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Start writing fiction: a free MOOC through FutureLearn with The OU

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Something I wrote 40 years ago ! (age 13)

The last five weeks I’ve been following the FutureLearn MOOC ‘Start Writing Fiction’.

Extraordinary. I’m on my second pass. I came through early, and now return not wanting to get ahead of the conversation. Particularly useful as I am actively writing at the moment, so this is the best of all learning because it is applied. Regarding character it about giving them shape, depth and ‘points of interest’ – more 6D than even the 2D we are asked to get away from. I visualise characters as hedgehogs with many prickles, but only a few of these matter to the story – though all of them matter to the notebook which I’m gradually coming to care about more and more, cursing the times I ‘have a thought’ and don’t get it down somewhere safely. I am hugely pleased to be here and very proud to be an OU graduate already – not, sadly, from this faculty: yet!

I’m finding the oddest of balances in my life too:

  • Writing for myself from 4.00am to 8.00am.
  • Picking up work from 10.00am.
  • Evenings from 5.00pm to 9.00pm

I am often ‘poolside’ teaching or coaching swimmers.

Delighting yesterday evening to be back with some squad swimmers I last saw four years ago – now in the mid teens, some achieving amazing things in the water, all at that gangly stage of youth development my own children have come through in the last year.

The issue then is how or where or why I fit in the OU module L120 I committed to. Learning a language is daunting and outside my comfort zone. What I do know now, not surprisingly, is that all learning comes about as a result of concerted and consistent effort over a long period of time.

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Pen and ink drawing class at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

Fig.1 Chair and shade

It was like being back at school: though the ratio of 15 women to 3 men felt like I’d gate-crashed the girl school’s class down the road; I was educated in all male schools from 4 to 19. Of the 15 two were under 20, two were under 30 and the others above 60 and 70. No difference. Just like school. I recognised this swimming with Masters that given any opportunity to be the child that we were we are.

My relationship with art is an odd one: a mother who taught art, had an MA from Durham University in Fine Art, but who discounted at as a career for any of her children. I took it as far as A’levels (under her tutelage).

In 90 minutes we has some history, so thoughts on kit, then we got on with it. I found a secluded spot in the central courtyard (Jerwood Gallery, Hastings). And picked first on the climbing plants on a wall, and then the chair I’d taken out of the class. My challenge was to look at different ways of adding shade. Eventually I found that changing from pen to cotton balls and ink would differentiate between the object and the shadow. This’ll take further work.

Other learning opportunities over the last few days have included:

Power Boat II (Refresher)

It is eight or more years since I did the course and seven years since I’ve been in a power boat. A bit of it came back. And new stuff was added. I need this so that I can operate a ‘rib’ during ‘racing week’ at the local sailing club: laying the course, keeping an eye on the fleet to rescue and assist. The sea can be choppy, the winds strong. Dinghies go over and their mast can pin them to the shallow sand and grit of Seaford Bay.

How to train a pigeon

In her wisdom my daughter has rescued a pigeon with a broken wing. The RSPB and animal sanctuaries aren’t interest. ‘Ralph’ is now accommodated in a garden shed; shits everywhere but is eating from my daughter’s hand. Muggins will be looking after it shortly of course. The volume of pebble-dash shit is impressive as every shit is onto a fresh patch of shed floor – it will be one shit deep, like a carpet by the weekend.

Graphic Design

The exhibition on the designer Ivan Chermeyeff at the De La Warr is so good I’ve been back three times. There is no book on this exhibition, though many of his books are nailed to a table to admire (the page it has been opened at), with a few books you can browse. There is an insightful video too – an interview with the designer talking about how he got into fine art and graphic design from an inspiration father. One of the things he talks about is ‘learning to see’. Had photography not been banned I would not have got out a pad of paper and looked more closely at his collages. Had I not taken such a close look I wouldn’t have seen, with magical surprise, that one was made from ephemera collected at the inauguration of JFKennedy as US President on January 20 1961.

Don’t make it easy

Fig. 1 Some ideas from the Ivan Chermayeff ‘Cut and Paste’ exhibition at the De La Warr, Bexhill

As photography isn’t allowed instead of moving from the gallery with my iPhone or camera clicking at everything and anything that caught my eye I was obliged to get out a sketch pad. Just as Ivan Chermayeff says in a exhibition video ‘most people don’t know how to see’.

We risk making everything too easy with e-learning: photos, screengrabs, instant research, transcripts of video, video as audio only or highlights or summaries thanks to others.

The above ideas were for:

a) A School of Visual Arts talk he was giving with a colleague

b) Arthritis – with letters torn from a type font catalogue and jumbled around

c) Mother and Child in modern art – a signal Magritte or Matisse like cut out.

What I would have missed entirely, and I do it no justice here, is a collage of tickets and seating allocation to the inauguration of John F Kennedy on the 20th January 1961. (Before my time, I’d been conceived a few weeks before at a New Year’s Eve party. Not even I can remember that far back).

Fig.2 Sketch of an Ivan Chermayeff collage/poster using bits and pieces from attendance at the inaugurations of US President J F Kennedy

I’ve just been thinking

Learning works if it makes you think; this is why most videos don’t work. Watching TV you ‘sit back’ and turn off. How often does it make you think?

Books require some engagement – the activity is called reading. You think a bit of you takes notes. You think even more if you interpret what you read in a way that makes it your own. This is best achieved if there is a specific goal, typically to research and write a response to a problem addressed in an essay title. In the longer term to sit an exam or to write a longer piece, such as a thesis, or to give a presentation. To read without such application is to row your boat without a rudder.

If in the past I’ve said that is it ‘time and effort’ that leads to learning, then I’d now reduce two words to one. Thinking = time + effort.

What do you think?

Time and effort

The more I study at masters level and beyond what eLearning has to offer, the more I conclude that whatever the platform the learner needs to put in time, effort and engagement. All the eLearning can do is to provide content of the highest relevance and quality in a timely, cost effective, relevant and memorable fashion. Does it motivate? Does it engage? Is its effectiveness measurable? Do they change behaviours? Do they remember or at least have a response to the content?

Learning online it helps to have such a seamless, intuitive and frequently refreshed learning platform with the Open University.

How is effort maintained when laziness is the course of least resistance?

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Fig.1. EBook grab from ‘Thinking fast and slow’ Daniel Kahneman (2011)

This is crucial stuff. It has stopped me in my tracks. You can see how far I have or have not got with the reading – an article in the Scientific American and a lengthy paper published while at Princeton have already hi-jacked my mind. Then we get this.

Here is the problem with some interactive learning and before that video based learning – indeed any kind fo learning. It does not pay to make it easy. If you spoon feed your learners will they engage? Will it stick? Will anything much at all go on in the head to generate a memory?

Oblinging the learner to make an effort is just the start – it is no good their repeating the same exercise as they will quite naturally learn how to do it, randomization of a lengthy set of difficult multiple choice questions might be a start – randomized introduction of a variety of metpahors, examples and tasks would be better. Getting them away from a desktop screen, mixing up applied, placement learning with on the job learning is vital too. Variety, human interaction, challenges and sometimes the unexpected must surely be vital?

The test of course, isn’t just a test of the learner, but a test of the systems as a method of knowledge sharing or task efficiency – does it work? Do leaners coming out at the end still know and apply their stuff the next day, week or month?

Is attention and effort the key to success?

20121013-051843.jpg
Fig. 1 Attention and Effort. Available as a pdf.

THIS is what I adore about the Internet and eBooks. I can do what comes naturally to me, follow my natural inclinations, just as I did when studying as an undergraduate. The huge difference was that finding and ordering a book from the stacks of the Bodliean took between 2 hours and 2 days. I get impatient today if downloading 250 page PDF to an ipad takes longer than a minute – if I think I could boil the kettle it is too long.

I no longer read a non-fiction book from cover to cover in the conventional sense – I see no point at all in putting off references ’til the end. In ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ Kahneman gives an author and title – I start to Goolge the phrase or author and it not only finishes off my search descriptor but finds what I want. Should I be able to download as a PDF a book (or is it a paper) published in 1973?

My reading process now looks like the essary writing plan my brilliant Geography teacher gave me back in Lower Sixth.


Fig.2 How an essay should look – the stem is the instroduction and conclusion, the stamen is the essay title and the petals the six or seven points you need to make. After Mr D ‘Dusty’ Rhodes, the R.G.S. 1979.

Effort Counts -ways of learning, online and off

EFFORT COUNTS (Creme)

Assessment of learning journals and the value of reflective writing for undergraduates and graduates using Bubbl.us to construct the knowledge map from an initial sketch on a fag packet.

With special thanks to fellow student Lesley Morrell who shared this software with us in the first place. I like it as a draft before Compendium, where I will take it next.


 

Resource Guided

In which the author does their directed reading, as per the brief. Scanning a few reports, choosing the few than can be covered in the allocated time and drawing their conclusions from these alone.

Tutor Guided

In which the author first follows, then seeks clarification and support for the route to take. This may have at its heart the concern or interest in ‘how do I get the marks’ for anything that may be required for assessment. (The balanced approach is to draw upon the tutor as an additional guide to all the others in blue)

Course Guided

In which the author aims to do as the institution course moderator), awarding body requires. Previous knowledge of this, or other such like institutions will help. With the caveat: ‘A collaboration of strangers’. In which a forced grouping (of convenience, without bias/favour) is constructed and required to perform as if they have come together naturally.

Self-guided

In which the author draws more fully on their own experience of this kind of thing, through reading and practice, as a student, employee, child/sibling or parent …

Misguided

In which the author through choice or influence takes the wrong path. If working in isolation, not seeking or receiving tutor or peer group feed-back they either go off on the wrong path, or they wander aimlessly like a boat without a rudder. A certain way to disillusionment, delusion and/or depression.

Collaboration as peer guidance

In which one or two fellow students take on a mentoring or partnering or even a paternalistic/maternalistic role. They become a more trusted and understanding friend whose shared journey, experience, intelligence and way of putting things keeps you straight, or puts you back on track. Perhaps more effective where the group that collaborates is self-forming. In which an informal, larger grouping of people support one, several or each other through the process. Perhaps as effective, if not more so, where someone takes a leadership role. Either way symbiosis or reciprocity may (or may not) be expected or required.

Self-forming Collaborative

In which an informal, larger grouping of people support one, several or each other through the process.

Serendipity

In which the author, through following up references within references finds a meaning and ‘truth’ that is deeper and more meaningful to them. It is therefore given greater weight (whether or not this will be respect or followed up in the course of assessment).

Libertine

The idea that the author does as they please. They express or ‘perform’ a typed-up, written-out ‘stream of consciousness’ – ‘free thinking’ if you like.

Indulgent

In which the author goes off in a world of their own. Dropping in thoughts and ideas from any old place, even if referenced, they are drawing on their entire life experience, anything they are reading at the time, or may have picked up from the internet, TV or radio in the last hour.

Thorough

The idea that the author does a comprehensive job, though this may be descriptive, rather than reflective or thoughtful. The ground is covered in a systematic, probably linear way – which in effect resulted in Dewey 19933) first thinking about a better approach.

Resourceful

In which the author play Huck Finn (in which he gets friends to paint a fence for him). This might be considered more devious, than resourceful as it implies building on, though hopefully not plagiarising the thinking of others. It may include reading all the suggested resources, but may also imply seeking out something more current that may very well answer the exact question for which they are seeking the answer.

The next step, even if the word count has been exceed, is to put it through Compendium to add underlying reports and references.

I’ve already had a great experience of producing a project briefing document in Compendium, sharing this withou someone several hundred miles away and then discussing it on Skype. Compendium meant that he got what is clearly a draft, a working document, the way my mind has thus far thought the project through. He could then indulge where necessary his greater curiosity by reading the attached notes, documents or reports.

The trick with this continued reflection on reflection, beyond due dates, word counts or reading lists, will be to wrap it all up at some stage, editing along the way, and if it is going to be submissable, reducing it to a 500 word count.

This has to be the eighth or ninth effort at this, forays that have yet to benefit from the kind of academic rigour and effort that will no doubt deliver an end result.

The fear is that this is like shooting an arrow at the moon, when the target is 60 yards away – clear as dandy. But this is who I am, and how I approach things. The trick is to pay me on a fixed-fee basis, because you may pay for 20 hours effort, but you’ll get 60.

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