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Learning how to learn online with FutureLearn and The OU

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 My progress on The OU MOOC on FutureLearn ‘Start Writing Fiction’ (c) FutureLearn 2014

More than any module or exercise I have done over my four years with The OU, it is a MOOC in FutureLearn that is giving me the most thorough experience of where the future or learning lies. I’m in week seven of eight weeks of ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from The OU, on the FutureLearn platform. Just in these few weeks I’ve seen the site change to solve problems or to enhance the experience. Subtle lifts and adjustments that make a positive out of constant adjustment. Those tabs along the top: activity, replies where under a tab. I think ‘to do’ is new while ‘progress’ was elsewhere. This is a responsive platform that listens to its students.

In the final week we submit our third piece of work.

As assessments go these are far less nerve racking than a TMA. The first piece was 300, the second 500 and the last will be 1000. These are assessed by fellow students. In my case I had one, then two reviews. Most people seem to get at least two sometimes three. The system is designed, I’m sure, to try and ensure that everyone’s work is reviewed at least once. Tens of thousands, certainly thousands of people are on the course.

We’re here to the 19th of December or so … if you follow the tracks as laid.  

I hazard a guess that between 20-100 have posted there final piece already. Some, I know, got to the end of the entire course a few weeks ago; I looked ahead to see out of curiosity. There have always been 20 who post comments one, two even three weeks ahead. If 20 are posting I hazard a guess knowing my stats on these things that another couple of hundred could be clicking through the pages to read and observe. They may, like me, be coming back later. They may only be following the course, but not participating. Often, it is like standing on a stage looking into the gloom of the auditorium. Someone probably out there. One or two let you know. The rest don’t.

I hope those that race ahead come back …

I find that if I get ahead then I slow down and retrace my steps. To learn in this connected and collaborative way you are far better off in the pack … it is not a race to get to the end first. In fact, those who do this have already lost. They’ve missed the point. I’d suggest to people that if they have the time to do the week over. That’s been my approach anyway – the beauty of these things is everyone can come and go as they please, at a pace that suits them. Skip a bit. Go back. Follow it week by week, day by day … or not. Whatever works works?

There’s another very good reason to stay with the ‘pack’ or to come back and do a week over – the platform depends not on tutors and moderators commenting and assessing work, but us students doing a kind of amateur, though smart, peer review. This is what make a MOOC particularly vibrant, memorable and effective. Not listening to an educator telling us what’s what, but the contributors sharing, figuring it out, answering each other’s problems in multiple ways. We all learn in different ways and at a pace that shifts too. I find that often a point I don’t get first time round, on the second, or third, or even the fourth visit to an activity someone, somewhere puts it in a way that suddenly brings complete clarity – their way of seeing a thing, or expressing it, makes more sense than the writes of the course could manage. Because they can only write one version, not the ‘tartan’ that comes from an intelligent, threaded online conversation.

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A shivver of vibrancy in a project to use QR codes as another way to egage people in remembering the combatants of the First World War

This morning I got a lengthy email from someone whose grandfather is featured in a 1918 photograph of RAF cadets I put up on Flickr, I also got a lengthy email from someone sharing a review on a book on the First World War on Amazon. Today, Dan Snow helped launch an initiative through the Imperial War Museum that aims to repeat what the IWM started to do in 1919 – campaign for people to share photographs, artefacts and stories of people who served, suffered, thrived or survived the First World War – this is at the ‘Who do you think you are’ exhibition at Olympia – I will try to get over on Saturday. And finally, a fascinating conversation with my brother in law on why a gallery curator is inviting people to feedback and respond to works of art through social media – and the curator’s philosophy of ‘openness’ and a desire to move away from the grand voice of the patron in favour of mutliple voices and interpretations. He particularly likes to describe the value of ‘dirt’ to challenge perceptions and permit the points of view of anyone, and called this dirt ‘soil’ that would nurture fresh and vibrant ideas – he’s Italian, speaks with an accent and chooses his words carefully (he is a tutor in fine art and art history). We got into discussions on learning and why as a student he’d have to queue up early in Bologna in order to hear Umberto Eco. This enthusiastic, reflective discussion continued as he prepares supper and I help – eager to pick up some cullinary tips too.

The Weather Machine and the Threat of Ice – when in the 1970s a new ice age threatened!

Nigel Calder presented a ‘popular’ BBC series in the early 1970s which warned not of climate change … but of the threat of another ice age. The TV series was way over my head but took my interest in physical geography to another level – I did a school project on glaciation in the Eden Valley, Westmoreland (as then was) and studied the subject at university.Weather still fascinates. I would hope that a series like ‘The Frozen Planet’ informs and motivates another generation of geographers. Can we all pinpoint a person, book, TV series, event of movie that galvinized and sustained our interest? What are the ‘events’ that stimulate students in the 21st century? Avatar? Breaking Bad? How do ‘traditional’ methods of teaching compete? Should they? Ought the partnership between school and home, between students and parents, students and their immediate community be better developed? Ironic that we can be connected to someone across the globe, but not know a neighbour. Our connections some would argue are no greater – there’s a limited capacity on how many ‘friends’ we can have – they are just likely to spread further afield.

Openness comes with some caveats

Fig.1 At the Brighton Festival – that’s Verity of ‘Verity & Violet’ – or is she ‘Violet’ ?  And what do they all have in common? I changed their nappies.

I’m getting a sense of deja vu as the rhythm of this module reveals itself. Openness comes with some caveats. It is not everyone’s cup of tea.

As people we may change or behaviour in different environments. I am not saying that we as individuals necessarily behave in the same way in an Open Studio online (a virtual studio no less) than we do or would in an open studio, as in a collective in a workshop or ‘atlier’ that is ‘exposed’ to fellow artists –  but is nonetheless human interaction with all the usual undercurrents.

What I believe will not work is to put a gaggle of creators in the same room and expect them to collaborate.

The studios of the ‘open’ type that I am aware of are either the classic Rennaisance workshop with a master artist and apprentices at various stages of their own development, or,  with a similar dynamic in operation, the ‘occupants’ of the studio are exposed LESS to each other and more to external commentators and contributors and this requires some formality to it .i.e. not simply ‘the person off the street’ but an educator/moderator in their own right.

Is H818:The Networked Practitioner too dependent on chance?

The foibles of a small cohort and the complex, messy, moments ‘we’ are in. Three years of this and, by chance only, surely, six of  us in a subgroup jelled. More often the silence and inactivity of the majority makes ‘group work’ a myth – partnerships of two or three were more likely. The only exception I have come across in the ‘real world’ have been actors working together on an improvisation – they have been trained however to disassociate their natural behaviours.

Some of us study with the OU as we cringe at the ‘exposure’ of a course that requires us to meet in the flesh – distance learning suits, to some degree, the lone worker who prefers isolation.

By way of revealing contrast I am a tutor at the School of Communication Arts – a modest though pivitol role given their format and philosophy – exposure to many hundreds of kindred spirits who have been there …  a sounding board and catalyst. NOT a contributor, but more an enabler.

We’ll see.

My thinking is that to be effective, collaboration or exposure needs to have structure and formality in order to work.

At the Brighton Arts Festival the other evening I wonder how the 80 odd exhibitors would cope if the Corn Exchange was also their workshop? In certain, vulnerable environments, the only comment should be praise. Feedback is invited from those who are trusted.

A school setting is different again, as is college … people share the same space because they have to.

Open Studio apears to try to coral the feedback that comes anyway from a connected, popular and massive sites such as WordPress, Linkedin Groups, Facebook and even Amazon. Though the exposure, if you permit it, is tempered and negotiated – Facebook is gentle amongst family and friends, Linkedin is meterd and professional in a corporate way, WordPress is homespun while Amazon, probably due to the smell of money can be catty – and in any case, the artefact is a doneddeal, it’s not as if, to take a current example, Max Hastings is going to rewrite his book on the First World War because some in the academic community say that it is weak historicaly and strong on journalistic anecdote.

On verra

Does exposure in the sense of ‘open’ learning work?

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Fig. 1. what collaboration online looks like? Activity theory meets neuroscience. This could be many heads knocking together, or the internal workings inside one.

I’m getting a sense of deja vu as the rhythm of H818 reveals itself. I’m doing the Open University module H818:The Networked Practitioner. It runs until Jan 2014.

Openness comes with caveats. It is not everyone’s cup of tea.

As people we adjust our behaviour in different environments. I am not saying that we necessarily behave in the same way in an Open Studio online (a virtual studio no less) than we do or would in an open studio, as in a collective in a workshop or ‘atlier’ that is ‘exposed’ to fellow artists in the physical world, but wherever we are ‘open’, in the physical or virtual worlds, we are nonetheless prone to human interaction with all the usual undercurrents.

For all those busy exposing themselves, the easiest default position, someone – ‘one’ being the key word, has the door closed and is getting on with the job without the distraction of others. Is achievement and success of necessity a lonely, not a ‘connected’ activity? You can do the networking once you have a product to sell or a well formed opinion to share … otherwise this is nothing more than ‘chatting’ in the First World War sense of the word – idol banter to pass the time between periods of conflict.

What I believe will not work is to put a gaggle of creators in the same room and expect them to collaborate. The studios of the ‘open’ type that I am aware of are either the classic Rennaisance workshop with a master artist and apprentices at various stages of their own development, or, with a similar dynamic in operation, the ‘occupants’ of a studio, or business unit cum workshop, are exposed LESS to each other and more to external commentators and contributors. This requires some formality to it .i.e. not simply ‘the person off the street’ but an educator/moderator in their own right.

It also helps if people have parricular skills sets that when combined work together – as in a team producing a film.

Is H818:The Networked Practitioner too dependent on chance? The foibles of a small cohort of postgraduate students with little in common and complete strangers … and the complex, messy, moments ‘we’ are each in. Actions differ between those who have had the course paid for by their institution, those who are doing it out of their own pocket for career advancement which requires the degree and anyone in it ‘for the love of it’ – with full-time employment, part-time employment or retirement, and any number of other commitments that colour participation and attitudes.

Over three years of this and, by chance only, surely … six of us strangers in a subgroup jelled. More often the silence and inactivity of the majority makes ‘group work’ a myth – partnerships of two or three were more likely. The only exception I have come across in the ‘real world’ have been actors working together on an improvisation – they have been trained however to disassociate their natural behaviours. The reasons why that ‘six’ worked has been a topic I have returned to often – team dynamic, spread around the globe on different time zone, all experienced practitioners and typically on our second or third OU module … digitally literate, socially networked …

Some of us study with the OU as we cringe at the ‘exposure’ of a course that requires us to meet in the flesh – distance learning suits, to some degree, the lone worker who prefers isolation.

By way of revealing contrast I am a tutor at the School of Communication Arts – a modest though pivitol role given their format and philosophy – exposure to many hundreds of kindred spirits who have been there … a sounding board and catalyst. NOT a contributor, but more an enabler.

We’ll see. My thinking is that to be effective, collaboration or exposure needs to have structure, discipline and formality. Of course this is or should be exactly what the ‘Open Studio’ platform provides. But like a restaurant, however lovely the decor, if the place is empty no one will be eating the food.

At the Brighton Arts Festival the other evening I wonder how the 80 odd exhibtors would cope if the Cornexchange was also their workshop? In certain, vulnerable environments, the only comment should be praise. Feedback is invited from those who are trusted.

A school setting is different again, as is college … people share the same space because they have to.

Open Studio apears to try to coral the feedback that comes anyway from a connected, popular and massive sites such as WordPress, Linkedin Groups, Facebook and even Amazon. Though the exposure, if you permit it, is tempered and negotiated – Facebook is gentle amongst family and friends, Linkedin is meterd and professional in a corporate way, WordPress is homespun while Amazon, probably due to the smell of money, can be catty – and in any case, the artefact is a done deal it’s not as if, to take a current example, Max Hastings is going to rewrite his book on the First World War because some in the academic community say that it is weak historicaly and strong only on journalistic anecdote. Some of the reviews read like they were posted by a PR department, not a person. Another story, but can we smell a rat as easily in the virtual as in the physical world?

We’ll see.

The nature of relationships in a connected world

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Fig. 1. A mashup with a screengrab from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’.

This uses an App called Studio from which I may have been expected or to which I am supposed to provide a link. As I screen grab then crop from the App so that I can ‘publish’ the way like now what?

The nature of relationships in a connected world do matter while the difference between face to face and online may be tangential. Whilst I feel I make new acquaintances online, of more interest  is how I have been able to pick up very old friendships  – even reconnecting with a Frenchman with whom I went on an exchange visit in 1978!

I wonder about the 150 connections given as a figure that can be maintained  – this depends very much on the person and their role. Even when I collected people for the joy of it as an undergraduate I doubt I could muster more than 70 I felt I knew something about and could care for, whilst my father in law, a well respected, influential and even loved university tutor has, in his eighties several hundred contacts – former students on whom he had an impact as an educator. So, the person and their role will have more to do with this ‘connectedness’, which comes with a price, My father in law saw/sees himself as an educator who put significantly more time than his contemporaries into the students rather than research.

I’d like therefore to see ‘digital scholarship’ associated with educators not simply for what they publish – collaboratively or otherwise, but by the ‘quality’ and ‘validity’ of the students they mentor, supervise, inspire and motivate – made all the more possible because of the extraordinary tools we now have at our fingertips.

Reference

Weller, M (2011) The Digital Scholar. @4% or Kindle Location 199

The value of blogging according to Lawrence Lessig

20131002-064326.jpgThe value of blogs is not that I’m likely to find a comment that surpasses the very best of the New York Times. I’m not. But that’s not the point. Blogs are valuable becuase they give millions the opportunity to express their ideas in writing. And with a practice of writing comes a certain important integrity. A culture filled with bloggers thinks differently about politics or public affairs, if only because more have been forced through the discipline of showing in writing why A leads to B’. LL (2008:92-93)

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