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.
|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|
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.
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.
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.’
Fig. 1 Retreats for You, Sheepwash, Devon
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
- Web Inventor Tim Berners Lee Shares £1m Prize (news.sky.com)
- Fostering Creativity – The Use of Open Educational Resources (classroom-aid.com)
- Tim Berners-Lee: The Web needs to stay open, and Gopher’s still not cool. (boingboing.net)
- Tim Berners-Lee: ‘You can do anything with a computer that you can imagine’ (venturebeat.com)
- Inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee says web neutrality crucial (radionz.co.nz)
- What I wish Tim Berners-Lee understood about DRM (guardian.co.uk)
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.