken over by the Germans and used by their own soldiers or recovering soldiers. 

You were allowed to play handball or netball at home in your yard. Not allowed to play at school. Not allowed to kick a football about a schoolyard. So the only thing we did was play pingpong at school. In the school there were long corridors in there were several tables and you’d sign up to be allowed to play and there would be competitions. There was the Vistula in Warsaw, where we went swimming or canoeing or in a small sailing boat. 

4. Did you have rationing coupons for food & clothes?

There were no clothes coupons, but there were certainly rationing coupons for food. They would change from year to year, even month to mont and they kept being cut again and gain. Each family was registered in a particular greengrocers shop and you went to buy your rations once a week. However illegally food was imported from the countryside and sold under the counter in the same shops or others shops or in open market, but the price was very high compared to the official regulated price of the rations. 

Things were particularly during holidays when it was very difficult to get the various delicacies, for example ham for easter, or chicken or goose for Christmas. 

5. How did things change for children in primary school?

There was virtually no change. Some of the text books were banned as they were thought to be too patriotic of ante-German. 

6. How did things change for children in secondary school?

This was changed. The Germans did not allow any education whatsoever after the age of 16. And only if the secondary education was combined with ‘Fachschulen’ (specialist schools) – that is a ‘trades school’. I, for example, went to a school that was supposed to train electricians, one of my friends went to carpentry school and another went to gardening school. But very little time was spent on these trades, say a day a week, the other days were much similar to what we had before the war. The exceptions, no foreign language was allowed except German, Latin was banned, Polish history was banned. However, very early in the war, the teachers started organising secret courses called ‘sets’ where five children and one teacher taught Latin, French and Polish history. After age 16, moving to the equivalent of A’Levels there was no school education at all in the ordinary way. Those who continued with these sets of 5+1, would say meet on a Tuesday, and have 3 hours being taught Polish language and Geography, then another teacher would come and teach say Physics … so in this way, instead of studying in large classes, we had what you might call seminars. It was possible, the atmosphere was very informal, made it possible to ask question and disagree. This education was illegal. If the Germans had discovered these the teacher would have been arrested and sent to prison.

I went on like this until 1943 when I was 17 1/2. The Polish Secondary education was modelled on the French and German with four or more subject examination, I did Polish Language, German Language, Latin and Trigonometry. I passed this examination. 

7. What age did you start going to school in secret, tell me about what it was like.

See above

8. How did children help in the war effort?

It very much depended on your age. Children who were very young did not participate at all, expect  perhaps taking secret newspapers from one family to another. The Polish Secret army told their story of what was happening in the world, otherwise we were limited to German propaganda. Later on you could join a secret scout movement. You were trained in what was known as ‘little sabotage’ for example, painting slogans on public places, ‘Hitler Kaput’ meaning ‘Hitler is finished’. On one occasion we went to church on Easter morning very early, and the whole of Warsaw was covered in these ante-German slogans and symbols of the Polish Resistance (a symbol of hope).

Most Poles are Catholic. During the war people went to church for services and holidays and the Germans didn’t interfere with that. Some of the priests when they preached sermons put in some references to Poland was not free, but the time would come when it would be free again. If caught as there could be spies in the congregation they would be arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

I and my younger brother joined the Resistance Movement in 1943. Even before that he decided to help some friends in the resistance: the people who formed little units in the forests and attacked the Germans, and stole their weapons, and blew up their cars. Kazik had a friend who was very active, and this friend wanted to store submachine guns somewhere so Kazik agreed and would store them in our grand piano which was never used because neither he nor I played. I got suspicious because this friend would come and visit with a violin case. One day, this friend came, and Kazik locked himself in the sitting room, and I listen and realised they were putting something in the piano. I looked and there was a brand new Sten-gun in the grand piano. 

When I was older, 18 1/2 I joined the Resistance Movement and trained as a soldier. We were often asked to store hand-grenades and rifles. We would attach a rifle to a small fruit tree and put straw around it. 

9. What age did children join the Home Army?

There was some military training in the Scout Movement, at 14 or so, maybe 12. Then first of all they were involved in ‘small sabotages’; and then given military training so in 1944 they were involved. 

You joined the underground, the secret Military movement, when you were 16. When the uprising broke, out and the young people were the bravest of all. One friend of mine, who was 16, was awarded two medals. 

Distributing leaflets and illegal leaflets.

Training in the home army, we must in five + one, Meet in someone’s house, once a week, and a military instructor would come and tell us how to use a gun, or blew up houses.

Once a month there was a trip to the nearest forest. It was easy to go for the weekend. Military training was much more serious here, you played at setting an ambush, or crawling under barbed wire or attacking a position. Amazing that the Germans never discovered what was going on.

The point that had me wake in the dead of night having mulled this over was the importance to him of ‘the set’, or seminar, what in fact became for him the lifelong love for an commitment to the ‘tutorial’ : not a seminar, a class of students, but a small group, relaxed with tea, coffee (or sherry), reading over each other’s essays for the week, being able to falter, make mistakes, received praise and correction.

This works. I believe it works online too. I have had plenty of experiences of it on OU modules where from my tutor group a small ‘break-out’ group forms. These are never exclusive, but rathe a handful of people usually three or four, who form an affinity and begin to confer, converse and meet regularly online to discuss the course and its progres.

I recommend it. Blog, Use Facebook or LinkedIn or Google HangOuts. Make use of platforms offered by The OU. Be part of a group. Form a group, or what I will now call a ‘Set’ or perhaps, in Polish ‘Zestaw’. 

Here’s his biography.

zbigniew

Why did the people on a course I ran learn what they learned?

Fig. 1. Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ reversioned.

I did something …

This is my take on Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ which I will use to explore what I ‘did’. I ran a creative problem solving workshop. The motivation for attendees was to pick up some creative problem solving techniques, to solve a problem we had with using social media and to do some team building. The objective for me was to crack this problem and to introduce a more creative and collaborative approach to problem solving.

Fig. 2. Coach to Olympians running a workshop – part class, part ‘pool side’

I couldn’t help but draw on experience as a Club Swimming Coach planning programmes of swimming for a squad swimmers and as the ‘workforce development’ running training programmes for our club’s teachers and coaches. Planning and preparation when you are putting athletes in the pool several times a week over months is vital. On a smaller scale this workshop required a schedule, to the minute, with some contingency, allowing you to build in flexibility for both content and timings.

Fig. 3. Planned to the minute – my creative problem solving workshop

The plan was for five to six creative problem solving techniques to be used, top and tailed by, using terms from swimming, a ‘warm up’ and a ‘warm down’. The modus operandi of the Residential School had been to introduce, experience and play with as many creative problem solving techniques as possible.

Fig. 4. As a prop, food and aid memoir a bunch of bananas has multiple uses

‘Bunch of Bananas’ is a creative problem solving technique that suggests that you include in the group a ‘plant’ – a person over whom other’s will slip, like the proverbial banana. My take on this was to introduce two outsiders – a Russian academic who would bring a different take on things and the a mathematician and senior programmer.

Fig. 5. ‘Mother-in-law, Samurai, Tiger’ is a great warm up, while stretching like an Olympic swimmer was an apt ‘warm down’ at the end of the session.

We did a warm up called  ‘Mother-in-law, Samurai, Tiger’. This is the team equivalent of ‘Paper, Scissors, Stone’ where two teams face each other and on the count of three, having agreed what their response would as a team, they either ‘Tut-tut’ and wag their finger like a mother-in-law, ‘growl’ and get their claws out like a Tiger, or shout ‘ha!’ while posing like a Samurai warrior brandishing his sword. This is the ‘warm down’ to stick with the swimming coaching metaphor was to have participants get into the ‘streamlined’ position that swimmers adopt – essentially a stretching exercise.

Fig. 6. Human Sculpture and Timeline are useful ways to have people look at and feel a problem in a different way and from a different angle.

In between we did a mixture of physical and mental activities, including Human Sculpture where one person becomes the sculptor and uses everyone else to form a tableau or sculpture that expresses their talk on the problem. Another was timeline where you imagine looking at the problem from the perspective of the past and future.

Now, stand back  …

Standing back I’d say that running a workshop for colleagues has advantages and disadvantages. How would a director or line manager feel about their views being exposed like this. On the other hand if well managed it becomes a team building exercise too.

The challenge is to know what risks to take and how to build in flexibility, not just in timing, but in the kind of activities. This requires that despite the plan you are alert to signals that suggest an activity should be developed or dropped.

Workshops and seminars I take have a common element – there is ‘hands on’ activity.

The goal is that at the end of the session people feel confident that they could do these things themselves. I’m less comfortable about teaching where the communication is one way – me talking and them taking notes. I value encouraging self-discover and people being on their feet, interacting and having fun.

The workshop was experiential

It was collaborative and iterative, it was problem-based learning that used communication skills.

How did you feel about that ?  

Fig. 7. How we like to be ‘in the flow’ rather either bored or stressed from being too challenged. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1975) Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level.

I felt ‘in the flow’ for most of the time, suitably challenged and never bored. Though anxious and surprised when a colleague gave me a drubbing the day after feeling that they had been tricked into attending. This came as a surprise, the other surprise was how away from their desk and computers the apparently introverted could become so animated and responsive.

I felt like a party planner. I was hosting an event. The atmosphere of controlled enthusiasm would be down to me. I would be, to use a French expression, the ‘animateur’ or ‘realisateur’ – the one who would make this happen and bring it to life.

Fig. 8. For all the playful activities, we are still reliant on Post It Notes and flip charts

Now what ?

On this occasion we delivered a couple of distinct responses to the problem. People reflected on the experienced and felt it was both enjoyable and of practical value. The request was not that others would host such an exercise, but that I would do more. I was subsequently booked to run a few more workshops on specific topics with different groups in the faculty. The question that we couldn’t resolve was whether were  a ‘creative organisation’ ? My own conclusion being that we quite palpably were not.

REFERENCE

Ackoff, R.L. (1979) The Art of Problem-Solving, New York: Wiley

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-87589-261-2

Experiential learning theory. (Available from http://www2.glos.ac.uk/gdn/gibbs/ch2.htm. Accessed 22FEB14)

Gundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed, Van Norstrand Reinhold. Te hniques 4.01, 4.06, 4.57

Henry, J and the course team (2006, 2010) ‘Creativity, Cognition and Development” Book 1 B822 Creativity, Innovation and Change.

Henry, J (2010) ‘Set Breakers’ Henry (P. 96)

Kolb, D.A. 1984 Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

McCaskey, M.B. (1988) ‘The challenge of managing ambiguity’, in Pondy, L.R, Boland, R.J and Thomas, H (eds) Managing Ambiguity and Change, new York, pp 2-11

Henry, J & Martin J (2010) Book 2 Managing Problems Creatively

Schon, A.A. (1983) The Reflective Practioner: How Professionals think in Action, London: Temple Smith

Tassoul, M, & Buijs, J ( 2007, )’Clustering: An Essential Step from Diverging to Converging’, Creativity & Innovation Management, 16, 1, pp. 16-26, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 22 February 2014.

 

 

 

Towards an assessment of my teaching

I often share a post I am writing as I do so. In this case having identified the story to tell : running a workshop to solve a ‘messy’ business problem I am pulling together or creating supporting images, in the above case a grab and mashup from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ – my goal is to be recognised as one. In a forum post as an Open University ‘Master of arts in Open and Distance Education’ (I graduated in early 2013) I suggested this could be achieved in four years – John Seely Brown thinks that eLearning speeds things up, while Weller reckons on ten years.

Reflecting on a presentation on learning to students at Oxford Brookes University

Fig.1. Rescue having failed a 4 tonne whale is dragged from Stinson Beach. 

As a student on Oxford Brookes University’s online course ‘First Steps into Teaching and Learning 2014’ here in week 4 we have been challenged to consider an experience from teaching or being taught and in a five minute presentation reflect on this.

My interest is teaching postgraduates and/or ‘in the workplace’.

I should be feeling I’ve stumbled into the right time and place with this one having just given a ten minute presentation online as part of the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education module H818: The Networked Practitioner, however with that one, despite every expectation to exploit my love of and experience with linear and interactive media I resorted to a Powerpoint. I needed to improve the script up to the line and this offered the flexibility I could not have had with a Prezi or video. There were too many cumbersome technical barriers and trips that I wasn’t happy to pursue or risk.

What I’m doing here is thinking through a presentation I need to prepare. Sharing this, if and where feedback can be garnered, then informs the decisions I take.

My immediate idea, often my best, is to do a selfie-video talking to camera while hurtling around a roller-coaster at Thorp Park. It would sum up the terror, thrill, highs and lows of taking a day long workshop with a class of some 40 year 9s (12/13 year olds) in a secondary school that had/has a checkered history.

The second idea, to change the setting radically, would be a workshop with nine on creative problem solving – the objective was to come up with answers to a messy problem, though the motivation to be present for most was to experience a variety of creative problem solving activities that I had lined up. This nine in an organisation, included MBAs, prospective MBAs, a senior lecture, junior and senior managers and officers: colleagues and invited guests from different departments. This example is probably the most appropriate.

A third might be something I attended as a student – apt because doing this in 2009/2010 in part stimulated me to take an interest in learning: I wanted to know what was going wrong. Here we had prospective club swimming coaches doing everything that was unnatural to them – working from a hefty tome of paper, sitting through a lecture/seminar and expecting assessment to be achieved by filling in the blanks on course sheet handouts. This from people with few exceptions who left school with few or no qualifications – often troubled by Dyslexia. They were swimming coaches to dodge this very kind of experience. It was, you could tell, hell for some. The misalignment could not have been greater. Here the immediate visual image, apt given the subject matter, would be to watch a fish out of water drown – or nearly drown and be rescued. What really grated for me in this course was the rubbish that was taught – too many gross simplifications and spurious science.

Based on the above I should challenge myself to do the video as I need to crack loading and editing. The fish out of water, whale actually, I can illustrate from photographs and the experience this summer of being present as a 4 tonne whale beached and drowned on Stinson Beach, California (See Fig.1. above).

Reflections on postgraduate learning, online or taught

20130930-161125.jpg

Fig. 1. Ironically, given what I am writing about below, this book is recommended (though not compulsary) reading for the Open University (OU) module H818: The Networked Practitioner. I could only find a print version.

I’ll add notes to this blog (which I use to aggregate notes and as an e-portfolio, not just as a shared or private journal-cum-log) as the differences between the online and ‘traditional’ learning experience dawn on me as I do two in parallel.

An MSc in Development Management (a convenient way to be recognised for a collection of education and further modules on e-learning that I am doing with the OU) 100% online … except for the above book.

An MA in British First World War studies (with the University of Birmigham) 97% lectures and tutorials on campus. (There is online support, an online library and database, but books and 100 year old archive as physical artefacts in collections are the primary materials)

Actually there’s a third comparison I can make – that of ‘corporate learning and development’ which the other week with the E-Learning Network included something neither of the above formats offer – ‘social learning over an excellent buffet lunch’. (see below for my view of campus fodder).

Time Managment

The ‘traditional’ seminar or lecture forces your hand somewhat – you have to be there. Many these days are recorded for you and put online, though mine will not be. I’m inclined therefore to take either a digital or audio recorder along to record these things. I have, just a couple of times over three years, got behind with the online course as I kept putting it off.

Travel … and the associated cost

It’ll be around four hours door to door once a month. This means getting up at 4.30 am. Not of course something someone in full time tertiary education needs to do. Off peak, unless booked well in advance it’ll cost £74 return … £24 if I stick to exact trains. Lunch I may have to take with me as the campus only had premade Spar sandwhiches at every outlet.

Nodding off

After lunch on my MA induction day I did something I remember last doing in double Geography on a Friday afternoon with ‘Dusty Rhodes’ – I sat at the back, cupped my hands over my eyes as if in deep thought … and grabbed ‘forty winks’.

Something, however common to many people on any part-time distance learning course is ‘the early morning shift’ – putting in 90 minutes or so before breakfast.

Library Services

While this and other support services are offered to us on our VLE it was invaluable to to have a person run through it as a presentation in person. This kind of stuff should be given a linear expression … a mini-module for newcomers and as a refresher. All I’ve done, two years after the event with the OU was a webinar on using RefWorks.

People ‘in the flesh’

It was obvious as we gathered in the hall below the lecture rooms that the group of mainly male, mature students were turning up to the same gig. A handshake, a look in the eye and after pleasantries about where we had travelled from we got straight down to what MA were were doing and why: First World War, Second World War or Air Power. Meanwhile online, as many have been ‘gathering’ asynchronously online saying ‘where they have come from’ i.e. their last module, nerves and who they already know. No handshake, some faces, but not all, and largelly female. What these have in common is that human desire to find something in common amongst strangers. Doing a head count I’d say the ratio of male/female for war studies was 80/20 … for the MA in e-learning modules it would appear to be close to 30/70, perhaps 40/60.

Tutors

In three and a half years with the Open University I have not met any of the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) tutors or moderators. I wouldn’t even recognise some of them if I met them. In some cases I might know the voice. The ‘Chair’ of each module is the intellectual powerhouse, with tutors as moderator-cum-markers can be professors, not necessarily with the OU, or ‘fellow’ students who are a few steps ahead having completed the MA ODE. At the University of Birmingham the ‘intellectual powerhouses’ are our tutors and they were out in force – which given the subject matter included two retired Air Commodores.

Learning that is ‘any time, any where’

The MA ODE can be studied any time, any where – though in practice it is studied evenings, weekends and vacations as students tend to be in fulltime employment, those with children, during the term at least, may have some semblance of a ‘student day’ if they can settle down each morning. The MA WW1 is strictly confined to a Saturday, and not just one lecture, potentially three or four. There are Tuesday evening talks which I will never make and can only hope will be recorded and put online.

What does any of the above say about:

opportunity
motivation
support
retention
the traditions of learning
the subject matter
formal postgraduate learning for mature students in the 21st century

20130930-162659.jpg

Fig. 2 The First World War archive at the university of Birmingham

This would have been quite impossible online – handling archive 90-100 year old materials from a university collection. I was particularly taken by the personal diary and several hundred photographs of an officer who was posted widely during the war, from the Western Front to Malta, Italy and Egypt. The original artwork of Louis Raemaekers also impressed and inspired, while the actual typed up letters of cabinet ministers reasly brought home the opportunity to ‘turn to original sources’.

Imagine you are constructing a course in digital skills for an identified group of learners

H817 Open Activity 8

ACTIVITY: Imagine you are constructing a course in digital skills for an identified group of learners (e.g. undergraduates, new employees, teachers, mature learners, military personnel, etc.). It is a short, online course aimed at providing these learners with a set of resources for developing ‘digital skills’. It runs for five weeks, with a different subject each week, accounting for about six hours study per week. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Often the messiest and most problematic of tasks prove to be the most revealing.

Thinking of a group of swimming teachers as participants in some Open Learning was a challenge as some would never have used a computer at all. I thought of another group, nursery nurses and even contemplated going on to undergraduate medical students or junior doctors so that I could imagine working with a digital literate group but then returned to the challenge of introducing those with no experience of computers at all.

Do you try to teach someone to swim butterfly when they cannot swim? Can a swimming teacher learn anything if they don’t have access to a swimming pool? This is what it felt like – clearly OER is never suitable for everyone – the learning outcomes must come first, then how to deliver these in a way that suits the participants. There’s a saying in advertising, ‘preach to the converted’ i.e. you are selling goods and services to people who want them anyway. The easiest ‘sell’ would be to create a course on digital skills for those who are just coming online and are eager to acquire the skills, rather than a group that includes those who have no digital skills and are even belligerent or disinclined to take any interest.

Coming from Learning & Development we have sometimes been expected to ‘shoehorn’ other people’s content, or the client’s old content, into the production. We decline. We will use the material to inform the production process only. There is a reason, for narrative and continuity why I still feel that creating your own bespoke content is often a better alternative, otherwise there can be discontinuity, the need for writing in caveats, or simply reversioning as participants take a negative view of the smallest of things – say US English used instead of UK English.

Week

Topic

Resources

Suitability (G/M/B)

1

INTRODUCTION

to the Web and digital skills

Learning on the go

Mobile devices

Just in time or applied resources and tools.

Websites and social media

Twitter, Facebook … WordPress

Wikis

Keyboard Basics

6 Learning Methods Every Teacher Should Have

Internet Basic (UK GOV)

Using the Web (BBC Webwise)

M

M

M

G

2

SEARCH

Find a variety of content on MSM Website related to schedules, programmes, events, Swim21, contacts and compliance

Download and open PDF files.

Login and add personal details

Searching: Making the most of being online (BBC Webwise)

Searching the Internet (UK GOV)

Mid Sussex Marlins

Locate Swim21, download the Code of Ethics PDF, email the Swim21 Officer to say that you agree to abide by these guidelines.

G

M

3

VIEW

Select a video on swimming  technique from the Breakwater Swimming Website and note tips you would use in a training or teaching session.

Breakwater Swimming Training

M

4

PARTICIPATE

Register with IoS

Online Forms

Navigate/Search Function

Find and do a 1 hour free CPD of your choices

Multiple-choice

Audio/View

Rate/Comment

Register with the Institute of Swimming

Do a Free Continual Professional Development (CPD) refreshed – 1 hour

Working and Learning in Sports and Fitness

Open Learn, The OU

Track 6

How to develop reflective skills and improve leadership techniques. Part of The OU course E113 Working and learning in sport and fitness.

G

5

CREATE

Register withe blog host

Create a journal entry on a session and reflect

ELABORATE

Find and comment on other club and personal blogs

Create and load video

Legalese

Starting a new Web Site

Blogging, a tool used to reflect and learn

Be Secure Online (UK Gov)

How to avoid online fraud

Twitter Users.  A Guide to the Law (BBC Webwise)

B

B

G

G

REFLECTION

It was recently announced that a company had created a connector or ‘brick’ that allows those playing with either Lego bricks or Konnex to connect to two. It strikes me that OER requires some conformity in the creation of the learning resource in the first place to allow such bonds and that templates or connectors are required too. However, even if the learning resource is an idea expressed as a doodle with some text or a series of annotated diagrams from a whiteboard that are photographer and put online I believe this is far preferable to shoehorning another’s ideas into your learning design. Can you construct a new short story by lifting paragraphs from others? Can you construct original Shakespeare by mashing up lines from different monologues? Can you create a coherent painting by grabbing elements from a number of masters? This isn’t the same as the remixing musicians do, or is it? This isn’t the same as taking a cooking recipe and changing some of the ingredients – it is about the quality, truth, conviction, coherence and flow of a persuasive narrative.

My greatest challenge is the nature of the intended audience, whilst ‘Swimming Teachers and Coaches’ is one way to define them, for most this is a volunteer role for an hour or so a week, for a few more a modest part-time and paid role for perhaps 6 to 8 hours and only part-time and professional for 3 or 4 – say 12-16, sometimes 22 hours a week. They are a disparate group too – from airline pilots and Doctors, to a retired postman and an assistant in Waitrose who left school with no qualifications and now understand that they have Dyslexia. One is doing an MA in Sports Science online, another gets his wife to receive and send emails – yet another her husband. This spectrum of digitally literate ‘residents’ to the ‘occasional visitor’ even the non-user – and in some cases belligerently ante-Internet means that to reach this group requires more group workshops, face to face applied ‘poolside on the job’ and hand-outs. Content online needs to be printable so that if necessary intermediaries can print off in specific fonts onto coloured paper for those with Dyslexia. Content in the post, the traditionally distance learning approach would be favoured by some.

PROBLEMS

Links no longer valid or content removed, sometimes for declared copyright issues, such as here. Not having adequate input into the bespoke construction of the content in the first place, and then the possibility that the content may be removed is a problem.

Several hours too late I gave up on the depositories. I have always found UK Gov websites very easy and clear, say for calculating and paying tax, or getting a Road Licence for the car. With the drive to have everyone on Universal Credit using the web – those in the community who are most likely also to have no or poor digital literacy skills or access, I wondered what training and support UK GOV offered. I was delighted with the ‘We Make Getting Online Easier’ website and feel that it would support those for whom using the Internet would be a struggle – how and where they get online is another matter if they don’t have an Internet connection at home, or a Smartphone. For continuity reasons I may then use this website through-out with the only venture away to look at YouTube ‘How to …’ videos relating to swimming teaching and coaching. I then checked the BBC and for UK residents found the BBC WebWise resources perfect. Start on the home page, run through the content bit by bit over the weeks.

 

A great new way to learn a language

I’ve tried to learn languages at school; Latin, German and
French. And Russian from a book. 9 years of Latin and I was none
the wiser, 1 year of German and I was temporarily motivated by the
holiday romance with a German Girl (we’re 15) … then French.
Another disaster until I took it on myself do go on a French
exchange – this and immersion in my gap year then working in France
all helped. But I never thought to have lessons. 20 years back in
the UK I am having great fund with Duolingo – fixing some of my
rubbish written French, remembering what I know and hopefully
moving in the right direction for both spoken and written fluency
which is what I have always wanted. Ten years ago I had tangential
experience of a language learning e-commerce start-up, today, with
in Masters in Open & Distance Education I am somewhat wiser
about what may, or may not work. This will work.

sometec

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I’ve been practicing for one week now with Duolingo – German. Pretty funny, especially thanks to the companion iPhone apps! You alternate between free translation, ordering words for translation, writing down what you hear, selecting a multiple choice answer,… You win “skill points”, learn words, and go from one level to another along a skill tree.

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You can get a daily reminder (iPhone notification and email) to keep up the motivation level.

The other specific feature is the “real world practice” where you translate sentences from “real” web articles. I tried a few ones, but I’m wondering about the final quality of this crowdsourcing approach.

Now, let’s see how much I remember of these first lessons on the mid-/long-run…

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OLDS MOOC NARRATIVES

OLDS MOOC 1

OLDS MOOC 1 (Photo credit: penbentley)

 

Summary

 

I am use to problem solving techniques having used them in corporate communications and training for some 25 years. The contrast between higher education and learning and development always fascinates me – they are so different. Simply put the L&D drive is usually to deliver more for less and to measure and justify the spend. It has to work and shown to work, saving money and improving results on previous approaches, so typically reducing and eliminating the cost of travel, overnights and being away from work. There will be a budget, schedule and brief. There will be a team of participants, a key player at the client end with their colleagues, support and their own line manager/director. The agency team will in all likelihood involve six or more people: project manager, learning design, subject matter expert, writer, designer, programme and an assortment of graphics designers, visualizers and testers. This seems to be in sharp contrast where those in education have no budget, no time and little support and in the old model of the lone teacher and their class have to come up with everything on their own, plan and create in their own time and often have systems and kit foistered on them.

 

At the beginning of the week I looked at the time allocated to the OLDS MOOC by the OLDS MOOC team and quickly learnt to DOUBLE the time that would be required. And in the two most busy weeks I had working on Personas and Design I spent 12-16 hours on the reading, the activities themselves and maintaining contact with a fledgling group. This kind of commitment became unsustainable as I needed increasingly to commit this time to other projects.

 

I wonder if young people should start work part time at 14 as they did 100 years ago, and do so with a close, online support. They will increasingly benefit from sophisticated learning systems and catalogues and be able to apply what they learn.

 

Context

 

What were the conditions and constraints in which your design experiment was situated?

 

Online, for me this mean STANDING at the dining room table. This is my office. After some Horizon programme on health I now stand all day. Works for me, in fact I find I am more alert and have had no back or no strain since … though the ball of my left foot doesn’t like it and I’ve worn through the slippers my daughter bought me for my birthday. This is context for me. The dog watches me all day expecting to me taken for a work. The ‘footfall’ is such morning and later afternoon that I am disturbed by family members at meal time. Come to think of it, I prepare these meals so that’s another period of disruption to me day. 4 x 3 hours across the day is how I try to operate. That is before breakfast, after breakfast, after lunch and after dinner.

 

I don’t recommend it. In the past I have walked up the road or driven a few miles to an office. In future I would hope at least to have an office ‘down the garden’.

 

This context has the potential to be highly disrupted as the ebb and flow of family life runs through the house – teenage children at, or not at school and my wife who also works from home even more stressed when she has no work than when she does. When she has work lucky her enters her study and is only ever seen at meal times … and perhaps if either she wakes me late at night, or I wake her early in the morning.

 

This is the context. I could relate this to years in various production and agency offices working on linear then, as we quaintly called it ‘non-linear’ interactive training. More recently experience of the 9 to 5 has been blissful as a team of 8 on a project in an office of 50 or so hunker down collectively to the task in hand. In this context an e-learning project, like producing TV and video (and film) where I have experience, runs almost like clockwork. I say almost because occasionally there is an overnighter or weekend panic.  I have a dream context it would be the new Google-plex, especially with the opportunity to camp out on the roof if you’ve got a deadline and would prefer to hang out around the office.

 

Material

 

What are the spatial characteristics of the settings? What tools and resources are available to protagonists?

 

See above. Kit is one desktop, two laptops and an iPad.

 

A scanner and digital camera.

 

Art materials. A print on the wall is taken down in the morning and replaced with a white board. I resist the guitar, TV and piano.

 

Though there is a game of chess in permanent suspended animation between my son and I. The greater distractions are the ability and desire to read niche books and download papers before I add a fullstop to the end of a sentence

 

This is my office. I don’t know what others tools and constraints others have.

 

Cloudscape is the VLE, it the blog, is our social network and ought to be our singular means of communication. We are all used to and happy with other platforms. To be this comfortable online we have learnt to make our favourite tools sing. I feel as if I have spent over a decade learning the flute, guitar and piano to play in an orchestra and have been told to drop these to play an accordion in a brass band.

 

Social

 

Who are the protagonists, what are the relationships between them, and what are the social and institutional configurations in which they operate?

 

I am used to working online. In 1999 I was in touch with a writers group through my blog that ran ‘til 2004. Our office was a cloud somewhere above the North Atlantic that shifted as other members moved in turn to Japan, then South America, Scotland … then back to North America. Even in an office I work online, typically using a wiki like collaborative e-learning design/build platform. This is genius. Each project may have between 5 minimum and 8 people on it – more where assistance is required or the deadline gets close – which are also points where around the office people start to gather to meet and those working from home come in. I’ve done this too as a postgrad student – I forget which MAODE module but six of eight gelled on a two work collaborative project between New Zealand, Thailand, Germany and the UK. In the OLD MOOC one, then two then occasionally, perhaps three of us worked on the same project. It was touch and go and after five weeks it fizzled because the ‘team leader’ as it were who had been instrumental in galvinising a couple of us to join in felt they could no longer do it. Perhaps she’d got the answers she needed. I do rather think that a couple of meetings and a solution was in place … find the right person to ask how? and you take their response on faith and you are done without having to plan the construction of the Empire State Building. Designing a one hour e-learning intro to multimedia is vastly different to designing a 60 credit MBA module on creative problem solving. I don’t even think they compare if we were to use the metaphor of architecture (Christopher Alexander, 1970). One was a few bricks to make an outdoor BBQ, while the other is a self-build six bedroom house. (with indoor swimming pool).

 

I have written screenplays and TV … no more credits than a short on Channel 4. I hear ‘protagonist’ and I need the antagonist and an entire family of other characters. Narrative is driven by conflict. This is where the metaphor or structure is weak – there should be no conflict where there is collaboration.

 

If there were to be an ‘antagonist’ then it would be Cloudworks. It has a character of its own which I’m afraid I would described as doomed – rather like the Titanic. There was conflict in this narrative and it was always with the platform. Importantly the other characters, the players were the extraordinary array of character actors, the big name e-learning academics who have been schedule in for a star turn each week. They are players in this performance … as they led each week, and happily shared thoughts with us directly. Indeed, contact with the glitterati of e-learning who for an MAODE student have been largely noticeable by their absence during the last three years – figure heads while moderator/facilitator tutors with very varied interest guide the students through … but I’m wandering onto a different stage.

 

As players, these e-learning top guns, perhaps with a vested and professional and academic interest in how the MOOC plays out have been exception – all educators who, escaping the restrictions of distance and online learning, would surely enjoy and gain from ‘teaching’ by giving lectures from time to time, but more importantly sitting down with students in tutorials too. I think the loop into cyberspace with e-learning is coming home and that the desire by students and tutors alike will be to have more face to face, online and in person. I cannot help but KNOW that had those of us in our MOOC group who could have said, let’s all meet in person in such and such a place that that meeting would have bound us as a team to the end of the MOOC. This is why meetings still happen.

 

The constraints are (negative drivers):

 

  • Working online
  • Working with strangers
  • Working without pay
  • Working without the likelihood of the project being realised
  • The unlikeliness of meeting face-to-face
  • Cloudworks – Why send us to Mars when there are familiar landscapes where we could work?
  • Time (each participant runs to a different schedule and agenda).

 

Positive drivers:

 

  • When meet someone with a common goal
  • Leadership from a project that others wish to follow
  • Using a variety of tools with which we are familiar to communicate
  • The comprehensive nature of the OLDS MOOC
  • The liveliness and commitment of the OLDS MOOC team
  • Time (it is my own, but other commitments jostle for attention)

 

Intentional

 

What are the protagonists beliefs, desires and intentions, which shape the problem space?

 

This ‘space’ does exist where there is a fixed landscape, even one that is online via a blog, a common social group or website. This ‘problem space’ where the protagonists meet has to have a sense of space and place. In Cloudworks, and this is my second effort to work in it, the reflection of real-life hubs and nodes simply do no exist. I still find it impossible to log directly into my own cloud, let alone find those of the groups I took an interest in or get back to the base camp. In our group we rapidly debunked to email and Google docs. I’ve done this on other platforms too – in a student group where Elluminate had failed twice, or the tutor was clueless at how to operate that construction from the mind of Professor Brainstorm, we debunked successful and repeatedly to Google Hangouts – the ultimate bond being a ‘pyjamma party’ which reminded me that none of us wanted to do any of ‘this’ unless it was fun. .

 

Force Map

 

 

This may pre-empted the MOOC by a week but expresses three things in relation to team work

 

  1. top down hierarchical
  2. democratic
  3. everyone pitches in

 

For me this might illustrate working on a programme of work or curriculum for a school ten years ago, working on a creative project in the last five years where everyone has direct contact with each other and finally, online collaboration where not only can you be inside each other’s heads and beds (see Google Hangout above), but there can be, for good or bad, other interlopers and powers getting involved.

 

This could also be drawn up in a series of Activity Theory plans … not just from first to third generation, but in the final episode in which an activity system, like icicles in spring, melts.

 

Challenge

 

In advertising and corporate communications we might create a campaign to launch a new beer in a country, launch a new range of cars, or run a Government health awareness campaign over three years and it is reduce to A SINGLE PAGE OF A4.

 

The most important question is:

 

  • What is the problem?

 

If there isn’t a problem there can be no answer, no advert, no campaign. The same applies to academic research – the proper research question has to be to address a problem. If there isn’t a problem then the enterprise is already a shopping trolley with a missing wheel. This applies to EVERY training video, every interactive DVD, or web-based learning project I have been involved with. It there isn’t a problem to fix then the learning is unnecessary. If you cannot express it as a problem, then stop.

 

The advertising brief continues:

 

  • Who are you speaking to?
  • What do you want to say?
  • How do you want them to respond to this message?
  • Is there anything else we need to know.

 

And all of this must be researched and worked on until it can be kept to a SINGLE SHEET OF A4. i.e. a sentence or two in response to each of these questions.

 

I apply this to running a 12 week series of classes in Primary School, a day long workshop on revision techniques, a 9 month squad swimming programme, an hour long e-learning module, an 8 minute short film, a poster campaign for the local sailing club, teaching 3,000+ swimming teachers how to fix breaststroke …

 

Theoretical / Pedagogical Framework

 

See above.

 

Actions

 

I proposed a ‘design’ that has worked dozens of times before – a weekend workshop with no need to do anything online. Indeed, having been made to think it through that was the conclusion.

 

I keep an OLDS Mooc journal.

 

Obstacles

 

Two, maybe three … or was it four complete strangers, all busy full time elsewhere, most of us new to this game, trying to commit to something were increasingly we felt lost. From beginning to end I had no idea whether there were 10 people, maybe 25 people or just 3 doing the MOOC. If there were a 1000 then I never had any sense of this, not a stream of tweets and messages, not long lists of names. None of it. In sharp contrast the last two MOOCs I have taken an interest in I felt as if from day one there were 10,000 people sharing the same Ferry energizing in and out by transporter

 

Results

 

To work online is to complement meeting face-to-face. Projects I join or initiate in the real world might begin online, become a conversation and relationship but then develop and embed by meeting. If it is a speculative, even an unpaid project (I’ve done a number of these), then people get the measure of each other and are far, far more likely to commit to the end.

 

  • Roles are established
  • Motives are understood
  • Diaries are compared
  • Problems identified and resolved

 

This can be done online but needs at least a Skype or Google hangout level of interaction. There is a reason and value to seeing a person’s face. There is a reason why the face is so expressive – it is a vital form of comprehension, communication and connection.

 

A three person team became two, then none.

 

Despite expressing interest in four other projects NOT ONE of these people came back in any shape or form to express an interest in my contributing to their effort. I pitched in some ideas, was ignored … so in turn ignored them.

 

Reflections

 

I keep a learning journal. No longer a person diary, but a record of everything I do that relates to work and personal development – which for me is learning, with a significant nod to learning online and e-learning / e-coaching.

 

These posts happen to be in my Open University Student blog as the OLDS MOOC complements the postgraduate courses I have done over the last three years to complete the Masters in Open & Distance Education.

 

I was able to being the OLDS MOOC with a clear diary – this became busier after week 5 and as the only group that I had joined that showed traction faded away it became less easier to justify staying onboard. I do however follow the activity, read through the weekly activities and dip into some knowing that in my own time, or should the course be repeated, that I will re-join in order to do the subsequent weeks.

 

As a ‘narrative’ I would prefer to write three or four short stories. There is a narrative to specific busy weeks, particularly my/our love hate relationship with Cloudworks,  ‘Personas’ where I was able to consolidate knowledge of the extensive use and development of Personas at the Open University Business School, extending my interest in design based research, bringing my knowledge and understanding and practical application of Activity Theory into focus, using Activity Cards, which was the highlight of the my time on the OLDS MOOC, bringing a pack of cards into the real world, to shuffle, pick through and then lay out on the kitchen table and share – this would be an invaluable activity to use with colleagues in  workshop. And formulation of my own conception of Learning Activities, which I reduced to THREE, from Grainne Conole’s Seven and named them ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.  Working in corporate Learning & Development e-learning modules run for 45 minutes to an hour, they don’t require the kind of thinking that is required and justified by a 30 or 60 point module in tertiary education where the OLDS MOOC is squarely aimed..

 

 

 

Learning in extremis

Fig.1. Three years later

“Emergency Home Birth!” my wife exclaimed pointing at a book on pregnancy and childbirth.

My wife went into labour at 2.30am, we’d planned a home birth (this is her second) however our hospital was some 37 miles away and our allocated Midwife was another 20 miles beyond that.

I got her on the phone and she spoke to my wife between contractions – she wouldn’t make it.

‘Call an ambulance and I’ll be over in due course’, she said.

Chapter Six, ‘Emergency Home Birth’ looked like it needed half an hour to read and at least as long  again to digest; there wasn’t time.

Thankfully om the facing page of Chapter Six the editor had laid out the essentials in clear bullet points – towels, scissors and string are the ones I remember, probably because I required all three, these and the warning that the umbilical cord can get caught around the baby’s throat. I needed that too.

Just in time learning, delivered just in time.

And so it was, at around 3.20am, my wife on floor holding onto the  the end of the bed, towels in place that our son was born.

First his head, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his throat. I eased this over his chin and around his head, surprised at how thick and tough it was – then one,the both shoulders and he fell into my arms like a muddy rugby ball out of a scrum. My wife rolled around and sitting at the end of the bed she took him into her arms.

A few minutes later the midwife arrived, thought everything was going well and went to run a bath. In due course she showed me how to cut the umbilical cord then took my wife to the bathroom.

Learning in extremis?

In my day job I was supporting the teaching of such techniques at the logistics and distribution group UGC in Oxford.

I didn’t need a book, or a training video and given this was 1996 I wasn’t going to have Google, Quora or YouTube offer some advice.

I’ve had no further need for these particular parenting skills, though it’s been an adventure following two infants through childhood into their early teens.

Learning works best when it is pushed, when there is a challenge of time and circumstances, where it can be applied and seen to work.

How do we apply this to formal education, to studying for exams through secondary and tertiary education?

What is the difference with learning in the workforce, between physical actions on a factory floor, in a mine, power station or warehouse, out on a civil engineering building site or in an office or boardroom?

There need to be exams – from mocks to annual exams and finals.
Essays and regualr assignments are part of this best practice.
And how about tests, even the surprise test, not so much for the result, but for the pressure that ought to help fix some learning in our plastic, fickle minds?

In advertising we often spoke of ‘testing  to destruction’ that nothing beats a clear demonstration of the products power, staying power or effectiveness in memorably extreme conditions.

I like the idea of working Against the clock, of competition too, even learning taken place, as I have heard, as someone cycles around Europe, or drives a Russian Jeep from Kazakstan back to Britain.

I believe in the view that ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ – that you can galvanise a group to rally round when needed and those new to this game will pick up a great deal in the process; personally I loved the ‘all-nighters’ we did in our teens breaking one set then building another in the Newcastle Playhouse, some sense of which I repeated professionally on late night and all night shoots, often in ‘extreme’ places.

 

I wandered lonely as an e-cloud.

Lonely Little Clouds

There are all kinds of ways to share your learning online.

Have you tried Cloudworks?

The group I’ve been working in have dubbed them ‘lonely little clouds’.

They are.

I takes me a while to spot my own, let alone find anyone else or specific group activity. Navigation is a nightmare. Instead of being tethered to the ground like a kit, every time you enter Cloudworks it is like trying to get a helium filled party balloon to go in a specific direction by blowing on it.

Serendipity built in.

There’s no sign in page. To login in I click through pages until something I want to do requires a sign in.

Bonkers

Blog posts can be the same.

Finding the place, space, time and group where there will be some co-ordinated as well as vicarious engagement is not so easy. Getting it to work is a science not an art.

I had experience of listServ in 2001 on the original Masters in Open and Distance Learning.

I rather think it was a bit like this platform. It worked because you could respond in turn.

I also find the right forums in Linkedin work where there are enough people contributing to the degree that an asynchronous conversation becomes quasi synchronous.

There are ways and habits and even an acquired culture of behaviours with all of these.

The most valuable insights I have gained comes from being part of this Open University Student Blogging Platform.

You have a basic blog, but every post from all students is posted in a strict chronology just like the old, threaded ListServ. One hand on top of the other.

Like cards being dealt from a pack.

Your voice gets its chance. Never mind if it isn’t picked up. It has its life in your blog too.

It’s as if it is getting two chances of being spotted. A third would be to ‘stack’ an entry in a subject-specifc platform too. i.e. common categories creating another distinct list.

This means that anyone who is active has a chance of being read.

There’s no obligation. But it implies when you post publicly that you are part of a collective enterprise rather than a diarist writing on your space, strictly on your terms.

And it doesn’t offer bells and whistles.

Nor should it. This platform offers a way in for the novice. In fact, I recall how I struggled three years ago when I first joined in. Why couldn’t it be like WordPress or Blogger or LiveJournal? I’m glad that it isn’t, glad that there is a sense of continuity with bulletin boards and the ListServe.

It works.

Both from my own modules and especially the eclectic mix of everyone else here, I have been introduced to a wonderful myriad of possibilities, ideas and perspectives.

There’s a very tricky balance that decides if one means of communicating catches on, or even works with a particular group.

I am going to throw myself at the OLDs MOOC this afternoon and see if I can see where my head should be.

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