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The silly side of history has its serious side

Having a laff at History – having been fed these stories in some form or another since I can remember no matter how seriously I study the subject now I cannot help but scream, cringe or fall about laughing at this lot. Cunk is irreverent, purile and brilliant. Like it or not, right or wrong, this stuff sticks.

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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.

 

Are you interested in how events 95 years ago relate directly to world affairs today?

Fig.1 First World War: 1919 – A new world order

The way the First World War was concluded and the world divided up afterwards set the scene for the mess that was the 20th century and is highly relevant to events taking place in the Middle East today. Between them the French and British Empires as then were took a ruler to the bits of the fragmented Ottoman Empire that they claimed authority over: France got Syria, Britain Palestine, Egypt and Baghdad. France already had Morocco and Algiers. Britain held Egypt as a protectorate. Most importantly the negotiations in Paris left Germany out of the frame and the harshness of terms directly led to World War Two.

These free online courses and the 21st century equivalent of the hardback book – with multimedia and engagement. A few hours a week over a few weeks and you are offered tailored pieces of view, things to read and listen to, activities to do (answering questions which test your knowledge) and most vitally interaction with like-minds.

I suspect these maps will form part of the narrative and explanation of events ever since:

From First World War

Fig.1. The Middle East in 1923

From First World War

Fig.2 Extent of the Ottoman Empire

From First World War

Fig.3 Europe after the First World War

From First World War

Fig.4 The Balkans

You’ll come away intrigued, informed, educated and entertainment: you may even hanker after more.

Did everyone used to speak English with a foreign accent in the past?

Fig.1. Images from my Google Pics gallery

We are collectively being tipped into a centenary marking of the First World War where all ‘foreigners’ speak english with an accent; we have German, Russian, French … we have Serbian and Austro-Hungarian ‘english’. We even have Americans voiced by English actors speaking … english with an American accent.

I remember my son asking if everything was ‘black and white’ in the olden days; that until recently people grew up in a black and white world. Will a young generation watching TV on the centenary of the First World War imagine that language difference is simply a matter of accent?

It’s all compromise and accommodation

It’s very much the BBC perspective: which as the ONLY public service broadcaster the world has tries so hard to represent everyone. I have my say here – Jonathan Vernon on Hastings 1918

WBC anyone?

The World or Globe or Earth or … whatever ‘Broadcasting Company’?

For all or any failings the effort, transparently at least, to strive for ‘truth’ based on evidence of what is going on.

The Open University has been, was and should take the lead. I wonder, with concern that the legacy of Michael Bean has been to trim back too hard and so diminish us to a voice from the corner of the empire.

I hope the next Vice Chancellor will be a global figure. Bill Clinton comes to mind.

‘Read in a subject until you can hear the people speak’.

E H Carr.

It has taken a forty years but I feel I have the voice of the soldier of the First World War – and the officer, and the girlfriends and mothers at home.

The theatre of war in which the male audience do the dying

Weird ways to learn

Bit by bit I am consuming the hefty 2013 tome – ‘The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and military documents. Edited and translated by Annika Mombauer.

This is while away from home on a ‘reading week’ – ehem, impromptu exploitation of amazing snow conditions in the French Alps. From 9h30 to 17h00 I ski – guided by the Ski Club of Great Britian. Shattered and exhilerated and needing nothing more to eat after food ‘on the piste’ I start to read.

Old School, appropriate for a hardback book, I mark passages with a Postit; when these run out – I came with 16 or so in the book, I stop, take out a pack of Rolledex cards and write these up. The book comprises an introduction, then a set of documents, in chronological order, leading to the various declarations of war. Reading the infamous notes that Kaiser Wilhelm II left on the despatches he received is revealing, as are the multitude of exchanges between the Foreign Ministers of the key players: Austria-Hungary, Serbia, Russia, Great Britain and France and their respective ambassadors, and national leaders: Prime Ministers, Presidents, Kaisers and Tzars. My interest is our Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey, the cabinet and his plenapetentiaries, and his direct dealings with key ambassadors. These documents cut through and explain or reveal the obfuscation and spin that started in 1914 and continued for many decades afterwards.

A ‘country’ cannot be blamed – a geographical space is inanimate and its people too disenfranchised and indifferent; we can however blame specific people for aggitating for war and then failing to prevent its outbreak – where I adopt this approach I mean in each case one, two or a handful of people in that country who held, managed or influenced the decision making and therefore had a lot or a modicum of power. Britain was a cabinet with Grey the key player; France was an array of people in the Foreign Ministry and the President; Germany had to be the Kaiser and military rather than civil leaders, Austria-Hungary not the Emperor, but ministers and military, Russia the Foreign Ministes, ambassadors and military with the Tszar largely acting to please while Serbia, most democratic of all (?) was the President Pasic who at this time was distracted by election campaigning. Christopher Clark is wrong to suggest that the leaders of the six major players were ‘sleepwalkers’ : Great Britain was dragged, Russia mobilized, Serbia froze and crossed its finger, Austria-Hungary was up for it and being egged on by Germany. This is at the micro-level: telegrams and conversations. At the macro-level Imperialism in its differing manifestations and geographical locations is collapsing (Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and beyond into the Middle East), the British Empire as an established, civil-service and military managed Goliath with a constitutional monarch and influential cabinet, while France and the USA (not yet featuring in the world affairs of 1914) were still in the business of acquistion – Germany also, but with billigerant military leaders and a kaiser who held power who was determined that he should be front of stage in world affairs whether as a great peacemaker or a great warlord. At the macro-level the equally powerful force of nacent nationhood inside or at the edges of these empires is causing multiple fractures under techtonic plates that are already sliding: emerging from the first and second Balkan Wars, Serbia is the catalyst by 1914 that brings in first one, then another ‘Great Power’ – Russia ostensibly to defend slav brothers, and Germany to back an ally Austria-Hungary that didn’t know which way to move for certain until given a few shoves by a couple of people in Germany.

Why did war break-out in 1914? The hawks in various camps tore at diplomacy with gusto while the doves cooed and at no time could or would the right hawks and doves meet. In this respect one of the Kaiser’s marginalia was tellingly accurate when he cried off any kind of conference – committees play into the hands of the most timid. The conferences proposed by Sir Edward Grey may well have prevented war, or delayed and localised the conflict. But for how long? And should such speculation be used in any historical arguement anyway?

We can narrow it down: had Wilhelm II been of firmer and more consitent mind rather than tipping from war to peace his words would have left Austria-Hungary to deal with events on its troubled borders. It wasn’t for Grey to either keep his hand close to his chest visave acting with France and Russia or declaring it – an absolute commitment to act would have goaded a paranoid and largelly prepared Germany sooner while neutrality far from pasifying Germany would have told them that the field was theirs. Grey was caught between a rock and a hard place and in the privileged position of sitting at the top of the decision making tree in an established, stable and still sucessfully expanding empire.

I fall asleep at 18h30 and wake two or three hours later my dreamworld infested by these characters, these players in a Shakespearesn tragedy that instead of seeing the blood on the stage, decimates and maims a sizeable part of the audience that like the Globe on a summer’s evening is made up of people not from six countries, but from 36. The bloodbath is in the yard not in the gallery.

 

The Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education in images

20140311-141837.jpg

I’ve created, screengrabbed, mashed up and photographed my way through four years with the OU – seven modules. I should share more of them or turn it into an eBook or some such – a six hour long SlideShare? There are over 1600 images.

Would you prefer to read widely or pick the brains of experts?

Reading a history of the Armistice after the First World War – I’m a few years ahead of the centenary of 1914, I learn the Lloyd George preferred the former: picking the brains of experts was preferable to reading widely. Studying with Open University can be neither: reading is tightly focused by the content provided and you are penalised rather than admired for reading widely: you are supposed to stick to the text as it is on this that your tutor will assess you. And the participation of experts is random: my seven modules with the OU has had some of the more prominent names of distance and open education as the chair and as tutors, though more often they appear only in the byline or tangentially not daining to take part in discussion or debate – it is their loss and ours. Nor should I sound as if I am denigrating the tutors as here my expectation has come to seek in them an ‘educator’ – not necessarily a subject matter expert, but a facilitator and an enabler, someone who knows there way around the digital corridors of the Open University Virtual Learning Environment. Studying with the Open University can also be both: it depends so much on the course you are taking and serendipity. If you are goash you ought to be able to approach anyone at all in your faculty – not that you have much sense of what this is. You can read widely simply by extending your reach through references courtesy of the OU library, though I think what is meant here is a more general and broad intellect, that you take an interest, liberally, in the arts and sciences, in history and politics …

Being online affords a thousand opportunities to both read widely and to pick the brains of experts; what this requires is Web 2.0 literacy – the nous to drill deep when you read in a way that has never before been possible, unless, perhaps you have been privileged enough to have ready access to and the time to use one of the world’s elite libraries and your father or mother is a senior academic, government minister or captain of industry who loves to hold ‘house parties’ at the weekend. For the rest of us, there is now this new landscape – if not a level playing field (there are privileges based on cost and inclusion) – it is one where, with skill, guile, knowledge and experience you can gravitate towards and rope in the people and the books.

Using Quick Response codes to wear as part of Remembrance


By creating pertinent content and generating Quick Response Codes that are put on British Legion poppies people can use smartphones or tablets to get location based information on the people and events of the First World War, whilst being invited to contribute their own thoughts, photographs or pictures of artefacts from the era.

This is the link to the Prezi: http://prezi.com/szqsn5j9xrmv/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Gallipoli: The First Day – learning in new ways about events nearly 100 years ago

Fig.1. Screengrab from ‘Gallipoli: The First Day’ – an extraordinary multimedia, interactive 3D consideration of the events of this tragic conflict.

This ABC Australia, award winning 3d virtual tour of the first day of Gallipoli deserves attention.

http://www.abc.net.au/innovation/gallipoli/

This is the ‘Avatar’ of production values. Sympathetic. Balanced (I hope, it includes the Turkish perspective) and compellingly engaging. It sets the benchmark for delivering this kind of content. It says something too of the blood-letting, nation-creating, soul-searching in relation to loss in this way and on this kind of scale that many European countries will need to revisit over the next few years.

A teacher will never have the budget to create this kind of content, so how do they willingly use it in their teaching?

Does it motivate someone new to this story to find out more? How does it work as education or entertainment? Where does the funding come from? As mash-ups go this is very professional. The learning design and its gamified values are second to none.

(First posted in OpenStudio in my R&R ‘concept board’ as part of the MA ODE module H818: The Networked Practitioner).

Mobile learning at the Museum of London: QR codes and NFCs

Fig.1. YouTube video for the Museum of London‘s NFC initiative in 2011

Having picked through links that came to a dead end in a fascinating paper on the variety of technologies and tactics being used by museums in relation to mobile learning I started to see and read more and more about the use of QR codes (those matrix two-dimensional bar codes you use with a smartphone) and NFC ‘Near Field Communication‘ which is becoming an industry in its own right.

Having been kept awake at night about a need for ‘constructing knowledge’ rather than being fed it I knew that visitors, students especially, need to engage with their surroundings by somehow seeking and constructing their own views.

Without QR and NFC the simplest expression of this is taking notes, and or photographs of exhibits – not just selfies with a mummy or your mates. Possibly doing bits of video. And from these images cutting/editing and pasting a few entries in a blog, Prezi or SlideShare. QR and NFC feed the visitor controlled and curated bite-size nuggets, so more than just a snap shot, you can have audio and video files, as well as more images and text.

Fig.2. South Downs Way QR Code.

Successful trials mean that these have spread. Funny I’ve not noticed them living in Lewes and walking the dog most days on the South Downs. I’ll take a look. NFCs have been used extensively, for 90 exhibits, at the Museum of London – so a visit is required. Though I won’t be ditching my iPhone. Apple does not support NFC believing that the technology is still in its infancy … like Flash, like Betamax and VHS, and all that stuff, a battle will be fought over the NFC benchmark.

So 60% penetration of smartphones in the population … most of all of which can use a QR code, but less using a early version of NFCs. My experience?

Fig.3. QR Codes at the Design Museum

Last year a visit to the Design Museum I found the ‘Visualizing the mind’ exhibition littered with QR codes.

They didn’t work. Just as well they had ample computers. How often do organisations jump on the IT bandwagon only for a couple of wheels to fall off further down the road?

Fig.4. Evie

Meanwhile I’m off to walk the dog .. then using a trip to see Gravity at the Odeon Leicester Square with my kids to include an educational tour to the Museum of London (always handy to have a teenager around when using mobile technology).
REFERENCE

‘REPORTING RESEARCH’ 2013, Interpretation Journal, 18, 1, pp. 4-7, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 November 2013.

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