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23 ways to an e-learning fix

Fig.1 Grab from a BBC Horizon programme on the brain. 2014.

The courses I’ve done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton

Those I’m on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre

WW1 Aviation Comes of Age. A MOOC about British aviation 1911-1951

World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham [Three Weeks]

Both more, and less than advertised. Far from sticking to the First World War the course flew away on a gust of enthusiasm in various directions that stretched beyond the Second World War … without really taking off.

From Jack Wilson MM

Fig.1 My late grandfather – the period I thought we’d cover was his experience of flight. 1911-1919

100% Coming out of the MA in British Military History with a Postgraduate Certificate and 60 credits after one year shows that I am still passionate about the subject of the First World War, but not how it is taught in a traditional ‘Saturday School’ format: I felt that I was back in the ‘C’ set of my lower-sixth History A’ level. The course tried hard to understand the affordances of learning online in a MOOC and will surely make many changes before it is presented again in the New Year. It rather failed to understand who its audience were: more niche, specialists and some extraordinarily well informed. The WW1 tag drifted rapidly into events between the wars, into WW2 and beyond with very little of the development of aviation offered or explored, except by us students, often in great depth. Its saving grace. It was too much an effort at shoehorning a lacklustre campus-based course of lectures, talks and books with long lists of qualifying but unreadable lists of references attached. The quizzes in particular were awful. Put in with no understand of their purpose or the considerable level expertise required to get these right.

Are you interested in gaining an insight into the early days of air combat?

Fig.1. World War One: Aviation Comes of Age

This free, open, interactive and connected online course is about to start. It runs for only three weeks and will take a couple of hours a week to do, a little longer to take part in, and as long as you like to indulge.

From First World War

Fig. 2. Gustav Hammel – an early aeronaut who my grandfather saw fly in age 13

I’m doing it to refresh my knowledge from my late grandfather who say the very earliest aviators as a boy and then after 18 months as a machine gunner on the Western Front successfully transferred to the Royal Flying Corps to train as a pilot.

The course is led by a retired former senior RAF officer, Dr Peter Gray with whom I’ve already had a lecture courtesy of the MA in Military History, also with the University of Birmingham. His lecture was on how to read and review a book, and on how to write a competent essay. I’ve been respectively three, then one then ? marks shy of a distinction with my essays so he got me pointed in the right direction.

These courses are known as MOOCs for ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ because courtesy of the Internet they are global and can attract thousands of participants and ‘open’ because they are free to do and talk about … the other two are obvious. An off-putting acronym for a set of rich, multi-media webpages designed for learning? Lord Reith of the BBC, one of the founding fathers of the BBC, would have approved as these MOOCs from FutureLearn entertain, inform and educate.

Anyway, the course is about to start. It is open to anyone, and it is free. So see you there?

Shooting the Front. Terry Finnegan on the role of observers over the Western Front during ‘War One’ (sic)

Fig. 1.  Shooting the Front.

Terry Finnegan gave a presentation based on his book ‘Shooting the Front’ to an audience, largely of Friends of the Imperial War Museum at the IWM on Wednesday 20th June.

He wondered how the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Flying Corps could have been missed, yet we got behind the 100th of Titantic.

Fig. 2. The author taking us through the standard set of cameras used.

The presentation was revealing on a number of counts.

I’d never heard it called ‘War One’ yet this is clearly how American’s refer to the First World War.

I wasn’t aware that the techniques used to record the flash and roar of enemy artillery fire used the earliest form of computing to ‘spot’ the gun and retaliate.

I’ve heard before how war ‘progresses’ technology. Terry put it like this, ‘it takes a military event to put you in the  21st century’.

He described trench warfar as  he ‘positional’ war or stationary war.

Every inch of the Western Front was scrutinised every day we are told (not enough to prevent the folly of attempting an attack though(, but rather to plot a way through for tanks and troops.

The role or observers in planes was:

  • air space management
  • division to corps
  • protecting the air above you about 20 miles forward

The Germans had better lenses, the Zeiss.

With the automation of photography the Observer became a fighter defending the plane.

Fig 3. An RAF Observer 1918

Because of the nature of the single-winged emblem on their tunics Observers became known as ‘Flying Arse-Holes’. The response was to retitle them ‘Navigators’.

Apologies to this individual whose name I don’t have. My grandfather, a flight cadet at the time, provided a length memoir which I am yet to transcribe from the interviews I conducted in his 97th year.

Nicholas Watkis, author ‘The Western Front from the Air’.

Suggested that for much of the time the front was dry and dusty and not a great deal happened.

What’s your brain worth? £10,000 or £100,000 a year?

I came across this on the rear page of ‘World War’ a partwork published in 1936/1937.

I was struck by its clarity.

This is an age where the ‘working man’ left school age 14. My grandfather started work the day of his birthday having got through ‘Standard 7’ the term before. He had the mind, he survived the First World War as a machine gunner, transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and qualified as a Fighter Pilot and went on to be a Regional Manager for the North Eastern & then Scottish & Newcastle Breweries.

But he always deeply regretted not having a more enduring education. At least he saw his daughter through Durham University with an M.A.

Is this what the Open University offers? To man and woman alike? This chance to ‘engage the brain’?

Fighter Pilot Training, RAF, Crail 1918

Taken by the trainee pilot, John A Wilson MM, autumn 1918


Crashed and killed in training: RAF Crail, 1919

Bristol Figher down Sept 1919, a fatal crash, RAF Crail

From First World War

Fig.1 Photograph taken by Flight Cadet John A Wilson MM with his note on the reverse

My grandfather Jack Wilson was having breakfast at the time with this observer with whom he shared a room. 1 in 790 instructor flights led to fatalities in training. A few weeks earlier my grandfather had gone out and the engine failed out at sea. His account if his flight back is thrilling, into shore, onto the headland, narrowly missing a brick wall and landing nose down in a potato field. He lived, some didn’t. Munday and Green were buried in the tiny parish church at Crail.

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