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Fig.1 Before donning make-up and costume as the Station Master in ‘The Ghost Train.’ Easter 1973
I settled into Hedgehope Dormitory at Mowden Hall, a boarding preparatory school set in 32 acres of woods in Northumberland in early September 1969 (or 1970 I’m not sure).
The formal ‘Sunday’ uniform was much the same as I had worn at Ascham House, though now we wore green, not red. Both uniforms came from the same shop, Isaac Waltons off Eldon Square in Central Newcastle where my sisters also got their Central High and Westfield uniforms.
Mowden is less than 20 miles from my home in Gosforth, but it had might as well have been in a different country for a boy of eight or nine.
Occasionally a boy would run away, Rupert Van der Post walked cross-country towards Gosforth, following the electricity pylons that ran into the urban conglomerate of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in a straight a line as the Roman Road to the north. My older cousin Stuart also made it back to his family farm at Riding Mill.
I started to keep at diary at Mowden when I was 13
I have kept a journal on and off for the last thirty years or more; my memories of Mowden come from entries in my first ‘Five Year Diary,’ letters home kept by Mum and letters I received from grandparents … and girlfriends.
I was at Mowden for five years
In my last year I had ‘a proper’ girlfriend, i.e. someone who wasn’t just a friend of the family or one of my younger sister’s friends; I was 13, she was 12. We met on a ‘School Cruise’ one Easter. We met on the last night, danced at the disco into the evening, held hands together during Auld Lang Syne and kissed by the railings on the port side promontory of the S.S.Nevassa. Kathy Adam was in St George’s House, at Rosemead School in Littlehampton, West Sussex.
We wrote to each other most weeks for a couple of years.
Letters at Mowden Hall were handed out after lunch each day by a teacher calling our name, these letters from Kathy, decorated with hand drawn flowers and love hearts, and the letters S.W.A.L.K. covering the envelope produced a cheer, each time, from the a dining hall of over a hundred boys.
On pink paper with a cherub on it she wrote in an uncertain, lopsided, childish hand:
How are you? I am fine. I am sorry I have not written but I am very buisy lately. There is an incect going around our school it is called nits. Nits are lice eggs and they live in your hair. A girl came over from Belgium brought them. 4 girls have been found with them and every Friday our hair is checked for them. Don’t worry I have not got them. I went on an outing on Sunday to a bird world in Farnham it was very good. I bought some love beads with wire bits in them and they look very nice. I am in Prep at the moment and I am ment to be working. Oh well. STUFFS!
Thanks for the photos they are lovely. I have had my half term. When is or was yours?
I MUST go I have got a lot of work.
Lots of love
Kathy was my first ‘girlfriend’
I cared for her, fancied her and thought about her. My pre-adolescent thoughts were innocent and romantic. Though we never met again, we wrote to each other for two or more years. One night we planned to ‘wish’ each other into each other’s dreams synchronously across the 250 miles that divided us. I tried using this idea in a story years ago – one of hundred of half-baked ideas I’ve squirreled away.
I remember our school trunks and ‘tuck’ boxes at Mowden Hall School, the houses (like Hogsworts School) were: Bewick, Grey, Collingwood and Stephenson (named after famous figures from the North East of England), the shelves of silver cups in the dining hall, the common rooms, the kitchens, Marmite on Toast, huge pots of tea, jugs of water, the matrons known as Matey Ma and Matey Mi, teas on rugs watching cricket, teas in the back of the car after rugby games.
I remember being crap at cricket, but enjoying scoring in a little pocket book
I also recall the ‘pissing’ competitions in the corrugated iron urinals next to the cricket pavilion, during matches the urine would run out through the entrance. Yuk. I remember part of the woods being cleared for timber.
I remember the cold frames and potting shed by the outdoor swimming pool before they were removed; we had flower gardens and vegetable gardens; I have a picture of my brother’s garden that one the ‘Gardening Prize’ one year. I remember having to wear white knickers in that unheated pool before we had achieved some series of swimming tests – Straker was stuck in such humiliating pants until he was a prefect.
I remember the ‘Science Labs’ with the apothecaries collection of glass jars and chemicals, keeping locusts and guinea-pigs; I remember the loft where we had art. I remember the gym where we played ‘pirates,’ and the fives court next to it.
I remember getting a number, I was 105 when I started, no 2 when I left.
We lost our first names entirely; I have no recollection of calling anyone anything other than by their surname with Ma or Min appended if they had a brother or cousin at the school. The Bainbridge brothers/cousins stretched this practice to Max, Ma, Min and Minimus. Because of my surname and having an older cousin and brother at the school I was known not as Vernon Min, but ‘Vermin.’
I remember the ghost stories we told in the dorms; ‘the green mist,’ the grey lady’ and ‘the monkey’s paw.’
The two most junior ‘dorms’ were Hedgehope and Till (named after small Northumberland mountains in the Cheviot Range).
I think there were only four of us: Brown, Malkin, the ‘Dormitory Captain’ called ‘Turnbull’ and me.
We had a rotten, green wooden ladder propped against the dorm window as a fire escape; this was later replaced with a proper, iron structure. We were introduced to making ‘bundles’ with our clothes, folding everything into our pullovers; we had to be ready for fire practice, which came early in each new term. In the dark, with torches, the alarms wailing like air-raid shelters we’d gather behind our ‘D.C.’ and head down to the dining hall where Mr Dakin did a roll call and rounded up the few boys who had been left asleep in their beds. I can’t recall the name of the dorm on the other side of the corridor where I went next. I remember the D.C. being a guy called ‘Young’ who told great ghost stories and at the end of term brought his guitar in. I was sick in my bed one night after a ‘tea’ after a rugby match – too much chocolate cake and coca-cola in a stomach used to eggy bread, marmite on toast, beans on toast, egg on toast, sandwich spread on toast and toast on toast with toast.
We did our teeth in a large communal washroom where ‘Matey Ma’ also made those from ‘sick dorm’ take a bath if they’d missed a ‘lunge bath’ downstairs. Maybe we had a bath or ‘plunge’ twice a week, once a week we had a ‘foot bath’ instead. Each morning Matey would come in, wake us, turn on the lights and open the curtains. We’d file out behind the ‘D.C.’
While in Beamish Dormitory various nicknames were created, there was a gang who became ‘Pinky, Perky and Porky’ Blacket, Ramsbotham and Saxby I think.
For some reason Ramsbotham and Blacket also became temporarily ‘surrogate’ parents called Sue and Francis, which we inverted to ‘Eus’ and ‘Sicnarf.’ While in Bewick David Malkin used to sleep walk across the room. I remember ‘dorm raiding’ well that summer term because when I leapt from the bunk with a pillow I cracked my left heel. I got away with not telling anyone about it until I saw a doctor at home. There was a hole in the roof to the attic in Beamish Dorm.
The last ‘dorm’ we slept in, and the largest after some extension work in the early 1970s, was ‘Tyne,’ with others, in no order, ‘Coquet’, ‘Tweed’ … named after hills or rivers in Northumberland.
I remember the games of table tennis, and ‘round the table,’ and playing ‘billiards’. I remember gatherings in the senior common room to watch 16mm black and white movies. I remember conker fights, the cellars were we made Tamya and Airfix models and balsa wood aircraft. I remember Mrs Dakin, ‘Denny’ who got everyone into the choir or doing handbells.
My brother and I were in the choir.
I remember the audition, then practice, and becoming a Christmas soloist, I eventually became Head Chorister, leading the choir at first by ‘nodding’ my head in time, but instigating a change to using a hand.
I remember doing a marathon swim in the Lake – only the once, the lake was never deemed deep enough or safe enough to do that again. I was under 10 and came something like sixth out of the school.
I remember the marathon like runs, the ‘Stelling Run’ and more rarely the ‘Five Mile.’
I remember the woods, the observatory, the dens, the ‘water works’ and the ‘Nature Reserve’. I remember ‘Den Raiding’ at the end of term and prefects stealing a friend’s clothes and putting them at the top of a tree. I remember all the antics in the woods, climbing the trees and trying to get from one tree to the next in the top branches, ‘sliding’ to the ground in the branches of fir trees, and engraving our names in a three hundred year old beach tree at the top of the drive. I remember the assault course, ‘tuck’ after Sunday Lunch given out by the day of the month on which your birthday fell; I remember spelling tests, coming out of Maths to watch the landing on the moon, the black outs during the miners’ strike, the brown boiler suits were wore outside for break and to go in the woods, the cassocks and ruffs, the music cubes as we called the ‘music cubicles.’ I remember birthdays, with a cake and candles and ‘friends’, handing out cake as boys screamed ‘me’, ‘I’m your friend’ and all that nonsense. I remember some boys standing outside the Headmaster’s Office having a farting competition, my brother and ‘Reeves’ were two of the boys up. I remember boys being caned. I remember the library, the scary book on World Wars I and II in which their were pictures of a man being hanged and another few who’d been decapitated.
I remember becoming a ‘D.C.’, house captain and captain of swimming.
I won the ‘D.Cs’ prize more than once, which also brought with it an end of term ‘feat’ for the winning dorm.
I don’t look back with any fondness at being a prefect though; it brought the worst out in me, so I deserved the nickname ‘Granny,’ I was pernickety, like my mother and father.
I remember the humiliation of half-drowning in the outdoor pool in my last summer term and having three swimming cups taken from me as a consequence – I was diagnosed as asthmatic five years later. Were I a vengeful psychopath I would have drowned the teachers responsible for this, I would have had those teachers who caned boys for doing badly in a test lashed too.
See, it wasn’t all happy memories.
Tamer punishments were most likely to be ‘stone picking’ on the sports fields. I remember the honours boards and how as a new boy you looked up to those names and never imagined being up there one day as Head Chorister, Head of School, or winning the History Pr
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.1 Maka Paka on the prowl for someone’s face to wash … and random stones to stack, count and give away.
I adore In the Night Garden in my fifties, the way I loved The Magic Roundabout when I was six. I’ve worked for Ragdoll, met Pob, been to the Teletubbies set and follow the work and thinking of Andrew Davenport who recreates the world of the child as it learns to talk quite brilliantly.
Recently I was for the umpteenth time talking about the importance of understand how and why we forget before you try and get anyone, including yourself, to remember a thing, Watching Maka Paka (above) learning to count is a fabulous example of repetition, discovery and repeat.
Now, if I had “In the Night Garden’ I could learn baby talk in several languages; I don’t suppose its very different.
Fig.1. United Kingdom and Ireland
Prompted by nieces and my sister I have now joined the Facebook ‘Positivity’ challenge.
You post three positive things a day for five days then nominate three others to do the same. I have written 15 ‘Positivities’ already and will adjust and prioritize each day. My wife, Great Britain and learning something everyday (with a plug for the Open University) got a mention today. When I was eleven or twelve I pencilled in all the counties of England, Scotland and Wales where I had visited – parents divorced and living in Cumbria and Northumberland got that one started, with cousins in County Durham and North Yorkshire, and then trips to Scotland and Lincolnshire, London and Oxfordshire. The rule was I had to spend a night in the county. Before I’d taken a look at the above map (and not taking into consideration boundary changes) I guessed that bar a few counties I had stayed in all: largely as work producing training and information videos has had me on overnights all over the shop (nuclear power industry, manufactures, retailers, Post Office, pharmaceuticals …), and Northern Ireland courtesy of a girlfriend of 18 months. Looking again I think I could add that I’ve never stayed in Essex, nor many of the Welsh Counties (or valleys), a couple still in Northern Ireland and probably a couple in North Eastern Scotland even if I have driven through. I started the same kind of thing on the 98 departements of France and guess that I’ve ‘done’ a good fifty, once again, thanks as much to TV work repeatedly travelling to far-flung, non-touristy destinations for a TV news agency I worked for. I miss travelling.
A few years ago I took up the challenge of posting a photo a day in Blipfoto; I took this one step further and determined, with the need for some criteria for editing a day’s pictures, to posting something ‘to feel good about’ – this task is similar, though potentially more abstract if the idea, rather than the image comes first.
Fig.1. From the paper LISTEN: augmented audio-augmented museum guide (c) Andreas Zimmermann, Andreas Lorenz (2008)
This is a paper presentation at a conference of a museum visitor guide system that uses a combination of tracking/observation and audio-artifacts to create a personalized visitor experience. The paper reveals the extent of trials, tests and adjusts as well as evaluation which in turn offer ways that a proposal might be in the form of a presentation of the platform or a workshop that might assess how visitors are profile at the start of their visit.
Fig.2 One of the many multimedia moments at the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum, Ypres. C. 2013 In Flanders Fields
I had in mind some kind of open, mobile personalized learning for use by visitors to military museums, perhaps national trust properties and even battlefields.
Each of these offer very differ user experiences and expectations though. A literary research reveals that the planning for visitors to an exhibition, collection of curated events or gallery is complex and the history of using technology to support visitor experiences is lengthy.
The research for conference papers is approached from two directions: the standard approach through the OU online library using terms such as ‘museum’ ‘elearning’ and ‘augmented’, while also drawing on personal knowledge of the many digital agencies based on the South Coast (profiles of these companies are available from the regional hi-tech association ‘Wired Sussex’).
Cogapp have been producing digital content for museums since the mid 1980s.
These and other agencies often present ‘papers’ at conferences, though the quality, in academic terms, of these presentations is sometimes questionable – is it promotion or is this the presentation of valid research?
Fig. 3 On Alcatraz. Following my audio guide, but too enthralled to be on site amongst a hubbub of people.
I can also draw upon a personal interest in museums, galleries, and other visitor attractions from national trust properties to battlefields all, or some of which, come with some kind of ‘guide’ – traditionally as a leaflet or guide book (Picasso Museum, Jean Miro), often with an audio guide (Alcatraz, Muir Woods, Royal Academy: Van Gogh, Bronzes), though increasingly from online resources with some attempts to use modern mobile devices (Design Museum, Tate Modern) or to personalize the experience (In Flanders Fields, Ypres). (Great North Museum)
There are major, global conferences on e-learning, some with an orientation towards, or significant presence from the museum sector. Over the last decade there has been considerable interest in improving, through personalization, the visitor experience.
The attraction of this paper, although it is limited to an audio platform whereas I had in mind something visual, the narrative from conception to testing, delivery and evaluation is thorough. It is insightful on studies of the museum visitor experience, curator relationships with artifacts, use and potential of audio and tracking/observation technology – both hardware and software (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:391)
motion-tracked wireless headphones
individualized and location-aware soundscape
as well as content preparation and feedback on an iterative process.
These approaches will become increasingly sophisticated, discrete and effective for different visitor ‘types’, even reflecting how a person’s behaviour may change during the course of a visit. It is insightful to discover the degree of sophistication for understanding perception types (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:391)
And visitor types:
A definition of personalized (Zimmerman and Lorenz, 2008:394)
Layers of information
Increasing levels of involvement
Pedagogical (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:400)
considering the social context
McCarthy and McCarthy 2005 distinguish four types of learners:
Gardner 1993 identifies seven:
Veron and Levasseur 1983 determined visiting styles based on observations of animals (Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:404):
ants (following the curator’s path)
fish (holistic point of view)
butterfly (interest in all exhibits without following the curator’s path)
grasshopper (interest only in specific exhibits)
leading to the Macke Laboratory outputs of:
sauntering: the visitor is slowly walking around with an excursive gaze.
goal-drive: the visitor displays a direct movement with the gaze directed towards a specific artwork.
standing, focussed: the visitor is standing with the gaze directed towards a specific artwork
standing, unfocused: the visitor is standing or sitting with an excursive gaze
(Zimmermann and Lorenz, 2008:409):
- fact-orientated – putting a high eight on spoken text
- emotional – prioritizing music pieces and sound effects
- overview – focusing mainly in short sound entities
Arnone, M, Small, R, Chauncey, S, & McKenna, H 2011, ‘Curiosity, interest and engagement in technology-pervasive learning environments: a new research agenda’, Educational Technology Research & Development, 59, 2, pp. 181-198, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Boehner, K, Gay, G, & Larkin, C 2005, ‘Drawing evaluation into design for mobile computing: a case study of the Renwick Gallery’s Hand Held Education Project’, International Journal On Digital Libraries, 5, 3, pp. 219-230, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Bohnert, F, Zukerman, I, Berkovsky, S, Baldwin, T, & Sonenberg, L 2008, ‘Using interest and transition models to predict visitor locations in museums’, AI Communications, 21, 2/3, pp. 195-202, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Brugnoli, M, Morabito, F, Bo, G, & Murelli, E 2006, ”Augmented itineraries’: Mobile services differentiating what museum has to offer’, Psychology Journal, 4, 3, pp. 311-335, PsycINFO, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Cocciolo, A, & Rabina, D 2013, ‘Does place affect user engagement and understanding?Mobile learner perceptions on the streets of New York’, Journal Of Documentation, 69, 1, pp. 98-120, Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Edwards, C 2013, ‘BETTER THAN REALITY?’, Engineering & Technology (17509637), 8, 4, pp. 28-31, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Forsyth E. AR U FEELING APPY? AUGMENTED REALITY, APPS AND MOBILE ACCESS TO LOCAL STUDIES INFORMATION. Aplis [serial online]. September 2011;24(3):125-132. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 5, 2013.
Gaved, M, Collins, T, Mulholland, P, Kerawalla, L, Jones, A, Scanlon, E, Littleton, K, Blake, C, Petrou, M, Clough, G, & Twiner, A 2010, ‘Using netbooks to support mobile learners’ investigations across activities and places’, Open Learning, 25, 3, pp. 187-200, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Jarrier, E, & Bourgeon-Renault, D 2012, ‘Impact of Mediation Devices on the Museum Visit Experience and on Visitors’ Behavioural Intentions’, International Journal Of Arts Management, 15, 1, pp. 18-29, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Marchetti, E, & Valente, A 2012, ‘Diachronic Perspective and Interaction: New Directions for Innovation in Historical Museums’, International Journal Of Technology, Knowledge & Society, 8, 6, pp. 131-143, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Mengmeng, L, Hiroaki, O, Bin, H, Noriko, U, & Kousuke, M 2013, ‘Context-aware and Personalization Method in Ubiquitous Learning Log System’, Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 16, 3, pp. 362-373, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
McAndrew, P, Taylor, J, & Clow, D 2010, ‘Facing the challenge in evaluating technology use in mobile environments’, Open Learning, 25, 3, pp. 233-249, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Semper, R, & Spasojevic, M 2002, ‘The Electronic Guidebook: Using Portable Devices and a Wireless Web-Based Network to Extend the Museum Experience’, ERIC, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
STOICA, A, & AVOURIS, N 2010, ‘AN ARCHITECTURE TO SUPPORT PERSONALIZED INTERACTION ACROSS MULTIPLE DIGITALLY AUGMENTED SPACES’, International Journal On Artificial Intelligence Tools, 19, 2, pp. 137-158, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Zaharias P, Michael D, Chrysanthou Y. Learning through Multi-touch Interfaces in Museum Exhibits: An Empirical Investigation. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society [serial online]. July 2013;16(3):374-384. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 5, 2013.
Zimmermann, A, & Lorenz, A 2008, ‘LISTEN: a user-adaptive audio-augmented museum guide’, User Modeling & User-Adapted Interaction, 18, 5, pp. 389-416, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5 November 2013.
Recommended: MIT’s sixth sense device. Do you know about it? Here’s a link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig2RSID-kn8&feature=youtube_gdata_player
A lifelong love in art galleries yet I still feel unmoved by galleries and museums, possibly because I expect the gentle, guiding voice of my late mother at my shoulder (artist, art historian, Mum).
What could be a more personalised visit than to have someone who knows you so well point things out, guide you to things that will interest or irritate, then offer an insight – invariably linked to ‘what do you do next?’ i.e. look, learn then apply.
Fig.1. Maria Montessori
My journey into accessibility guidelines, legislation, principles and case studies in week nine of the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) Module H810: Accessible Online Learning – supporting disabled students, quickly diverted me into the nature of multi-modal learning.
I knew as I started this module that I was looking for or expected when I term the ‘Montessori Effect’.
Maria Montessori was ill-treated because of her gender, finding resistance to her desire to study medicine and further resistance once she got there. I wonder if there is resonance here for a disabled student meeting resistance or faced with prejudice of any kind when pursing their academic studies? Montessori’s early studies involved children with disabilities and it is through this that she developed her educational philosophy that has come to influence the ways we teach. I can see that her work is something I shall have to study too.
‘Montessori experimented with allowing children free choice of the materials, uninterrupted work, and freedom of movement and activity within the limits set by the environment’. Wikipedia (last accessed 31st October 2012)
Turning to reading up on accessibility guidelines I read through the following:
Software and tools
Educational Issues for Students with Disabilities
Accessible interactive software can bring the benefits of multimedia and experimental learning to students who may otherwise be left out.
Interactive learning experiences will be especially enriching for students who may otherwise have more limited experiences. Because students with disabilities may not be exposed to as wide a range of activities as other students, accessible software can contribute positively toward filling in some of those gaps.
These guidelines then detail specific needs for a variety of users, my interest is with low-vision, dyslexia and mobility via cerebral palsy.
Low-vision students may still learn from a visual program, provided it is well designed.
Software should allow:
- fonts to be adjusted
- provide clear contrast for objects that students must locate and manipulate
- include keyboard commands to reduce mouse dependence
- provide a system cursor that moves with important screen events so that magnifiers can track them.
Benefits of Multimodal Learning
Making software and digital publications accessible to students with disabilities has benefits for other students as well.
These benefits are especially important for students learning English as a second language and those with reading difficulty. Accessible textbooks and software often provide multi-modal access to information, combining text with audio.
Tindall-Ford and colleagues showed in several different experiments that when information is presented in audio and visual form, performance on complex tasks is improved (1997).
‘The intellectual complexity of information, generated by the degree of element interactivity, may determine the conditions under which the structure of presented information is critical and thus, when cognitively derived information-presentation techniques such as integrated and audio-visual packages are most useful. Finally, the measures of perceived mental effort used in this article lend further support to the notion that cognitive load is a critical and major factor when formatting information’. (Tindall-Ford et al 1997:283- 84)
Installing a new keyboard this morning this popped up from Microsoft. As you scroll down the index list the keys are highlighted. This would NOT be best practice in the eyes of Tindall-Ford et al, rather the instructions relevant to each key should appear as an annotation in situ.
Fig.2. A contemporary example of dual-mode learning?
‘When two sensory modes are better than one’ deserves a class of its own. I’ve migrated discussion on this to an e-learning group in Linkedin while opening it up to discussion here and in the H810 Student Forum.
J.R. Williams reviewed about 100 studies from the literature on use of multimedia in instruction and found that combining visual and verbal information can lead to enhanced comprehension (1998).
A example of dual-learning created by Tindall-Ford et al for the purposes of research:
Fig.3. An example of the integrated instructions used by Tindall-Ford et al (1997)
Could there be lessons here on how best to design a user interface with accessibility in mind?
Tindall-Ford, S, Chandler, P, & Sweller, J 1997, ‘When two sensory modes are better than one’, Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 3, 4, pp. 257-287, (Last viewed 31st October 2012).
Williams J.R. (1998) Guidelines for the Use of Multimedia in Instruction Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting October 1998 42: 1447-1451,
This is part of the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) module H810 (Access to online learning for students with a disability) Activity 12.1 History
Braille provided a way to read material that could be reused by blind people and reduced the pressure on readers.
The attitude to blindness pioneered by those who founded Worcester College is, I think, best exemplified by Samuel Forster when he asserted that ‘the blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy, whose lot is cast in the dark…blind boys are boys first, then boys in the dark…’, an attitude which much later became embodied in the school’s motto, “Possunt quia posse videntur”, They can, because they think they can.
Is preparedness for employment of greater value than an ‘education’?
- The debate rumbles on in relation to all secondary and tertiary education, whether ‘academic’ or vocational.
- Thomas Anderson, manager of the Edinburgh Asylum before he went to York, was a great advocate of the utilitarian approach, and censured the English organisations for concentrating on schooling rather than employment.
- Why educate the blind student if they have no gainful employment or means of supporting themselves afterwards? What indeed is the point in education if nothing follows for anyone? In developing the frustration takes young people onto the streets to protest.
As Ritchie says, ‘education was the attainment of a certain degree of factual awareness and the acquisition of a quantum of information—the names of the kings of Israel, the lengths of the chief rivers of the globe and several other categories of facts all equally unconnected with the growing and developing nature of the young’.
Of what use is this to the young blind student? Or should it be in addition to the practicalities of living beyond their school?
- The prevalent view a century ago was that knowing stuff equated to intelligence. In 1918 on applying to join the fledgling RAF my late grandfather told me how he was asked to name the six most northern counties of England.
- A challenge the blind could do without and that was met most readily by those families with the means.
Higher education for blind children was confined to those fortunate enough to be born into families with the means and the will to provide this privately.
- Something that across provision for disabled students hasn’t changed, for example, the specialist Northease School charges annual fees of £25,000 p.a. which, usually after a tribunal, local authorities may pay – while of course the well off have no such hoops to go through.
- Inspiration from those who make it:
Blind Jack of Knaresborough, the road-builder, Nicholas Saunderson, the Cambridge mathematician, Thomas Blacklock, writer, teacher and philosopher,
James Gale, inventor, and Elizabeth Gilbert, a major figure in nineteenth-century blind welfare.
It would be wrong to suppose that blindness, like other handicaps, necessarily acts as a stimulating challenge.
Blindness may act as a challenge, but only under favourable circumstances. The exceptions emphasize how grim were the prospects of blind children before education for the blind became an accepted fact of life: conditions were too bad for the handicap to stimulate.
They were (says its 1872 report) ‘to bestow a sound and liberal education upon persons of the male sex afflicted with total or partial blindness, and belonging, by birth or kinship, to the upper, the professional, or the middle classes of society.
These unctuous and somewhat naive sentiments were, fortunately for his pupils, not characteristic of Forster. His attitude towards the education of the blind was unusually realistic and forward-looking. In 1883 he read a paper at the York Conference entitled “A plea for the higher culture of the blind”.
‘The blind boy of healthy body and sound brain is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than a seeing boy, whose lot is cast in the dark. The mysterious effects of this constant living in the dark have always exercised the imagination and sentiment of tender-hearted persons; but teachers of the blind prefer to disregard it, and come in time to forget it. To them blind boys are boys first, then boys in the dark…. needing the special aids and ingenious contrivances required by the circumstances.’
Presume nothing, ask the end user:
- Forster wisely consulted some of his older pupils, and they advised adapting braille for the purpose.
- Flexible, adaptable, accommodating and building on past experience and successes – so motivational and supportive rather than prescriptive.
- Since braille was the only system which could feasibly be written, the boys learnt to write braille.
‘Teaching to write with a pen and pencil is now generally abandoned as a waste of time’: but those boys who could write before they went blind were encouraged to keep it up. Forster admitted that much teaching was still oral, but not to the extent it was ten years before.
Can’t start young enough, so perhaps schools can introduce tools and software.
Forster was very keen to get his pupils at as early an age as possible, preferably seven or eight, for no kindergarten was then in existence, and the later the pupils arrived, the harder it was to teach them.
Ingenious and inventive:
Mr Marston has been ingeniously endeavouring to apply these games to the use of “our” boys, by means of the principle of localisation of sound.
The difficulties of those boys (roughly one in five) who went on to university are worth elaborating. The student’s main need was for an intelligent sighted reader, for he had few textbooks with which to follow lectures.
‘Daily shewing how the same visitation is robbed of its severity, and overruled to practical good.’
Vincent work station:
The software which accompanies the workstation makes it a versatile aid, but its uses might be grouped roughly into three main areas. First, and most obvious, it is a method of communication with non-braillists. Second, it is a valuable teaching aid. Third – it’s fun!
(Bignall and Brown, 1985)
Bell, D. (ed.) (1967) The History of Worcester College for the Blind 1866–1966, London, Hutchinson & Co.
Bignall, R. and Brown, E. (1985) ‘Vincent Workstation’, The British Journal of Visual Impairment, vol. 3, pp. 17–19.