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40 years ago

40 years ago, on the 11th and 12th of December 1980, I attended interviews at Balliol College, Oxford to study modern history. I took some photos. They’re in a scrapbook. I’d been keeping a diary for several years; this is what I recall.

My mother drove me down from Newcastle to Chipping Camden to stay with her long term boyfriend; my parents had separated and then divorced ten years earlier. According to my diary my maternal grandparents were with us too. The cottage in the Cotswalds was tiny.

The next day my Mum drove me into Oxford along the A34 and dropped me at the entrance to Balliol. I had a rucksack, an acoustic guiitar and a pair of skis. I felt like a traveller who had got lost.

I must have gone to the porter’s lodge, must have been given a key to a room. I can’t recall where it was – staircase 11 to 15, one they set aside for the conference season.

I had two interiews and may also have met my ‘pastoral tutor’. The first interview was on the subject I was hoping to study. We discussed Henry VII and then the Reformation. We’d not talked much at the RGS during class – it had been more a case of take notes, write the essay, learn stuff and make sure its in your head by the time of the written exam.

I had plenty of time between interviews; I do not recall coming across any other students at all.

I wandered over to the Sheldonian and Bodliean and took photographs with my Minolta. I must have eaten in hall. The next morning I want to the Ashmolean Museum opposite. Then I had a second interview. Once again there were two tutors. This was a general interview. I spoke about acting at schools and the People’s Theatre: the Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Dracula Spectacula! 

I took myself down to the Station for the train into London. I made my way out to Brentford Docks where my father had his London flat then. This may have been my third time ever to London and the first time travelling alone. I stayed with Dad. Did we eat out in town? Did he introduce me to his girlfriend of that moment? His view of my song writing efforts were that there were ‘too many words’. I take it he didn’t like my singing, my voice, my playing … that’s Dad for you.

The next afternoon I took the train from Victoria to Folkestone and got the ferry across to Calais. I made friends with a girl my age and a young couple. The crossing was rough and this girl, Paula and I loved every moment of it, even when a vending machine broke loose and slid across the deck. I had her name, but no number. We were just young people pasing through.

Across Paris with my clobber by bus; skis and guitar. And the night train from Gar du Nord. Onwards to Bourg St Maurice, to Val d’Isere, the Hotel Sofitel and a job immersed amongst French ‘seasoniere’ where, in a Marks &  Spencer grey suit I was the ‘day porter, English speaking, snow shovelling, breakfast delivering errand boy’. 

University life at Balliol eventually began in October 1981. I was back last year. And ten years before that. I married the daughter of a former fellow of Balliol College – they had (and still have) a house in the Cotswolds. The A34 has been my attachment to my wife’s family for 30 years. It still feels as if more was done in three years at Oxford than in the thirty years since – there was no need to stop if you were in a hurry. Sleep felt like an indulgence.

Your perspective changes of course. And when you see someone you have not seen for ages and you look into their eyes you see they are unchanged despite the beard, the hair loss, their daughter on their arm …

A close friend from those days died a month ago. Life’s so short – embrace it.

Oxford Television News: a 1983 video-based undergraduate TV news programme

Oxford Television News: May 1918 On YouTube

From OU80s

Fig.1. Julia Brooks, one of the presenters on this edition of OTN

Oxford Television News (OTN) presented by Julia Brooks and Su Wolowacz.

Fig. 2. Su Wolowacz presenting the Trinity Term (1983) edition of Oxford Television News

Items include voting in the Council Elections, warnings about a rapist in an alley behind St.Peter’s, OUSA education system and the abolition of the admissions exam (ratio of private to state sector was worse than 70% 30%), May Day Celebrations, the importance the CV from Mr Snow then head of OUCAS, a Student Union Committee meeting, reported Stephen Howard reviewing Andrew Sullivan’s term (Trinity) as the Oxford Union President, Balliol College Music Society 1500th Concert (interviewed those who attended). Then set to music clips fro the Oxford & Cambridge Ski trip to Wengen. Clips from Abigail’s Party, directed by Anthony Geffen. The Roaring Boys. Matthew Faulk and Alex Ogilvie acting out a scene from ‘The Labours of Hercules Sproat’ and finally Jonathan Vernon doing a mime.

Fig.From OU80s

Fig.3. Students interviewed on the local elections.

From OU80s

Fig. 4. Mr Snow of Oxford University Careers Service giving advice

From OU80s

Fig. 5 Stephen Hellwen reviews the Oxford Union Debating Society under the presidency of Andrew Sullivan

From OU80s

Fig. 6 Richard Davey, First Year History Student at Balliol College and other Balliol undergraduates interviewed about the 1500th Balliol Musical Society Concert that included a performance by Yehudi Menuhin.

Production Credits

Presenters:

Julia Brooks

Su Wolowacz

Stephen Hellwen

Advertising

George Monbiot

Belinda Brown

Matthew Grayson

Production

Pete Collins

Ian Conway

Alan Jay

Editor

Jonathan Vernon

Director

Mike Upton

An OTN Production

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.

One learning event to skip next year

I attended World of learning at the NEC yesterday.

I’ll blog thoughts and notes from various seminars in due course.

Line Stream delivered – concise,  insightful, based on case studies and best practice.

All the pics I grabbed are in Picasa -ask. I’ll construct a narrative around them.

Usually I attend these events two days running – getting the lay of the land on day one, then going in with questions on day two. Not so here. The footfall was low. The set up was more car boot sale. I came away depressed rather than impressed. There were at least 20 companies offering the same thing.

The exceptions were:

  • Video based – Video Arts
  • Experiental
  • Books – yes! In print form (though not all hardback)
  • In bed with the client (so close they are in-house)

For the rest of it I felt as if I was attending a convention of quick-print printers in the early 1990s.  Everyone had a variation on Prontaprint or Kall-Kwik with little to differentiate or surprise.

Meanwhile in relation to the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) module H810 – Accessibility for students with a disability – this sums it up (courtesy of a World of Learning presentation) for all students in relation to e-learning.

A few decades ago all male colleges had to accommodate female students – I wonder where the ramps and accessible lavatories are today in a place like Balliol College which has been on the same site for 749 years.

One size doesn’t fit all applies to accessibility, as it always has done between students of all abilities.

How we, as people, and with what tools, resources and commitment is what matters today.

The kitchen table is buried in handouts. Both my camera and iPad are packed with images.

World Education Market in Vancouver, 2001 was the one to attend.

Learning Technologies at Olympia, 2011 was pretty good – without any of the evening networking.

I have to wonder why bother?

Nearly 400 miles, a £10 charge to park and an event that was about as exciting as going around a Boots store on a Monday morning.

One Size does not fit all

I attended World of Learning at the NEC yesterday. I’ll blog thoughts and notes from various seminars in due course.

In relation to the MAODE module H810 this sums it up for all students in relation to e-learning.

A few decades ago all male colleges had to accommodate female students – I wonder where the ramps and accessible lavatories are today in a place like Balliol College which has been on the same site for 749 years.

One size doesn’t fit all applies to accessibility, as it always has done between students of all abilities.

How we, as people, and with what tools, resources and commitment is what matters today.

Oxford University taped 1982-1984: Forty hours of video of undergraduate life and activities

From early 1982 to graduation in June 1984 I used a Sony Betamax kit to video undergraduate life at Oxford University.

The 18 tapes and some 40 hours of content I am digitizing includes:

  • The Oxford Union Debating Society (featuring Hilali Noordeen) The day I was in the Union Chamber I was sitting next to Susanna White and Steve Garvey who were shooting a documentary about ‘Women in Oxford’.
  • The Oxford Theatre Group at the Edinburgh Fringe (Featuring all the plays: 13 Clocks, The Hunger Artist, Edward II, Titus Alone directed by Patrick Harbinson, produced by Nicky King and the Oxford Review)
  • I shot this over three weeks while helping out behind the scenes at St. Mary’s Street Hall (the OTG venue) and kipping in a Free Mason’s Lodge by the Castle. Nicky King and Matthew Faulk edited in my Balliol Room (now the Oxford Internet Institute) cum edit suite the following term.
  • The Oxford Student Union elections.
  • The Lightweights Boat Crew in training with David Foster et al (11th March 1983)
  • Torpids (various)
  • Romeo & Juliet (in which I played Mercutio and lost my pants during the fight scene)
  • The Taming of the Shrew: an OUDS production  (in which I played Baptista) And the rehearsals.
  • Abigail’s Party (directed by Anthony Geffen)
  • Various other plays and boat crews
  • The May Day Celebrations 1982
  • Training for the Oxford Students Union president
  • Oxford Television News (Various episodes of OTN in which Hugo Dixon does a Jeremy Paxman and we are introduced to the Chicken Pal Society at the Gate of India + TCG, PWG and CJP) (9th May 1983)
  • OTN. Visit of Prince Charles (18th May 1983) + ‘Exter guy in glasses’ or is this in fact a Jesus guy doing a ‘party political broadcast’.
  • Oxford University Boxing
  • A workshop on how to shoot video (10th February 1983)
  • A corporate promotional film for the language school ‘Speakeasy’
  • Windsurfing
  • The Oxford & Cambridge Varsity Ski Trip to Wengen
  • perhaps a play produced by Tessa Ross directed by Clive Brill
  • perhaps Andrew Sullivan directed by Alex Ogilvie in ‘Another Country’
  • and perhaps the Women’s Eight.

and various other antics around Balliol College and the university that will reveal themselves in the course of being downloaded, graded and digitized.

I believe my aim should be to use this as the foundation for a documentary.

I need to raise £2000 to digitize/archive this content and am therefore looking for backers.

P.S. It is six weeks since I was behind a camera. I may be about to shoot some swimmers for a swimming e-learning app but if you have anything immediate let me know.

How I see myself as an educator

I’m in this group. The cartoon/illustration was drawn in 1987. It was the idea a friend and I came up with to promoted the School of Communication Arts. It wasn’t used. Shame. Too generic perhaps?

The sentiment still holds true. Instead of being sprinkled upon (back row, three in from the right) I now, in several ways wield the watering-can.

Serendipity took me to Space Ed when I had just started H807 ‘Innovations in E-learning.’

English: The front of Balliol College as viewe...

English: The front of Balliol College as viewed from Broad Street, looking west. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Price Kerfoot is an alumni of Balliol College and he was featured in the College Magazine.

This Balliol and Harvard trained doctor had considered ways to improve the way in which medical students learn. A great deal must be learnt rote, you have to know your anatomy (to start with). This means dissecting a cadaver, making the information stick, then testing yourself relentlessly so that exams can be passed.

Here is a professional educator using e-technology to solve a problem.

As an innovation in e-learning nothing compares. It may not use second life or 3D animation, but is addresses a learning problem and offers an effective solution – good-bye factoids on Rolodex cards, hello 21st century email and text alerts probing you to answer multi-choice questions correctly. If you get it wrong, you receive the right answer and an explanation. This question will be resent in due course and sent repeatedly until it is self-evident that you now know the correct answer.

I’m signed up for Core Anatomy.

I haven’t a clue but using Google and go into research mode. It is staggering the wealth of visual materials to support learning, beautifully rendered images of the human body, podcasts from doctors, definitions of the terminology with audio so you learn how to pronounce these things. I still get the first couple of questions wrong, but never mind. I understand what the right answer is, I am building a corpus of knowledge that will in time enable me to answer 100 questions rather than only 25.

Give it a go.

Better still, build your own Space Ed programme. The platform is free to use and you are free to offer the results of your endeavour for free … or for a fee.

REFERENCE

TESTING NEW INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS

Interactive Spaced-Education to Teach the Physical Examination:

A Randomized Controlled Trial

B. Price Kerfoot, MD EdM1,2,3, Elizabeth G. Armstrong, PhD2,3, and Patricia N. O’Sullivan, MD3,4

Oxbridge History Exam 1980

The journey I set out on to get to Oxford or Cambridge took two years.

Not getting along with Economics I switched to History after a term in the Lower Sixth. (Not getting on with Sedbergh School, Cumbria, I left smile !)

My essays, though long (always, my habit, then, as now – why say something in six words when eighteen will do?) Tell Proust to write in sentences of less than six words, in paragraphs that don’t flow from one page to the next (ditto Henry Miller).

Where was I?

See how a stream of consciousness turns into a cascade?

I digress.

My essays (I still have them. Sad. Very sad). Were on the whole terrible. A ‘C’ grade is typical, a ‘D’ not unknown. So what happened to get me to straight As, an Oxbridge exam and a place to study Modern History at Balliol College, Oxford?

Composting

I was bedding down. Putting things in a stack. And working my pile. Perhaps my history tutors detailed notes and bullet points fed on my poor essays? Perhaps the seeds that took root were carefully tendered?

Repeated testing (my self) and learning how to retain then regurgitate great long lists of pertinent facts helped.

Having an essay style I could visualise courtesy of my Geography Teacher helped. (Think of a flower with six or so petals. Each petal is a theme. The stamen is the essay title, the step the introduction and conclusion).

Writing essays over and over again helped. Eventually I got the idea.

Try doing this for an Assignment. You can’t. Yet this process, that took 24+ months to complete can be achieved over a few weeks. Perhaps a blank sheet of paper and exam conditions would be one way of treating it, instead I’ve coming to think of these as an ‘open book’ assessment. There is a deadline, and a time limit, though you’re going to get far longer than the 45 minutes per essay (or was it 23 minutes) while sitting an exam.

Personally, I have to get my head to the stage where I’ve done the e, d, c, and b grade stuff. When I’ve had a chance to sieve and grade and filter and shake … until, perhaps, I reach the stage where if called to do so I could sit this as an exam – or at least take it as a viva.

Not a convert to online learning as an exclusive platform though.

Passion for your tutor, your fellow students … as well as the subject, is better catered for in the flesh.

The way ahead is for ‘traditional’ universities to buy big time into blended learning, double their intake and have a single year group rotating in and out during a SIX term year (three on campus, three on holiday or working online.)

P.S. Did I mention teachers?

Have a very good teacher, it helps. The Royal Grammar School, Newcastle where I transferred to take A’ Levels delivers.

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