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An exploration of the MOOC

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. My mash-up of a correct answer to a quiz in the FutureLearn course from the University of Nottingham ‘How to read a mind’ that ties in directly to The OU course on the same platform ‘Start Writing Fiction’.

As these MOOCs complete I have a few weeks over Christmas to reflect on a busy year of Moocing about and to catch up with regular coursework on L120, assisted with a necessary business visit to France.

My MOOCing is enjoyed all the more while reading Martin Weller’s new book that covers MOOCs, ‘The Battle for Open’. These are interesting times indeed.

With friends yesterday I evangelised about MOOCs on FutureLearn and found that what worked was to describe a MOOC in layman’s terms as the equivalent of a hefty, hardback, coffee-table book you buy because you have an interest in a thing. Let’s say it is architecture. The book is written by an expert with engaging photographs, charts and maps. From time to time you indulge yourself. A good MOOC is similar, different and better. Online you have an expert who leads the course. The introduce themselves, the course and perhaps the team. And then over the weeks they drop in to say something with a pre-recorded video piece or text. They may even appear from time to time to contribute to the discussion: though you may miss them if the thread is running into the hundreds.

I explained how threaded discussions work: that there can be thousands of comments, but you know everyone is talking about the same thing. That if you don’t get a point you can ask and someone offers a response. You may still not get it. So you ask again. Once again, there is a response. You may do this a few times. Even come back to it a day or so later, but you are likely, eventually to see something that says it for you – your fellow students have fulfilled the role of the tutor that a tutor could never manage: they only have one voice and they can’t give up the huge number of hours – there is one thread in ‘Start Writing Fiction’ that runs to 7400 posts.

These are filtered in three useful ways: activity, following and your comments. In this way you either look only at the lates posts, the posts of those you are following: say 10 out of 23,000 or, of course, you look back at your comments.

It works.

As for my graphic? Does obscuring the writing assist with anything? By making an effort to read the question are you any more likely to remember it?

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From time to time I am faced with finding the most obscure of articles

From First World War

Fig.1 Motorbike Ambulance of the First World War

I came across something about the Ambulance Service using motorbikes during the First World War. I then saw a photograph of a motorbike with a sidecar with a set of platforms that would carry two stretchers. The arguments for the use of a motorcycle are made: lighter, quicker, tighter turning circle, use less fuel …

A article is cited. The British Medical Journal, January 1915. A few minutes later via the Open University Online Library I locate and download the article.

It is the speed at which quality research can be fulfilled that thrills me. This article is satisfying in its own right, but glancing at the dozen or more articles on medical practices and lessons from the Front Line are remarkable. We are constantly saved from the detail of that conflict, the stories and issues regurgitated and revisited as historians read what previous historians said without going back to the original source.

This is how a new generation can come up with a fresh perspective on the First World War – instead of a handful of specialist academics burrowing in the paper archives now thousands, even tens of thousands can drill right down to the most pertinent, untampered with content.

From First World War

Amazed.

The value of using a 3D timeline in writing

Fig.1 Word and Tiki-Toki

Constructing a length piece of writing – over 50,000 words and need to stick to the chronology of events, at least in the first draft, I have found using the timeline creation tool Tiki-Toki invaluable. You can create one of these for FREE.

Over the last few months I’ve been adding ‘episodes’ to a timeline that stretches between 1914 and 1919. You get various views, including the traditional timeline of events stretched along an unfurling panorama. However, if you want to work with two screen side by side the 3D view allows you to scroll back and forth through the timeline within the modest confines of its window.

When in Rome

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Watching a drama series has become like reading a book – in the case of ‘Rome’ it is something of an epic. Though produced in 2005 it has the qualities that make a series for the era of Netflix. It is a lesson too from HBO and the BBC. A cracking pace, without becoming vulgar or repetitive (though there is always violence and sex, and sex with violence), the ‘upstairs/downstairs’ balance has two complementary and intertwinned strands. The conflict and jeopardy is relentless. At times the casting is a touch weak – Cleopatra is no Elizabeth Taylor but the strands wrap around eachother in a way that is Shakespearan – as is some of the language. And the last words of the series leave you with a smile on your face – a clever twist that must have been planned early on so that the two stories effectively roll into one – the son of Ceasar and Cleopatra actually that of a bull of a soldier.

The contrast with other series I have tried to watch is telling: V and Battlestar Gallactica are like badly written trash mags in comparison – after a few episodes it not only becomes repetitive, the same events and dilemmas repeating themselves as if on a loop, but the internal dynamic constantly trips itself up with the original need for commercial breaks every seven minutes or so.

My own efforts at the TV Series include ‘Escape from Alien Zoo’, ‘The Little Duke’ and ‘CC and Susie’. The first got me through the door at the BBC to develop the scripts, the second secured me an agent, third was too kid’s TV. Tessa Ross saw me about a TV film version ‘Rewind’. I will work on the paper version of ‘The Little Duke’ as it concerns the Normans in France in the 10th century and has enough violence and power struggles in it to think of it as a cross between ‘The Vikings’ and ‘Rome’.

31 Years Ago – Oxford 1982 on video

Fig.1. The author/auteur with his Sony Betamax out. My study, Staircase 11, Balliol College, Trinity Term 1982

31 years ago I was an undergraduate at Oxford University.

In my second year, eager to develop my interest in TV production I managed to get myself a Sony Betamax Camera. It was semi-portable – a backpack and cable. I’ve had the 20 tapes digitized. The pleasure for me and for those featured will be to see themselves and their friends in a way that will have quite escaped them. You are faced with the spatial disjointedness of seeing and hearing yourself as others presumably saw you and the temporal disjointedness of seeing a 19 or 20 year old from the perspective of a fifty-something. There’s some 17 hours of content. I got through it at x18 in a few hours yesterday afternoon.

Fig.2. Rehearsing in the Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS) production of Taming of the Shrew. I played Baptista.

These are the obvious observations:

  • How young we looked. Look at the fashion (hair, clothes) and the cars.
  • Did I really look like and talk like that?
  • Even an idiot could see that I couldn’t grow a beard, so why did I try!
  • Why did I buy that shirt?

The more nuanced thoughts and realisations are:

Fig.3. The Oxford Lightweights Crew, Henley. My purpose had been to video them in training.

How amazing it is that watching a blurry clip of a team of rowers an image no bigger than a pea tells me quite quickly that I know one of these people, a few moments more and I have their name. The ability of the human brain to identify faces is remarkable. (The above is far closer and clearer than the silhouette tat initially gave me the location, purpose and person).

There are events I covered, even moments where I appear, that I simply cannot recollect at all.

Being behind the camera can do this … you’re cut-off from the moment slightly in any case as you should be tending to the camera (on a tripod), lighting and sound. There’s a good deal that I didn’t cover – the camera often went out with others.

Then I see a person, and it does ‘come flooding back’ – this personal emotional tie to a person or event is vital.

Just a few seconds of a person and I feel warmth and longing for a lost love. I know the name, when we met and the times we spent together. But what unintended hurt might I cause even these decades later? Or others who had no inkling of my interest? Or is this just part of being who and what we are at that age? And we have, of course, move on … so far beyond that the past really is a different country. And we are not those people who populated it.

Getting myself back into the head of a 20 year old feels like a kind of lobotomy – it had might as well empty my head of everything that has happened since. The perspective makes you realise just how naive and inexperienced you are even at that age.

There are inevitable technical issues:

  • The tapes, stored for three decades, are damaged.
  • The lighting, anything in doors or when it was dreary, is atrocious.
  • The sound, through the directional mic on the camera is pretty dreadful too.

Fig. 4. In conversation somewhere, with someone – but I don’t know with whom, and can’t even tell what was on our minds.

What next?

Just a screen grab shared with a handful of the participants has produced glee. It is a reminder of how friendships are formed, a bond and trust that slips into place between strangers after they’ve got to know each other and then spend more time together doing things and making fond memories. This is its value if nothing else. None of the video will go online. I’m even reluctant at this stage to store content online and offer a password to people. I know that it is too easy for content to ‘leak’ which at this stage I feel is too unfair to those concerned. I’ll start just by sharing the moments with them.

  • How much do we need or want to remember?
  • Doesn’t the brain, for those of us who are and remain physically and mentally well, do a perfectly adequate job of forgetting?
  • Is it not better to see the past through the prism of narrative, anecdotes and recollections. To feel, either good or bad about people and moments rather than getting this ‘in your face’ absolute?
  • Twice I spotted people who were lovers.
  • Twice I spotted people I ‘fancied’.

Is it not healthier and correct to reinforce my marriage of twenty years with memories of equal strength of her and our children?

Wherein a wedding and some holiday video footage may have served a purpose. On graduation I never, or very rarely, have ‘gathered’ amateur footage like this. Perhaps understandably I want to work with a team of professional broadcasters and filmmakers.

There are fictionalised stories I want to tell about this age group.

This content is an invaluable record and reminder of all that we are at that age. It is also noticeable, even in the streets of Oxford on May Morning, how the student population dominate, while of course cast and audiences of students productions are for the most part students too. For a period, or for some weeks, you live away from your family, without a family – most people around you are your age and possibly, its weakness in the 1980s, amongst those from a white caucasian middle class background. This too would reflect the bias of whoever was behind the camera, and the events covered.

Fig.5. Oxford Theatre Group (OTG) rehearsals for the Oxford Review. I have several hours of footage of setting up, the hall and rehearsals for three out of the five productions: Titus Alone, Edward II and the Review.

Best of all, and the fullest record, is the Oxford Theatre Group on the Edinburgh Fringe in August and early September 1982. As well as our edited highlights from this, behind the scenes, rehearsals and productions, there are several hours of ‘rushes’. There is also coverage of an Eight’s Week (College Rowing Event), the Oxford & Cambridge Ski Trip to Wengen, one May Morning (May 1st, 1982 I presume) and Lightweights and Woman’s Eights at Henley … and some ‘Student News’ from a single edition of ‘Oxford Television News’. I didn’t need three tapes of rushes for an English Language School for Japanese Students.

In a world where such images are so easily gathered are we even more inclined to bin or wipe them?

Do most young people live in a world of image overload where the recording and broadcast of content is instantaneous so little thought needs to be given to what is recorded, how it is stored, how it is shared and who sees it? In thirty years time will my children be able to look at content the way I can?

At my mother’s funeral my God Father presented me with a couple of DVDs containing digitized 16mm footage of my mothers age 17 from the late 1940s. Would this have lasted sixty years on tape? In sixty years time will people want to or need to see clips of themselves in their youth? Isn’t it too easy, even expected to dip back and forth through your timeline?

Fig. 6 I know the people in the line and the person who recorded the footage – rain damage put the camera out of action for several months, perhaps worth it for several minutes of frivolity during May Day celebrations, May 1st 1983 (or 82?)

How will people change if they cannot forget and are not allowed to forget?

I’m sure we’ll become more accepting of the human condition – that politicians who ‘had a life’ may be preferred over those who did not? That we will be accepting of a good deal more of what we do and how we were and how we change, that we have different personas in different settings and at different times.

Fig. 7 My study – second year, a study with separate bedroom. In College. The key to this era, should I wish to explore it, is the diary on the shelf in the background. Whilst the video record is selective and patchy, the daily journal is complete.

What though the value of keeping a diary? I understand the academic value of reflection, but a record of what you did, what you read and maybe who you saw and most especially what you thought back then? Digitised, a process I started patchily two decades ago, others insights – some best left in the past. Devices that capture your day, sensecams and wearable devices … how much more are these a record if the data they provide can be analysed for you or does a memory need and deserve the filter and effort of being recorded as you experienced  and felt it?

Several edits into the above I realise I have failed to sate the obvious – after a part-time Masters Degree in Distance and E-Learning (MAODE) I am now applying to undertake doctoral research. The youth of these images didn’t have postgraduate study on his mind largely because he didn’t understand who he was – deeply curious about people and learning. If an education is wasted on youth, then I’d say this is even more the case with postgraduate study.

Liquid Inspiration from cider flavoured with ginger

Fig.1. Liquid Inspiration – I visit Middle Farm for the cider

I’ve used the history of orchards in Sussex to offer a model for how higher education might change and adapt – grubbing out the old and offering something ‘customers’ want is a good message. Location too, this on the A25 – universities today needing to be on the Internet Super Highway.

I’ve used the metaphor of orchards in e-learning too – the nurturing of the crop, the varieties grown and how these are promoted and sold.

Fig.2.  “Side-R” Medium Cider with Ginger

‘Flavoured from our Cider with natural Ginger concentrate, this Cider has a mellow Ginger side to it without over-powering the delicate “apple” flavour of the Cider’.

Fig.3. Middle Farm sells a bewildering number of varieties. 

Side-R takes you to a somewhat bizarre website that reveals itself to be odder still when you Google translate from the Japanese.

Sometimes you have to stop the car and listen

Fig.1 Golshifteh Farahan – evocative of the role of Sofia

The Loving Ballad of Captain Bateman

Captain Stewart Bateman is badly wounded in Afghanistan. Sofia gives him shelter in her home and you know they will fall in love … but with the British Captain in their home Sofia and her father face retributions from the Taliban for harbouring him or from the British army for keeping him prisoner. Wounded in the face, Captain Bateman removes his bandages and struggles to see the young woman who has been caring for him with whom of course he falls  in love.

Sofia’s father is  about to hand ‘Bateman’ over to the Taliban when …

Well, that’s when I stopped the car and the dog had to wait for her walk. Gorgeous music beautifully played. A fairy tale given a modern setting. Characters in love and in jeopardy.

You’ve got 6 DAYS LEFT TO LISTEN from today Friday 14th December

Then what happens? Is it archived? Do you download a podcast … or wait for the movie or TV series.

First broadcast: Thursday 13 December 2012

The Distant Summer – Sarah Patterson (1976)

Fig.1. Sarah Patterson – her first novel with the promise of many more to come – 1976

The poignant story of a girl who loves two WWII flyers, written by the daughter of suspense writer Jack Higgins when she was just 17. Trying to write myself I was inspired. Over three decades later I have written plenty, though only one piece of fiction has thus far been broadcast – short film ‘Listening In’.

The folder contains ‘The Gypsy’s Curse’ a short story about a girl who is cursed to ‘die of water’ by a gypsy as an infant and much later nearly dies of an asthma attack. My kid sister was grabbed from the house as a three or four year old by a Gypsy and the curse is true – she is asthmatic, but I hope nothing else of it is true.

Fig.2. Sarah Patterson – Young Observer 1976

Scrapbooks, like this one, are ‘mind bursts’ – moments that inspired. In fact this is pasted to a folder that contains typed up teenage efforts. She was 17 and writing about what it was like to be a 17 year old in 1943. I was 15 and writing about what it might be like to be a 15 year old in 2943.

Can inspiration bog you down?

When are distractions are good thing and when bad?

Where does motivation come from and what happens if it is only sometimes realised?

Forties era romance reviewed.

Happy as Larry

Fig.1. Directing a ‘Listening In’ – Super 16mm film – the real McCoy

Happy as Larry. Leading a creative of builders, helpers and doers – we all get something from the experience.

‘Listening in’ did festivals and Channel 4 shorts.

Here’s your 2013 reading list – one a week for the year.

 

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