Blogs I Follow


Learning at the speed of desire


This is a simple expression of over six years of formal study and a couple of decades working in or around ‘technology enhanced learning’ of some kind, whether in ‘Corporate Training’ or in education.

This image sums up the best courses every time; its is obvious really: you build on experience and crank up the level of difficulty. To be achieved in ‘machine learning’, something that ‘gamification’ does deliver, is learning that is responsive to the individual learner. This is being offered piecemeal, for example, by being able to ‘restart’ a Coursera course every week, joining a new cohort where you left off each time – hardly conducive to creating any kind of collaborative learning though. It is also offered in fact-based, first year undergraduate courses where smart, well-researched and written ‘multiple-choice’ questions are part of the learning experience: the best not only guide the student to points in their course content where the answers they are seeking can be found, but the questions are shuffled each time you do them (better still would be to reword them). Some multiple choice ‘activities’ can be dire: full of double-negatives, too vague about the answer, or offering unfunny and stupid answers (the kind you have interrupting TV talent shows and morning breakfast TV).

One of the best at the multiple-choice question are QStream. Developed at Harvard Medical School and beginning life as ‘SpacedEd’ here heavy-weight courses, sent by email to your phone, helped medical students gain the knowledge they have to have.

I have many learning platform favourites: Rosetta Stone for languages, Youscian for guitar, Coursera for Photography, FutureLearn for Writing Fiction.

They’ll all get better. Lessons will be learnt and shared. I enjoyed the attending the Coursera Partners’ Conference last year where some 18 or more universities from around the world present, via ‘Posters’ papers they had researched and written on various aspects of ‘e-learning’. These shared insights will improve everything from use of multiple choice questions, and student forums, peer reviews and grading, to best-practice use of video.

More learning needs to be put through the kind of research labs they have at the Open University. I have been a tester here, and had a website tested. It helps enormously to study and observe, like an anthropologist, just how your site or learning experience is used. It reveals its strengths and weaknesses in a way that can be brutal and thrilling.



Ways to see learning

img_1900At a presentation in The Hague during the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conferemce  Gilly Salmon introduced this vision of learning. In any institution or faculty you can pick something that will indicate how far they have or have not taken it – recognising that  different subjects require a different approach. I’ve annotated and commented on this at length elsewhere. I know universities that are achieving Education 2.0 and corporate learning that is in the Education 3.0 space.




Are you drowning in coffee?

Fig.1. Drowning in coffee


  • Kings College Overdose
  • Caffeine DSM-5

What’s the best policy regarding students ‘switching’ to a later ‘presentation’ during a MOOC?

Completion rates for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) bug their creators because of the massive fall-out. Like the half-life of something in a pond at Sellafield the figures can half in a week, and half again in another couple of weeks and at the end of a 12 week course there are 50 people left out of the original 15,000.
The excuses and reasons for this drop-out are multivarious: many never planned to start the course – it is too easy to sign up to something that is free; an early poor experience puts people off: it is not for them, too hard, too boring, irrelevant or time consuming. They can have a technical melt down too: the learning platform is pants, or their kit and connection isn’t up to it. A course can over promise and under deliver; there is a terribly fine balance and on the side of the creators ignorance of their students who can and will be ‘anyone’ : digitally literate or not, English their first language or not, lect school young with no qualifications or a professor nosing in on something that is their expertise …

Reasons that people stick include: they’ve paid for it, it should enhance their job prospects or working life (it has practical worth), they ‘like’ the educator(s), they ‘like’ their fellow students and/or ‘enjoy’ the platform, its functionality and experience. The intrinsic rather than the extrinsic motivators work best.

A responsive ‘platform’ by which I mean the educational establishment or organisation (The OU, Coursera, FutureLearn, EDx) will identify and fix sticking points: a flood of people quit after the third multiplechoice assessment – you fix it; the 12th too-long to camera talking head of the same person and you jazz them up, get someonelse or look for alternative approaches; and you acknowledge that everyone studying ‘at a distance’ and ‘online’ probably never had the time to set aside to study your course in the first time so will need time to adjust – to make time. And life is fickle, they may have setbacks. Great therefore if on a 3, or 5 or even a 12 week course or module that they can ‘elect’ at any stage to ‘switch’ to the next ‘presentation’ – so they pick it up in a few weeks.

With switching I wonder if there could be a way to discourage multiple switching though. I fear that what can happen is that having switched once out of expediency, then a second time ‘because you can’ then the third time there is some kind of behavioural pattern established and the person will never complete the course. Were a student physically attending class an aware supervisor would cause the student to think twice on the second ‘default’ switching and may put ‘soft’ barriers in the way of the third – after all, the hidden agenda here is about ‘completion rates’: one indicator of a successful course is the percentage whi make it to the end.

By not having switching, rather like having students paying a fee, you force their hand – gently, and sometimes of necessity. You have to face up to the genuine challenges of learning: you face and overcome obstacles whether they occur in your real home or professional life or because you are struggling ‘in class’. Either you have, or develop resilience; you seek help and advice and get it.

The graphic (actually an ‘installation’) featured at the top of the page is by American Lawrence Weiner whose work I first saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona. His career has been spent trying to visualise something amorphous: how we communicate and share ideas. My take on this ‘Nine pieces in a brown bag’ might have been the odd title, relates to my view on the power of two people making a better job of problem so,bing or creation than a person on their own, or, it could represent the interface between an educational institution and students. It means what you want it to mean. I have often resorted to using basic shapes in primary colours in a sequence to represent concepts or ideas. In a learning context Gilly Salomn famously uses kids building blocks to explain her ‘five phases’ of ‘e-learning’ : learning design for course writers in effect.

When he was my age my grandpa was fighting in the Warsaw Uprising … and other stories.

Zoe and Z.A.P : Granddaughter and professor, veteran, leader, OBE, British citizen, Polish hero … 

From the introduction to the Polish documentary on Zbigniew Alexandri Pelcyznski. (see below for computer translation)

Bohaterem filmu jest prof. Zbigniew A. Pełczyński, w młodości żołnierz powstania warszawskiego, dziś filozof polityczny, emerytowany naukowiec i działacz społeczny lub – jak to sam określa – “przedsiębiorca społeczny”. Dwukrotnie ranny w walkach w stolicy w 1944 r., na krótko przed upadkiem powstania dostał się do niewoli i trafił do obozu jenieckiego koło Bremy. Siedem miesięcy później, pod koniec kwietnia 1945 r., obóz został wyzwolony przez Amerykanów. Młody Pełczyński wstąpił do brytyjskiej armii, by dalej walczyć. Pragnął też studiować. Miał szczęście: wraz z kilkoma innymi kolegami z AK trafił na uniwersytet St. Andrews w Szkocji. Specjalizował się w filozofii politycznej, w 1951 r. przyjął brytyjskie obywatelstwo i otrzymał etat naukowy na uniwersytecie w Oksfordzie. Dobrze czuł się w Wielkiej Brytanii, cenił i lubił tamtejsze obyczaje, kulturę, ludzi. Wrósł w swoją drugą ojczyznę. Jak powiada, “zrepolonizowała” go dopiero “Solidarność”. W początkach III Rzeczpospolitej był doradcą Sejmu i URM, ale nie odniósł na tym polu wielkich sukcesów. W 1994 r. zakończyła się więc jego kariera doradcy, lecz po kilku latach intensywnej działalności w Polsce nie chciał wracać do spokojnego życia emerytowanego wykładowcy i swego domu na angielskiej wsi. Zainicjował współpracę między uczelnią w Oksfordzie i Uniwersytetem Warszawskim, stworzył system stypendialny dla studentów z Polski. W 1994 r. założył też Szkołę Liderów, która w ciągu 10 lat funkcjonowania przekroczyła granice Polski: w jej zajęciach coraz liczniej uczestniczą bowiem także młodzi ludzie z Ukrainy czy Gruzji. Celem szkoły jest kształtowanie postaw i stanu świadomości charakterystycznych dla otwartego społeczeństwa obywatelskiego, przygotowywanie młodych kadr zdolnych rządzić krajem, lokalnymi społecznościami, dużymi firmami – ludzi otwartych, kreatywnych, elastycznych, umiejących korzystać z cudzych doświadczeń. Opowieść o prof. Zbigniewie Pełczyńskim nie jest typowym filmem biograficznym, choć wiele w niej szczegółów z życiorysu bohatera, wyjaśniających, jakie wydarzenia i czynniki kształtowały jego postawę życiową, wpływały na jego wybory, skłoniły go do podjęcia określonych działań. To raczej filmowy esej, w którym losy tytułowego “lidera” stanowią punkt wyjścia do refleksji zarówno historycznych nad postawami powstańczego pokolenia, jak i tych całkowicie współczesnych, dotyczących reformy oświaty, a zwłaszcza szkolnictwa wyższego, możliwości kształtowania liderów społecznych i intelektualnych. Licznym stypendystom z Polski uniwersytet oksfordzki stworzył warunki, jakich nie był w stanie zapewnić im rodzimy uniwersytet. Losy i działalność prof. Zbigniewa Pełczyńskiego poznajemy z jego relacji, a także z wypowiedzi ludzi, którzy go znają prywatnie lub współpracują z nim: prof. Leszka Kołakowskiego, prof. Jerzego Kłoczowskiego, Bolesława Taborskiego, Timothy’ego Gartona Asha, Elizabeth Frazer, Johna Adaira, prof. Jana Krzysztofa Bieleckiego. Z kolei polscy stypendyści Oksordu i zatrudnieni na tej prestiżowej uczelni młodzi naukowcy z Polski, dr Marcin Walecki, dr Grzegorz Plebanek, dr Wiktor Maciejewski, Piotr Drag, Agnieszka Grodzińska czy Witold Czartoryski mówią o pozytywnych stronach systemu stypendialnego stworzonego przez prof. Pełczyńskiego, i ogromnych możliwościach, jakie otworzyły się przed nimi wraz z przyjazdem do Oksfordu. Absolwenci Szkoły Liderów, tacy jak Adam Krzanowski z Krosna, swoją pracą na rzecz miasta i jego mieszkańców, dowodzą natomiast praktycznej przydatności takich kursów. [TVP]

Courtesy of Google Translate:

The protagonist is prof. Zbigniew A. Pełczyński, in his youth a soldier of the Warsaw Uprising, today, political philosopher, a retired scientist and social activist or – as he describes – “social entrepreneur.” Twice wounded in the fighting in the capital in 1944., Shortly before the fall of the uprising he was captured and was sent to a POW camp near Bremen. Seven months later, in late April 1945., The camp was liberated by the Americans. Young Pełczyński joined the British army to continue fighting. Also he wanted to study. He was lucky: along with several other colleagues from AK went to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He specialized in political philosophy in 1951. Adopted British citizenship, and received time researcher at the University of Oxford. Well felt in the UK, valued and liked rustic customs, culture and people. He has grown into his second motherland. As he says, “zrepolonizowała” it with “Solidarity”. At the beginning of the Third Republic was an advisor to the Sejm and the URM, but did not comment on this area of great success. In 1994. So he ended his career counselors, but after several years of intense activity in Poland does not want to return to the quiet life of a retired teacher and his home in the English countryside. Initiated the cooperation between the university at Oxford and the University of Warsaw, he created a system of scholarships for students from Polish. In 1994. He founded the School of Leaders, who during 10 years of operation exceeded the limits Polish: in her classes growing numbers participate because the young people of Ukraine or Georgia. The aim of the school is to shape attitudes and awareness characteristic of an open civil society, preparation of young talent able to govern the country, local communities, large companies – open-minded, creative, flexible, able to benefit from other people’s experiences. The story of a professor. Zbigniew Pełczyński is not a typical biopic, although many of the details from the biography of the hero, explaining what events and factors shaped his attitude in life, influenced his choices led him to take certain actions. It is rather a film essay, in which the fate of the title “leader” constitute a starting point for reflection on the attitudes of both the historical insurgent generation, as well as those completely contemporary, for the reform of education, especially higher education opportunities to shape social and intellectual leaders.

Numerous Polish fellows of Oxford University has created the conditions under which he was not able to provide them with native university. Fate and activity prof. Zbigniew Pełczyński know of his relationship, as well as the statements of people who know him privately or cooperate with it: prof. Leszek Kolakowski, prof. George Kłoczowski, Boleslaw Taborski, Timothy Garton Ash, Elizabeth Fraser, John Adair, prof. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki. On the other hand, Polish scholars Oksordu and employed in this prestigious university, young scientists from Polish, among others Dr. Marcin Walecki, Dr. Gregory Plebanek, Dr. Victor Maciejewski, Piotr Drag, Agnieszka Grodzińska whether Witold Czartoryski talk about the positive sides of the scholarship system developed by prof. Pełczyńskiego, and huge possibilities opened up before them, with the arrival to Oxford. Graduates of the School of Leaders, such as Adam Krzanowski from Krosno, his work for the city and its inhabitants, demonstrate while the practical usefulness of such courses. [TVP]

I have just fallen in love with Héloïse Letissier.


Chance had me discussing dreams today and I remembered that last night I had fallen in love. I had to explain it a bit further: I was on a studio set, as a writer or director or producer, or creative instigator of some kind. There were some 30 people, half performers half crew. During the course of the day or evening I fell in love with this girl. I’m 30 again. It was a delicious feeling. I could have drawn her face.

Chance had me trying out Amazon Music and my ‘Modern Folk’ choices had me listening to ‘Christine and the Queens’ who I immediately recognised.

Which is when I realised that I had seen her performing on Jools Hooland’s New Year’s Eve Hootennany and my mind had simply grabbed her from there and superimposed her as ‘the love interest’ in a sweet-dream romance.

Christine and the Queens


The Héloïse Letissier interview


Performing on the Graham Norton Show


Last night I fell in love with Héloïse Letissier aka ‘Christine and the Queens’

The dream was vivid and memorable in the sweetest of ways as I was in my early thirties and falling in love; we both were.

I thought nothing of the dream until this afternoon walking on the South Downs a friend mention a dream he’d had about flying and I shared my ideas on how to understand the meaning of dreams through a set of probing questions. I mentioned that I’d just fallen in love in a dream, that I was on film set of some kind: 15 performers, same number of crew. And I’d fallen in love with one of the team. I even said that I could draw her if asked.

Later today I’m playing around with Amazon music and amongst a set of modern folk singers I recognise a face from New Year’s Eve when we’d watched the last half hour or Jools Hooland. A few clicks and I’m watching ‘Christine and the Queens‘ and instantly recognise the face; so that is what my mind had done. The face had had to come from somewhere.

I love ‘Titled’. I’ve just been listening to ‘Jonathan‘.

A couple of hours ago, before any of this I jotted down a note to myself about a story I will struggle with all my life. I wrote: ‘he can only communicate through drawing’ while she can only communicate through dance’. In honesty I doubt there’s more than a music video in it, and a potentially corny one at that. But it intrigues to give characters I have developed and written about for over a decade such specific parameters. I had the protagonist of ‘Form Photo’ Robbie become an artist 18 months ago when I was working on this piece through ‘Start Writing Fiction’ with the Open University. Suzi’s world was overly complex but I had her leaving unexpectedly, even faking her death, to go and find herself in France. The story lasts a lifetime with Robbie, a kind of Damien Hirst cum David Hockney cum Paul Nash cum Lucien Freud eventually exhibiting massive pieces in the hall of his castle.

Inspiration has to come from somewhere.

Life Drawing

May – December 2016

For my record, as a learning exercise and experience and for comparative purposes over the next 6 months.

I am playing with materials, and tools, remembering old lessons and picking up new techniques and approaches.

My goal is to create at least life-size life-drawings, using blocks of charcoal.

The next step is to work on sheets of A1 and to study anatomy more closely.

All works created at sessions with Sussex Arts Club or at Charleston. Sessions typically 2 hours with drawing periods ranging from 5 x 1 minutes to 45 minute sessions. In 2017 I will also be trying the longer pose held over self weeks.

Simple lessons learnt:

  • Less is more
  • Size matters : hands are the size of the face
  • Shade not lines
  • Essence, mood and feeling
  • Pair up up the right tool and paper
  • Study the artists I admire.

Life Drawing

katecollage1Over the last six months I have attended some 16 life drawing sessions. I am noticing an improvement. I hear my later mother at my shoulder all the time. I heed her advice.

Last week I worked on hands and feet; this week I put the body back. I even dared to try to add a face rather than ignore it.

Over 2 hours we did 5 x 3 minutes, 3 x 5 minutes, 2 x 15 minutes and a break. Then 1 x 20, 1 x x 10 …

I keep everything. Mum’s rules.

I never throw anything out and when I start a drawing on a sheet of paper I keep going, just drawing over changes. I rarely use a rubber, unless to erase black to leave white …. so it is like using a crude white pencil.

There is little time to measure the way I was taught doing a 3 hour single portrait; so I muddle between a quick outline and then correcting it, or, as today, placing the key positions of everything that trying to get the lines right first time.



Laura Marling ‘Soothing’

A mesmerising song and an alluring, weird video.

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