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Reflect, Review, Rethink, Redo … the power of repetition

Fig.1. My mash-up from the Start Writing Fiction, OU and FutureLearn MOOC. 

Many weeks after the Open University MOOC on Future Learn closed ‘Start Writing Fiction’ I find I am returning to the many activities across the eight weeks to refresh, reflect, and build on my knowledge. As well as doing my bit for that ‘community’ by doing a few reviews (all assignments are peer reviewed). I completed the course in early December.

I return to reflect, to develop ideas, to be reminded of the excellent lessons I have learnt there, and in particular on how we use fact and fiction, whether consciously or not. In pure fantasy writing I find, inevitably, that I ground events in places I know from my youth, or have since researched. I use the hook of reality and my experiences on which to build the fiction. While currently I am embedded in what started as 90/10 fiction to fact I find it is increasingly looking like 95/5 in favour of fact as my imagination is close to the truth about a particular character and his experience of the First World War. All this from a simple exercise in week one called ‘Fact or Fiction?’ where we are asked first of all two write something that contains three factual elements and one fiction, and then to write something that contains three fictional elements and one factual. There are thousands of these now, many very funny, original or captivating. In week one, I’m guessing that around 10,000 got through the week. How many posted? There are 967 comments. This happens. It is an open course. The same applies for most web content: 95:5 is the ratio of readers to writers. Many people prefer not to do what they feel is ‘exposing themselves’ online. Why should they.

Anyway, this gives me reason to argue that it is an excellent idea to keep a blog of your OU studies. All of this can remain private, but at least, as I know have in this blog, when the doors close behind a module you can, months, even years later, return to key activities and assignments and build on the lessons you learnt. More importantly, as we all forget with such ease, we can keep the memory of the lessons fresh.

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Is it a good thing or a bad thing to get stuck down a rabbit hole?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Alice in a hole

This thought, in relation to researching and writing an essay came from retired squadron-leader, prof. Peter Gray. I am often stuck down a rabbit hole; I indulge my curiosity and quickly get lost. It took me half an hour to scramble over images of ‘stuck down a rabbit hole’ mostly involving small dogs or variations on Alice in Wonderland and randomly including weird artworks and images of vertigo or claustrophobia before I decided to go with the above.

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Types of moustache

This morning I have now been up for four hours and haven’t quite completed two hours ‘writing’; the rest of the time has been spent trying to find the right kind of beards and moustaches to put on a set of five male characters, ages between 17 and 60, in northern France in 1917. Seeing the respective beards on three of them, the other two are clean-shaven, is just the start. I then have to name and describe them in terms that are appropriate to the era. I can’t talk of beard types as a George Michael, Magnum or even Hitler. They have to be described with metaphors and words that would have been prevalent in the press at the time.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3. Robert Twigger as Richard Francis Burton

I get thrown by spotting someone I know, then move onto how to describe parts of the outer ear and stumbleupon some fascinating fact about miniature portraits made of officers of the First World War as a keepsake. My searches are still prioritising French, so a few words or phrases might be entering the brain regarding Napoleon III beards and the like.

My curiosity indulged I check the word count for this morning’s efforts and I might come to 60 words added to yesterday’s tally; on the other hand, when I next need to describe a person sporting facial hair I ought to be able to do so rather more quickly.  On the positive side, with their moustaches, I have created an easy way to distinguish between the men and I’m rather taken by the aptness of ‘getting stuck down a rabbit hole’ as ‘being stuck’ is very much a part of the plot.

My subject matter

From Writing

Prince Edward was sent to France during the First World War. He lost his virginity in an Amiens brothel soon after his 21st birthday and recieved the Military Cross for duties that included the organising of firewood collections.

On retreat – writing in North Devon

From Writing

Fig. 1 The Writers’ Retreat, Sheepwash, Devon

have filed away somewhere all my writing efforts that begins with ‘Adam & Evie’ – a kind of Blue Lagoon in space that I wrote when I was 13. Since then, forty years ago, I have filled a garage, or at least a corner of one. Much of my effort is on Amstrad floppy discs, ZIP drives, CDs and harddrives. Some is printed off. Some are TV series and screenplays. You haven’t heard about me because it is all rubbish: around a fireplace I could tell you the story, even illustrate it with photos from my research, but until this week I could not get from my head to yours the story I wanted to tell.

This all changed this week.

Though I fell short of the goal of four, 2,500 scenes written I delivered one 3,000 word scene, developed several others, sketched out seven or so more and worked on the story arc. Last night three writers read from their work: an author whose third book comes out this week, my tutor who has two books published and two in the wings – and me. It worked. I had their attention, it gripped and scared them more than I could imagine and there was half an hour of discussion about the place and events.

Crucial to me is understanding the concept of a ‘scene’ and its needs in terms of writing, what my tutor Susannah Waters describes as a ‘palette of senses.’

A new year, an new age (I turned 53 an hour ago) and a new opportunity to ‘get stuff out.’

On verra.

Writers’ Retreat. Sheepwash, Devon

Fig. 1 Retreats for You, Sheepwash, Devon

Day One.

An hour with my tutor yesterday evening. Buzzed, but fell asleep soon after. It was a four hour drive yesterday afternoon/evening and I’d been up since 4.00 am or something. Which is when I woke this morning and rattled off 1 1/2 following guidelines on how to ‘set the scene’.

Armed with a pot of coffee I plan to get another hour in before breakfast.

The goal is to write four completed scenes, each of around 2,500 words this week. I may, a new experience for me, write each of these scenes several times as I try out the approaches I’ve been given.

The premise for my novel got the thumbs up as did my ‘voice’: not so hot were the gaping holes in my scene setting – I leave far too much untold.

On verra. 

By the end of the week I will decide either to give up once and for all, or that there’s a future in it and the boxes of manuscripts, scripts, zip drives, discs and flopping discs, hard drives, notebooks and diaries have served a purpose or should go to the skip.

And I’ll rejoin the family for my birthday.

E-Learning I, II & III – the Picasa Albums of the MA ODE

Fig.1. E-Learning I covers FIVE modules of the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education

E-Learning I – MAODE Modules, include innovation in e-learning, professional practices, open learning and ‘creativity, innovation and change’.

E-Learning II Research Practices in use of technology in learning

E-Learning III The Networked Practitioner

Google offers a myriad of ways to share content, whether images or words, from galleries to entire conversations. with circles and hangouts. Unwittingly I’ve been part of their ‘game’ since the outset, an early adopter of Picasa having migrated from Flickr. I’ve not invited much in the way of sharing though I now have over 175 ‘albums’ some of which contain a thousand images (the album max). Many of these albums are closed, or linked only to key family members or friends as they contain family snaps or holiday pictures. Some now contain an archive of deceased relatives (a grandfather, father and mother no less). Others are concept boards or scrapbooks, not just of OU work, far from it … but a place where these snippets of ideas and moments will be for decades while the hardware changes or breaks down, or hard copies, albums and scrapbooks, get lost, or damaged (or both).

I have THREE e-learning album galleries of screengrabs and photos, graphic mash-ups and such like spanning the three years and nine months I’ve been on the MA ODE.

This current E-learning III album is taking everything from H818. It is in every respect an OpenStudio platform – if I chose to share its contents then people may, with various copyright permissions (creative commons) use and re-use the content – though plenty of it I grab as a personal aide memoir and is therefore of copyrighted material.

The value of these becomes greater over time – it is a short hand back into a topic, and in time, indicative of how swiftly things are moving. These platforms are leaking out into formal learning contexts; there could be a  tipping point, where someone or something happens that galvanises massive interest, say the ‘Stephen Fry’ personality of Twitter, or the Arab Spring of Twitter where J K Rowling or Tracey Emin open their galleries to the world. Meanwhile, without meaning to be unnecessarily derogatory, OpenStudio is the ‘sheep pen’ while Picasa Web Galleries or Google Galleries are the ‘market’ – the sheep pen is closed and local, while the market is global, open, virtual, connected and online.

The communismization of knowledge and Open Educational Resources

Fig.1. I like spirals. Thirty years ago this was just a photo. For me it is an expression of what learning looks like. (I think this is St.John’s College, Boat House – or is it Balliol?)

At the base are the undergraduates, the first years, as you climb the steps you find the second and third years, then the middle common room the MA and D.Phil students while at the top are the lecturers, senior lecturers and professors.

And when you die they raise a flag.

In 1983 (or was in 1982?) this was the epitome of ‘closed learning’ – the Oxford College boat house.

Not so much ‘dreaming spires’ as ‘dreaming spirals’.

  • It was a privilege, but like many of these I’ve been either in denial or trying to shake them off for the best part of 25 years.
  • ‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’ (Jacques Prevert)
  • And there’s no going back.

I was up at 4.03am. Back to bed at 6.15am. Then up again 20 minutes ago.

  • My body was tired, my head continued to buzz.

Regarding ‘Open Learn’  what’s all this fretting about process for?

Have we all forgotten the purpose of research????

Not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’

Why? Why? Why?

We are seeking answers, not trying to construct a bridge across the English Channel with chopsticks and bendy-straws.

Not to get the process right, but to get answers to problems, to find better ways, to understand and share what is going on so that we can act, or not act on it?

Sometimes I read an academic paper and it is all about the process.

Too often I write an assignment and it has to be written to be marked – not to generate ideas. In fact, my finest few hours, a total End of Module Assignment rewrite was a disaster for a set of marks but is my theory and philosophy of what learning is. It was the culmination of months of work, years even. Expressed somewhere like the School of Communication Arts I would have had the attention of eyes and ears.

Fig.2. Submitted as the hypothesis for an End of Module Assignment the grade was catastrophic – it is of the module, but the examiners didn’t have a grid filled with the appropriate crumbs that would permit them to ‘tick the boxes’. (I did submit more than the image, 6ft high and drawn on a sheet of backing wallpaper).

Creativity doesn’t fair well in a process driven system, either in research or in marking assignments.

This isn’t an excuse regarding a grade or the need and value of process drive, guideline controlled, parameter set research, but rather a cry for some ‘free thinking’ the ‘parcours’ of mental agility and expression.

Fig.3 The cliffs below Roche de Mio, La Plagne

There is value in going off piste.

It isn’t even the democratisation of education and knowledge either, it is the Tim Berners-Lee rather than the Google approach to knowledge – i.e. give it away for free.

It  is ‘communismization’ – which is a word, however horrible it sounds, I just looked it up.

This moves me onto dwelling on Creative Commons.

If the idea of openness is to give it away for free what is the reward for the author? Recognition as the author. However, I get the feeling that unless it is published some readers think they can help themselves to the ideas and words of others and claim them as their own.

There will always be theft, but as children aren’t we told that for someone to copy your ideas is a compliment?

We need to behave like the children we still are.

But does even that matter in an open society – theft of intellectual property I mean?

If the spreading of the word is all important should any of us give a fig?

If we have a roof over our heads, food and water, electricity to charge the iPad, the BBC  … a health service like the NHS what more can we want?

  • Better schools.
  • Better roads.
  • Better weather.

‘Peace on earth and good will to humankind’.

A better word needs to be found for what is meant by ‘communismization’.

Is is just ‘communization’?

  • Is it simply ‘open’?!
  • ‘Open’ might do.
  • Free
  • Open

As the air we breathe …

P.S. I worked the season in Val d’Isere in my gap year and returned a decade later and stayed in La Plagne from December to May researching a book and a couple of documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films. None saw the light of day, though after several weeks thinking about it I came down that cliff face. I made a big mistake by slowing down at the edge and nearly didn’t have enough distance to clear the rocks. I no longer have a death wish. And it wasn’t even fun. It focused the mind though. In fact, the best way to stop yourself thinking about other stuff is to take such risks. Racing Fireballs in the English Channel has its appeal  – I  have a tendency to end up in the spinnaker or under the hull though.

Way was, way is, way will be – Webs 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

  • Top down Web 1.0.
  • Democratized Web 2.0
  • Semantic Web 3.0

Doodle on the back of a hand out from WebSciences @University of Southampton DTC

14 years and this is what I’ve got to show for it

 

 

 

The memory is the mind process happening in your brain, it can never be the artefact that plays back footage of an experience.


Fig. 1. Bill Gates featured in a 1985 copy of a regional computer magazine

In the introduction to ‘Total Recall’ Bill Gates wonders when he and Gordon Bell first met.

Was in 1983 or 1982. What was the context? Can they pinpoint the moment with certainty? I ask, does it matter? I ask, who cares? What matters is that they met. A moot point if either one of them claims that at this time one took an idea from the other … and they want to claim bragging rights for a new word or financial rights to a product.

The players in this game of life-blogging or developing the digitally automated photographic memory (total recall) are communicating, sharing ideas, creating or stating an identity, forming allegiances and developing ideas or hedging.

Our memory is  selective

Having some sense of what we put in and what we leave out, then having a way to manage what we retrieve how we use this and then add to the record.

As someone who kept a diary and put a portion of it online it surprises me and now worries me when a person I know says that x, or y found out something about them courtesy of this blog (posted 1999-2004).

 

Fig. 2. A grab from my Year 2001 Diaryland Blog. An evening out with the web hopefuls of Wired Sussex, Brighton.

I thought I’d locked the diary long ago – but of course various digital spiders have always been crawling the Internet snapping pages.

I think there are around 100 pages of some 1500 that I can never get back. It took me a few years to realise that I ought to change names and locations, but this became convoluted.


Fig. 3. Apple have started in an in-house business school, the Apple University, to teach people to be like Steve Jobs.

How might a digital record of a person have assisted with this? And what would be the warnings over diet and over behaviours?

The value of this content would be if I had a life worthy of a biography, but I am no Steve Jobs.

The value might still be for writing, though could have been even then a portfolio for specific subjects of study, such as geography, history, art, filming and writing. In these respects it still is.

Then it becomes an aid to the construction of ideas and the development of knowledge.

Personally, if I wanted to build on my knowledge of meteorology I would start with my Sixth Form classes with Mr Rhodes. I may have some of the newspaper cuttings I kept then of weather systems and may even being able to put some of these to photographs. I have a record of the 1987 Hurricane over Southern England for example.

I might tap into a Physics text book I first opened when I was 14 and recuperating at home from a broken leg.

There are those we know who have stored digitally the product of their illegal behaviour – paedophiles who are hoisted by their own petard when their digital record is recovered or identified. There may always be images that you may never want stored for later retrieval – a scene in a horror film that captures your attention before you flick channels, worse a real car accident … even making the mistake of clicking on footage of the hanging of Saddam Hussian. The image will be even less likely to be wiped from your memory if you have it stored somewhere.

Google, Facebook and other sites and services are not the only ones to capture a digital record of our behaviours – as I know if I write about and publish the activities of others.

Fig. 4. ‘Total capture’, as we ought to call it,  could be the digital equivalent of hoarding

Sensors on and in you will know not only about your body, but your environment: the location, temperature, humidity, sound levels, proximity to wireless devices, amount of light, and air quality. (Bell and Gemmel, 2009 p.217)

Just because we can, does not mean that we should. Bell has a record of such minutiae as when he blew his nose – he has too given the detail of what he captures. I know of someone with an obsessive disorder who keeps the paper tissues he uses to blow his nose.

For what purpose?

A data grab of Ridley Scott or some other director as they plan, develop and create a movie might be a fascinating and rich journey that would serve an apprentice well. A detailed recovery from an illness or accident too. There are problems for which a comprehensive digital capture could be a helpful, valid and possible response. How about wearable underpants that monitor your activity and heat up if you need to exercise – eHot Pants ?! Better still, a junior doctor who has to cram a great deal may extract parts of lessons. However, who or what will have structured these into bite–sized pieces for consumption? Is there a programme that could be written to understand what to grab then offer back? But who would pose the testing question? Or can AI do this? From a set of question types know how to compose one using natural language and create a workable e-tivity such as those produced by Qstream (were SpacedEd).


Fig.5. Watching students of the SCA at work I wonder how life-logging would assist or get in the way.

Reflection in working is a way to think through what they are learning – a grabbed record of kit on their person cannot construct this for them. Without a significant edit it would be cumbersome to review. In a digital format though it could be edited and offered back to aid review. Would the return of the bad or weak idea be disruptive or distracting? It could infect the unconscious. Would there not need to be a guide on how to use this log in the context given the outcomes desired? They can’t be up all night doing it.


Fig. 6 Age 17, for one month, I became a hoarder of a kind, of the pre-digital keep a record of everything kind.

A diarist already, starting a new school, back at home from boarding school and a new life opening up – so I kept bus and theatre tickets, sweet wrappers too. And when I sat down in the late evening to write the day I did so onto sheets of paper I could file. With no parameters I soon found myself writing for two hours. September 1978 is a book. Would a few lines a day, every day, in the tiny patch of a space in an off the shelf Five Year diary do? It would have to.

An exchange trip got the file treatment.

And a gap year job of five months was a photo-journal – one file. And then the diary resorted to one page of A4 in a hardback book. This self selection matters. It makes possible the creation of an artificial record or ‘memory’. The way content is gathered and stored is part of the context and the narrative, and by working within reasonable parameters it leaves the content, in 1980-1990 terms, manageable.

I have letters from parents, grandparents and boyhood ‘girlfriends’ from the age of 8 to 18 … and a few beyond.

Perhaps science and maths should have been the root to take? If there is value in reflection it is how I might support my children as they have to make subject choices, choices over universities and their careers beyond. Seeing this I am more likely show empathy to any young person’s plight.


Fig. 7. A boy’s letter home from Mowden Hall School. Presumably Sunday 14th July 1974 as we wrote letters home after morning Chapel. I can see it now, in Mr Sullivan’s Room, French. Mr Farrow possibly on duty. His nose and figures yellow from the piper he smoked … looks like I would have been younger. He never did turn up on Saturday … or any school fixture. Ever. See? The pain returns. 

I have letters I wrote too. I feel comfortable about the letters I wrote going online, but understandably shouldn’t ‘publish’ the long lost words of others. I might like to use the affordances of a blog or e-portfolio, but in doing so I would, like Gordon Bell, keep the lock tightly fixed on ‘Private’. Is it immoral to digitise private letters, even those written to you. How will or would people respond to you if they suspected you would scan or photograph everything, load it somewhere and by doing so risk exposing it to the world or having it hacked into.

People do things they regret when relationships fall apart – publishing online all the letters or emails or texts or photos they ever sent you?

Putting online anything and everything you have that you did together? Laws would very quickly put a dent in the act of trying to keep a digital record. In the changing rooms of a public swimming pool? In the urinals of a gents toilets? It isn’t hard to think of other examples of where it is inappropriate to record what is going on. I hit record when my wife was giving birth – when she found out she was upset. I’ve listened once and can understand why the trauma of that moment should be forgotten as the picture of our baby daughter 30 minutes later is the one to ‘peg’ to those days.

Selection will be the interface between events

What is grabbed, how is it tagged, recalled and used? Selection puts the protagonist in a life story back in control, rather than ‘tagging’ a person and automatically and comprehensively recording everything willy-nilly.

We don’t simply externalise an idea to store it, we externalise ideas so that they can be shared and potentially changed. Growing up we learn a variety of skills, such as writing, drawing or making charts not simply to create an analogue record, but as a life skill enabling communications with others. Modern digital skills come into this too.

Just because there is a digital record of much that I have done, does not mean I don’t forget.

If many others have or create such a digital record why should it prevent them from acting in the present? A person’s behaviour is a product of their past whether or not they have a record of it. And a record of your past may either influence you to do more of the same, or to do something different. It depends on who you are.

The memory is the mind process happening in your brain, it can never be the artefact that plays back footage of an experience.

REFERENCES

Bell, G., and Gemmel. J (2009)  Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything

Blackmore, Y (2012) Virtual Health Coach. (accessed 28 Jan 2013 http://mobihealthnews.com/16177/study-virtual-coach-improves-activity-levels-for-overweight-obese/

Isaacson, Walter (2011). Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography (Kindle Locations 3421-3422). Hachette Littlehampton. Kindle Edition.

Ituma, A (2011), ‘An Evaluation of Students’ Perceptions and Engagement with E-Learning Components in a Campus Based University’,Active Learning In Higher Education, 12, 1, pp. 57-68, ERIC, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 December 2012.

Kandel, E. (2006) The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.

Kennedy G., Dalgarno B., Bennett S., Gray K., Waycott J., Judd T., Bishop A., Maton K., Krause K. & Chang R. (2009) Educating the Net Generation – A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy. Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Available at: http://www.altc.edu.au/ system/files/resources/CG6-25_Melbourne_Kennedy_ Handbook_July09.pdf (last accessed 19 October 2009).

Mayer-Schönberger, V (2009) Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

Myhrvold, N Princeton Alumni (accessed 29 Jan 2013 http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/04/1122/ )

Schmandt-Besserat (1992) How Writing Came About.

Vernon, J.F. (2011) Life according to Anais Nin, Henry Miller and Samuel Pepys
(accessed 28 Jan 2013 http://mymindbursts.com/2011/08/13/1162/ )

W. Boyd Rayward Wells, H,G. World Brain.
http://people.lis.illinois.edu/~wrayward/HGWellsideaofWB_JASIS.pdf

Waybackmachine
http://archive.org/web/web.php

Wixted and Carpenter, (2006) “The Wickelgren Power Law and the Ebbinghaus Savings Function,” 133– 34.

 

 

When did you last stumble upon such words of encouragement?

Is

Fig.1. Words of encouragement

Isn’t this all that we need? Someone who believes?

(On the inside of a folder of  ‘creative writing’ from my teens – short stories, a novel, a TV screenplay, poems and lyrics. Lyrics that the author of these words put to music).

Don’t tell me I am not still that 19 year old.

This is the human condition.

Days before my mother died, with barely any faculties functioning I span her through grabs of famous artworks on an iPad – her last cogniscent words were ‘Louvre, Paris’ while all but my sister and I say a dead person waiting to die.

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