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The Learning Technologist Imagined

 

1 Jilly Salmon

Fig.1. Prof. Jilly Salmon author of ‘E-Tivities’

Inspired by a couple of talks given by Prof. Gilly Salmon at the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference in The Hague in March 2016 I have been working on a way to take her ‘Five Phases’ of online course design and turn it into a ‘workshop’ model that could be used to help design courses, and to compare courses, their affordances and learning outcomes.
1 Learning Technologist

Fig. 2 A set of coloured blocks I use to think through, or to analyse, the phases of an online course

Her idea was to give educators a simple, approachable way to think through the design of a ‘Technology Enhanced’ course.

2 Learning TechnologistFig.3 My interpretation of how Gilly Salmon uses coloured blocks to visualise the ‘ideal’ or ‘typical’ components of an online or ‘technology enhanced’ course in tertiary education.

This is one the many approaches that I am familiar with and in some instances have used to design a course, from packs of loose, printable cards developed by JISC that were used in a OLDS MOOC I completed, or flowcharts called ‘Swimming Lanes’ used an online App through the Open University, during one module of the Open University’s ‘Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education’ (MA ODE) or on a white board in an ‘industry’ in e-Learning Network (ELN) workshop I attended in London for corporate online training.

3 Learning TechnologistFig.4  A pack of cards developed by JISC to assist with course design.

The goal is always the same: to have a blueprint that can be shared with colleagues and a team that will build the platform before ‘populating’ it with content (and knowing what kind of content this will be: text, rich media, game/activity, assessment etc). This is something I am familiar with as a producer working in corporate training, video and interactive production. I moved from linear treatments and scripts and to packs of storyboard ‘blueprints’ that would show, what Gilly Salmon would later call ‘e-tivities’. These storyboards would also show the buttons and links that would appear on the DVD or computer-based training we produced.

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Fig.5. The Creative Workshop that I ran at the Open University Business School to resolve problems with running multiple LinkedIn Groups for current students, alumni and prospective students.

While at the Open University Business School (OUBS), I completed their MBA module ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’ and was introduced to dozens of techniques for helping people unravel a problem or come up with a creative way of doing things. It has been exciting to apply this in small groups, running workshops to solve problems collectively and to come up with often surprising, actionable results – that everyone felt they had contributed to. I have shared the techniques, including the ‘Bible’ of creative workshop techniques with the founder of The School for Leaders to use in their summer schools.

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Fig. 6. A set of the current tabs on the Western Front Association website. As the digital editor I upload all items, sometimes as many as a 30 a week.

More recently, my part-time role as the Digital Editor for The Western Front Association (The WFA) I have written and assembled, added modified images, links and video to a MailChimp newsletter that then went out to our 6,500+ subscribers while posting some 15 articles and events to the website and feeding some of these to The WFA Facebook Page. Meanwhile, 18 months into this role, I am working with the Executive Committee of The WFA to replace the current website. Until now I have been working with a web agency in Dundee working largely online and through a ‘ticketing system’ for tasks to be undertaken. The brief, that I wrote, is for far  greater focus on The WFA remit of: ‘studying, learning and research’. To this end, alongside completing, part-time, an MA in the history of 1914-1918, I am in continual contact with academics and their support teams in the UK and abroad endeavouring to represent their work, by sharing and publishing events and papers. During the week I will correspond via 60+ emails and one Skype call. Every couple of months we meet face to face in offices in London.

This kind of team working, as a producer in TV and video production and creating websites, has been matched by some volunteers roles, for example, as the Chairman of ‘Wave Leisure’ the group that took over leisure facilities from Lewes Town Council, by multiple roles in a 1,000 member swimming club working with colleagues, parents and swimmers (children through to Masters), while currently, by way of example, I am working with a group in Lewes to research, write, then present in talks and through displays in shop windows the history of Lewes during the First World War. Another, disparate involvement in ‘academia’ has been my working on a three day conference on the political philosopher Plamenatz, using a handful of names and authors to build a database and get in touch via social media with potential speakers and event attendees for the University of Oxford.

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Fig 7. The OU interactive online tutor platform

Meanwhile, over the last week, inevitably, with my interest in online education, I hold an MA in Open and Distance Education from the Open University (2013), I am taking more than a close look at the approach taken to blended learning at the University of Wolverhampton where I am a part-time student. The OU had its own e-portfolio ‘MyStuff’ that I personally used religiously only to have it deleted and replaced with a generic platform – an early version of Mahara. Wolverhampton use PebblePad. I use all the different platforms, as a learning exercise and to mentally acknowledge their presence should I need them later. My experience and preference is to use a student Blog platform that provides the simple three options of publishing 1) privately 2) to my faculty/student group only or 3) to the world. You have the benefit of putting all your study ‘stuff’ in one place, then to share with the faculty if you are working on a collaborative task and also to share, more expansively thoughts and ideas about the life, the university and everything. My interest in online learning has seen me invited by the University of Wolverhamtpon to take part in reviewing of the School of Arts’ ‘Offer’ and the university’s adoption of a new platfrom, Canvas, later this year.

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Fig. 8. The current OU Student platform: simple and clear. My OU Blog usage.

My OU Student blog, which I used extensively, over three years has several thousand followers and has been viewed 1.7 million times. I still write in it to keep up with former students and tutors. I also rely on it to find tagged papers, infographics, and notes on every subject covered by The OU MAODE. Other ‘databases’ I use include Picasa (now Google Pics) where I have many thousand screen grabs related to all manner of subjects, not least seven distinct ‘albums’ related to ‘E-Learning’. Finding visual references or ‘aides memoire’ invaluable I have in the past used FlickR not only to save photographs online, but to share them and gather information and contacts around them.

I still used Pinterest extensively, gratuitously grabbing and assembling images as I read and explore, while in the past, I have also made extensive use of Stumbleupon. Short of ‘lifelogging’, that I have tried, studied and discounted, I find that with devices, apps and platforms one can recreated a fraction of the contents of one’s brain online: in scale though, it is, for the moment, only an ‘aide memoire’. I wonder if in time, ‘A.I’ could make this smart? I hanker after an Alexa like presence that knows me better than I do, a ‘personal assistant’ for the 21st century.

My history with Pinterest has been as an ‘aide memoire’ and collection of curiosities. Galleries of images on a theme, held and built upon in one place are a quick-fire ‘concept board’ for the inventive mind, but also of practical use where an image is required to support a particular article. Recently looking at this I wish, having pinned one, I’d gone back and worked with dendrograms: I an see their value for clustering, and therefore making sense of ideas; perhaps for writing something like this, but certainly for a formal, academic essay. I click on the image of the dendrogram I had saved and in an instant I am reading an article on ‘How we designed FutureLearn’s new course categories’ on the FutureLearn website of how they created categories for their website. In turn this shows me what I do and do not understand about dendrograms amd their creation: I am familiar with ‘card sorting’ and ‘closed card sorting’. Now I could plan one to be created online using ‘Optimal Workshop’, which includes tools such as ‘Tree Testing’, ‘Card Sorting’, ‘First-click Testing’ and ‘Qualitative Research’.

Five modules were required to gain the MA ODE. There are six modules. I have completed all of them and am also thinking about joining a ‘new presentation’. As a student, and while working at The OU, I saw the OU platform develop and took part in its ‘re-invention’ not only attending internal research sessions, but also attending the ‘Usability Testing Lab’ to be taken through screening of versions of key pages. It struck me that repeatedly the desire was to enhance usability, which saw the key pages repeatedly simplified. Presented with a screen, with a facilitator at my side, and others behind a two-way mirror, my actions, feelings, and eye-movements are followed, while my comments and thoughts when prompted by the researcher are noted down

The Open University Business School web pages were put through this process. A number of people, fitting the ‘persona’ profiles of an OUBS student were paid a fee to take part. The ‘Human Computer Research Labs’ can be booked following these guidelines.

9 Learning TechnologistFig. 9. The University of Wolverhampton’s Learning Platform

I use and am familiar with the affordances of their learning platform ‘WOLF’ and have identified strengths, weaknesses and opportunities which I am sharing both with the chair of the MA program and with university learning support team.  The problem with its use for the course I am taking isn’t technical, but human: tutors, students and others need to respond to comments; best practice will be picked up through use, but for now some tips are needed: dont give the title of your comment as the date of the Saturday Course – everyone does this and as a list it looks meaningless; starting a discussion is one thing, responding in a thoughtful and constructive way to others matters more. ‘Listen’ to what a person has written, and respond to all of it.  Keep of your agenda, be considerate and respectful of theirs – you’ll have your chance. Treat it as a reciprocal experience. Treat it like having all you coffee room discussions recorded and typed up. It should be friendly, even rambling, open, constructive and engaging. You cannot bore people into taking part.

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Fig. 10 The Open University MA ODE module ‘conference’ or ‘student forum’ activity between ‘Tutor Marked Assignments’ (TMAs)

Not one student posting to the discussion since October 2016 has had a response, neither from tutors, nor from fellow students. I can try to act as a catalyst to invigorate this, however, if my lone voice then appears and responds with comments to 90% of the threads another problem is created.

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Fig. 11 A variety of ‘Posters’ representing papers produced by Coursera Partners. Coursera Partners’ Conference 3016

Most of this knowledge I have gained through experience over many years, starting in 2000/2001 with ‘Friends Circles’ on the Diaryland Platform, then ListServ with The OU in 2001, but in particular through the many modules of the MA ODE. I can now look at papers on ‘student engagement’ or call up a ‘Poster’ and talk I had with an academic at the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference in 2016.

A significant failing of the Wolverhampton MA course, which says it uses ‘blended learning’ had been to have a proper, hands on induction, face to face as well as online (it is ostensibly a residential, lecture-driven course). As I write this, the course chair and I on the MA course at Wolverhampton are exchanging thoughts on the discussion forum. I believe I have credibility because I know the subject and so can contribute at that level, but also, because I am so familiar with this kind of setup and know what makes them work: keeping the questions open, reading and responding directly to what others have said (as you ought to do if they were talking to you face to face), and keeping the tone open, supportive, professional and on brief – unless you create informal ‘break-out’ spaces. I also know that having posted a few replies, however great the temptation, I need to stand back for a couple of days to give others a chance to come in, and then when I do return to respond to one or two, but not all of them: to let some of the discussions purposively be picked up and carried by others.

11 Learning TechnologistFig. 12 Studying 3D production and design post-graduate students had to grade each other in terms of ‘collaboration’ and ‘team working’ those receiving the lowest scores given especial attention to bring them ‘on board’.

There are universities that successfully have MA students contributing to undergraduate discussions, and doctoral research students contributing to MA discussion groups. All would benefit from a workshop on the dynamic of these and the psychological impact on student behaviours if you are too dominant, or flippant, or dismissive. The typed word has multiple tones because the reader invents it.

As a student I have now been in thirty or more of these, online learning groups, all the way through the OU MAODE, but also in MOOCs, particularly from FutureLearn, but also from several and different Higher Education and Commercial MOOCs I have taken since: Oxford Brookes, Coursera for example.

There is a pattern of use, or no use at all. Where a group of students regularly ‘hang out’ the exchange can be extraordinary: constructing meaning, building confidence, acquiring knowledge and having a laugh.  I am currently an online mentor with the Open University, and also a mentor (on campus) at the School of Communication Arts (since 2011), though by far my busiest, most fulfilling and insightful experience (daily if I wish it to be) is as an online mentor with Coursera. I recently shared issues with engagement in a Coursera ‘Hang Out’ and found myself recalling some of the greatest successes at The OU: a tutor who posted a different picture of a ‘Water Cooler’ each week and used this for students to have a ‘free for all chat’, which gave them confidence with the platform before going back to the academic threads; and a student in my tutor group, soon after they had been launched, getting us all to join a ‘Google Hang Out’ for a pajama party – not as salacious as it sounds with students in many different time zones (and cultures). Coursera are doing this too: a recent ‘off campus’ hang out having us bring our favourite ‘food’ to the hangout to discuss: interestingly with Coursera Mentors from Egypt, California, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada … England and Wales.

At Wolverhampton I have also put myself forward to support the creation of online materials for this and other courses. I have done this before, asked by Creative Skill Set to join a panel advising them on the creation of a number of MOOCs they were part financing via a number of UK universities, and also advising Design & Art Direction (D&AD) after they had received a management consultancy report advising them to move some of their workshops and distance learning ‘products’ online.

12 Learning TechnologistFig. 13 Daphne Koller presenting at the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference, March 2016

I was introduced to the work of Daphne Koller and Coursera as an MA ODE graduate student in 2010/2011. The results from their earliest courses have shaped their thinking since: close analysis of how thousands of students struggle pinppoints where the educators need to improve how they present and explain a thing (which benefits students on campus too) while experiments with peer reviewed and tutor graded assessments were telling: far from ‘cheating the sytem’ or just getting it wrong, students tended to mark more harshly than the tutor. Peer review works at another level too: by assessing the work of others your own knowledge deepens. They do say that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it, after all.

I have since completed several Coursera MOOCs on ‘Learning How to Learn’, ‘Photography’,  Search Engine Optimisation’ and ‘Creative writing’. It has been a fascinating and rewarding journey to use the platforms, experience how it works, to see how Coursera are constantly improving and adapting (and contributing to this) and to have become (after training) a Coursera Mentor (since August 2016).  The mentor is support, a moderator, and a technical and subject guide. The support we get includes regular emails and newsletters, as well as weekly ‘Hangouts’.

A bit like a ‘mentor’ but  with more ‘powers’, I am a moderator on various groups on LinkedIn, a moderator in the eLearning Global Network (34 k+ members) but also the moderator and founder of ‘Swim Club Teachers & Coaches’ group (1.4k members). In these groups, and initially learning from Thomas Garrod in the eLearning Global Network, I came to develop ‘best practice’ when seeding and responding to discussions. This is something I took to The Open University Business School (OUBS) where I took over, developed and started four LinkedIn Groups in turn for alumni, present students, prospective students and the newly formed ‘Business Breakfast Network’. (Memberships ranging from several thousand to zero when I set up the ‘Business Breakfast Network’). These groups were used for multiple reasons: maintaining interest in The Business School, supporting learners and acting as a hub and a learning/sharing platform, directing prospective students to a series of webinars I set up and beginning a corporate, business network. In each case I developed and grew group numbers and participation. In all these instances, including the lead on a programme of webinars aimed at prospective students, I worked with senior and junior academics from OUBS, and with administrative staff.
13 Learning TechnologistFig. 14 A video producer (writer/director). Interviews, conferences, lectures and bespoke training.

Over the last week, I have responded to five Coursera students on MOOCs, and taken part in two Coursera Hang-outs. Often my input is to nudge the student along, even, simply to indicate that there is someone listening. Issues with assessments are not unusual: people get miffed if they don’t pass the formal, graded assessment at the end of the week first time and can blame the system if they don’t get the grade a second time either. I am loath to point out that I rarely got through one of these multiple-choice quizzes first time, the questions shuffle each time you take the ‘test’, you are also directly, a little clumsily I would say, directed to the part of the course that might help you get the answer correct. In one instant it took me 7 attempts, another 11 and time out to go back over two weeks of learning material, and by then, the option to ‘reset’ the course by two weeks or try and catch up. Most Coursera courses now start on a rolling basis every two weeks and as a student you can, if you get stuck or delayed, reset to an earlier ‘presentation’. This sadly does impact on the task of creating any student bonding in a ‘cohort’ and so reaping the benefits of camaraderie, collective effort and collaborate, constructed learning.  

One of the hangouts is with the Coursera technical and support team based in Mountain View, CA and a ‘Chill out’ of a tiny fraction of the 1,900 Mentors worldwide. It is fascinating to learn that the University of Michigan is aiming to have 200 of its courses online by the end of 2017, with 83 already online. (I mentor one of their MOOCs). They are splitting content between Coursera and EdX. This is seen as a valuable way forward for educators for students on campus, and to build and support students ‘at a distance’.

14 Learning TechnologistFig.15 A break-away session on how to create, manage and moderate an online forum used by students from across the world. Coursera Conference 2016.

Attending the 5th Coursera Partners’ Conference in March 2016 I was able to hear academics speak, network with them, and in several instances take part in early-morning ‘creative workshops’ with them, in two cases initiating the topic we explored, namely ‘Resistance of universities to online learning’, and ‘Use of video in online education’. I could also build on my knowledge of how Coursera uses student data to improve courses by identifying sticking points; analsysis and change are part of their culture, part of what they see as a ‘movement’ to bring education to the world.

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Fig.16  Annotated Post It notes used during a Coursera workshop which led to my own conception of how ‘Massive Demand’ feed into course programmes ‘on the ground’.

It was fascinating to learn how much corporate ‘partnership’ is occurring with academics, particularly in business schools, and how academics are adapting to the ‘flipped classroom’. Ten months later I am still reflecting on the 30 or so ‘Posters’ presented by a myriad of academics at Coursera who have been testing ‘technology enhanced learning’ in institutions around the world. Even something as subtle as where to place text, whether subtitles or annotations, on video were fascinating.

16 LTFig. 17. Barb Oakley presenting ‘Learning How to Learn’ – the biggest MOOC to date with over 16 million participants.

I came to be at the Coursera Partners Conference, my delegate’s fees reimbursed, as I was, and still am, a fan of ‘Learning How to Learn’ and its author and presenter Barb Oakley. Personally, I think her delivery is a model for any lecturer wishing to create a ‘flipped classroom’. She shot all the video herself in her basement with a green screen on a budget of $5,000. As The OU TEL academic Martin Weller would argue, it was ‘good enough’ – the kind of video shoots I was responsible for in my former career are not necessary. A lecturer to camera does not have to be a multi-camera TED lecture event, or a BBC documentary. They simply need to be prepared, savvy, knowledgeable, open to constructive criticism and enthusiastic: and in due course, be prepared to replace bits as a better way to explain or show something is thought of.

The Coursera  platform is extraordinarily smart and always adapting and improving: as a mentor I complete a weekly short survey and a monthly in-depth survey, let alone feedback issues with the student experience at every step of the way. Recommendations from mentors, I have found, are swiftly fed to the ‘Tech Team’ and adopted. This is a four part course that I completed with a score of over 80%: I am familiar with the modules, and can at any time go in and follow it as a student should I need a refresh. A basic component of the Coursera experience is for a short video of ‘knowledge acquisition’ followed by short formative multiple-choice quiz, which you have to repeat and pass to 80% before you can progress. Some students baulk at not getting it all right first time; so long as there is nothing wrong with the questions and content I persuade students that the effort required to get the answer right is very much part of the deeper learning experience. I was following the weekly Friday Coursera ‘Mentor Hang Out’ just before I came to write this. They have been holding these twice a week for some months. Beyond the blog and hoping that people will read and comment, and beyond the tutor supported forum where you hope they and fellow students comment, the beauty of a ‘hangout’ is that it gets people together in real time in a dynamic that is quite different from from a face to face seminar. As an alumni of ‘Learning How to Learn’ I receive, follow up on and respond to the weekly newsletter on dates, books, developments and insights.

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Fig. 18 Mash-up promoting ways to put the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ experience online.

I am a little more than a passive alumnus of the Oxford School of Geography, attending lectures from time to time and in touch with the faculty about e-learning. I also take advantage of attending my former college and wider university events, including attending open lectures at the Oxford Institute of the Internet (OII) and Said Business School if it feeds my knowledge. Oxford is moving towards creating MOOCs on EdX after years of consideration, committee meetings and procrastination. In March I have a chance to hear more about this from the University’s Vice-Chancellor at a college conference. My fascination has always been on how to recreate the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ online; with small group hang-outs this has become possible, so long as they are made an obligatory part of a course and a carefully managed.

18 Learning TechnologistFig. 19 Part of a corporate presentation attended on the functionality of Moodle.

My interest in corporate training a member of the Learning Skills Group (LSG), going to their annual conference ‘Learning Technologies’ (in Olympia, London), taking part in regular webinars since 2010. Introduced by a fellow student on the MA ODE I have also been dropping into an Australian ‘hang out’ for teachers in Higher Education since 2014 while the skills and experience I gained using LinkedIn groups I gained from eLearning Global Network and their monthly hangouts (I became a group moderating four years ago so can delete, move and edit posts from others too). You learn how the dynamics of an online group works, something I had become familiar with though such groups and the different platforms they use at The OU.

My interest in FutureLearn has been no less great that my interest in Coursera : I took their first FutureLearn MOOC on Web Science (and consequently applied to Southampton to undertake doctoral research, title ‘Can an email-prompted web-based e-learning platform aimed at undergraduates in the UK with moderate to persistent asthma improve compliance to their prescribed preventer drugs to 80%?’.

I went on to complete 11 FutureLearn courses and when Creative SkillSet decided to create MOOCs I was recommended by the Dean of the School of Communication Arts and joined the panel of advisors helping to fashion MOOC proposals from the likes of Goldsmith College  and the National Film and Television School.

My interest in ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ began when I was working as a producer for UK corporate producer TVL who were beginning to migrate linear-based video training to interactive formats. This saw me working with ‘educators’ in industries as diverse as Nuclear Fuels (Sellafield), Banking (Standard Life and NatWest), Law (The Crown Prosecution Service and legal publisher Legalease) and many others. A team, that I lead as the producer, included an instructional designer, writer (I often wrote the scripts) and in-house team of editors, graphic designer and ‘outside broadcast’ video teams. Working closely with the client my role was to help shape a vision for the work, then lead and represent the scripting and storyboards for what were in effect at first the means to replicate lectures, workshops and ‘on the job’ and ‘just in time’ training. For example vignettes of video were shown then questions asked and knowledge tested. As levels of sophistication and budgets increased 3D graphics and animations were used to help explain a process, machine action or flow of information. Feedback forms, then behaviour using computer-based learning at the desk then modeled how changes would be made. Thus I have found myself working at the THORP nuclear reprocessing plant on safety training, developing an interactive DVD on banking for Standard Life, creating training for NatWest on how to handle a bank robbery and bank manager kidnap while producing  a course on ‘The Art of Legal Negotiation’ for lawyers.

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Fig. 20. Experience using Cloudworks and receiving ‘badges’ as an incentive

I have at times worked in broadcast TV, as an assistant producer, even sound engineer, offline editor and vision mixer. Then, as now, I have no fear of learning new skills whether putting images through Adobe Lightroom, cutting audio with images in Camtasia, learning a new web platform, such as WordPress and Joomla, shooting and cutting video and loading this to YouTube and embedding it onto websites or into a newsletter using MailChimp, or using a collaborative learning and sharing platform such as Cloudworks.

With the move to a web agency in Brighton it was clear at the time that the ‘rich’ media of 3d computer graphics and drama-reconstructions could not be recreated online. In the first ‘educational’ platform I worked on (as its Producer) I worked directly with the client FT Knowledge and our creative team to create modules for an MBA programme which used animations, text, audio and multiple-choice questions as part of each module. Recognising the need to improve my knowledge I joined what was then the Open University’s MA in Open and Distance Learning – all learning ‘at a distance’ with a crude ListServ forum and physical books.

20 Learning TechnologistFig. 21  Taking part in an OU wide research project with academics and other staff to identify key OU ‘Personas’.

While taking the renamed Masters Degree in Open and Distance Education’ I successfully applied to work at The OU and was based in Milton Keynes. Here I was surprised, though delighted to become quickly involved in an expanded role that had me sharing the ‘OU Student experience’ in meetings and workshops to heads of faculty, assistant lecturers and individual academics. Essentially, I was taking them through the affordances of platforms and tools that they had been wary of using. Meanwhile, I picked up two groups on LinkedIn for the Business School and began two more: one for prospective students and a fourth for the launch of the Business Breakfast Briefings. Familiar with LinkedIn I ran, supervised, moderated and seeded discussions and help build one closed and one open group into the 1,000s.

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Fig. 22 I have studied and followed SpacedEd (now Qstream) since 2010. I have twice interviewed its founder/creator Dr Price Kerfoot and based my PhD doctoral thesis on using the SpacedEd platform to test compliance training with asthmatics.  

Completing the MA ODE, I elected to complete two further modules in preparation for applying to undertake doctoral research. During my studies I had become fascinated by what was then a new platform developed at Harvard Medical School by Dr Price Kerfoot called ‘SpacedEd’ which used the simple mechanism of very carefully scripted multiple-choice questions sent to a mobile device. My research proposal was to use SpacedEd to educate people with mild chronic asthma to improve compliance to their drugs and to measure learning effectiveness by an improvement in lung function. I firmly believe that there are many situations, and subjects, where knowledge has to be acquired particularly with first year students before it can be applied which would suit learners at all levels.

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Fig. 23 CloudWorks used as part of an online collaborative exercise with The Open University

Creativity and innovation can put  you out on a limb. I am a compulsive ‘early adopter’ who wants to see, use, judge, and experiment with every new app, platform or tool. I therefore have Alexa from Amazon and am confident though currently underwhelmed: she doesn’t take dictation or speak French. Historically I was early to blog in 1999, coding my own pages until I joined the platform Diaryland, and then quick to try each platform as it emerged from LiveJournal through to WordPress (on which I have several blogs.

Only this November I loaded diary App to my iPad ‘My Wonderful Days’ to support my desire to keep a daily journal or diary again: I never miss a day, and use it, to keep some kind of track on what I read, see and experience every day. There is huge cumulative worth to this: I find I forget just how many books I have read, for example, even where I have made notes so these too will go into a blog and tagged. I have studied and review people and tools for ‘life logging’ and feel confident that they can be dismissed as giving little support to the learning experience: the student needs to be making choices to ‘grab’ or store information. The benefits of ‘lifelogging’ are for those with dementia or Parkinson’s Disease to help bolster weakening short-term memory. Otherwise, the healthy brain is designed to ‘forget’ and we should be allowed to – students encouraged to find ways to repeat, review and re-use thoughts and knowledge they need to store in their long term memory.

23 Learning TechnologistFig. 24  Rosetta Language Learning

I am quick to try new apps and platforms, whether Prezzi or QR codes, ListServ or Google Hangouts, ePortfolios and multiple-choice assessments, (SpacedEd, now QStream). I rave about the language learning platform Rosetta Stone having greatly improved my grammar, vocabulary and especially my pronunciation with it. I recently signed up to Yousician to try and get my guitar playing skills a bit better than bad. A couple of the stalwarts of my working day are Simple Minds (for mind mands) and Studio (for annotation images and charts). I also have used a variety of idea/storytelling supporting tools such as PowerStructure and Final Draft (though ostensibly these are for writing novels or screenplays).

Creativity regarding online learning means many things: simplest of all it is pragmatic problem solving, dawning upon experience and a willingness of different minds to look at new ways of doing things; creativity also standards and quality controls, a platform or app like a chair can be both functional and beautiful, it is shocking how many times a platform or app can be neither thing: it looks terrible and doesn’t worse, or even if it works it looks terrible and leaves users lost or demoralised: ease and joy of use is crucial, as well as relevance and something being embedded in the learning experience as a compulsory component : make a thing optional and most students opt not to use it.

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Fig. 25  OUBS: Recording lectures and seminars (including Cherie Booth’s inaugural lecture, marketing planning foe web development and organising webinars.

At the Open University Business School, as with the Western Front Association currently, I respond to and support a myriad of people helping them to make the best use of the platforms we have available for them. There is often a need to persuade, to present, and the assist and nurture where people are hoping to, or are expected to use a piece of technology themselves.  

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Fig. 26.  Drawing on the research and writings of many specialists, past and present.

Not a teacher, though I have taught in primary and secondary education, and in higher education given talks and run workshops. With my children now in or starting university I cannot help but pick their brains about the learning experience. My son is using FlickR to build a portfolio of work, while both my son and daughter are disappointed by the percentage of students who don’t do any work.  Not a teacher, though I have been a professional swimming teacher and coach since 2005 and as I gained professional qualifications and learnt through traditional methods : workbooks and seminars, I regularly advised the Amateur Swimming Association on e-learning, preparing proposals and scamps on best use of video. Not a teacher, though I took a six week course with Oxford Brookes on teaching in higher education (and gained a distinction – and 10 credits). Not a teacher, though I took an OLDS MOOC and ended up working collaboratively with educators from the university of Lincoln to devise a MOOC on video for educators. Not a teacher, though I devised a use of QR codes in teaching the First World War. Not a teacher, though I devised a research thesis based on studying a cohort of undergraduates. Not a teacher, though having completed the MA ODE and further MA ODE OU modules I have repeatedly studied and consider how a wide array of tools and platforms could or do support educators. Not a teacher, though taking a close interest in the work of Kineo I gained an insider’s perspective of how learning platforms were developed for ‘City & Guilds’ worldwide.

Though not a teacher, I see myself as an ‘educator’ and facilitator, an informed, personable enthusiast, always ready to push my own studies further, including to doctoral research.

Whilst endeavouring to keep my skills and interests up to date, I also have a career of relevant and valuable core skills from preparing a creative brief and chairing workshops, to presenting and championing an idea, to supporting one to one or presenting at a conference, to producing video and interactive projects, even operating video cameras, editing and posting content online. I believe I would make a credible, valuable member of the Technology Enhanced Learning team at the University of Sussex.

 

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How to read an online course

Gilly Salmon Five Phases

Fig.1 Gilly Salmon’s ‘Five Stage Model’ for e-learning

How can you assess what makes an online course from something so complex and varied?

The answer is to think through the components that are likely to be there, or need to be there, in every session, or phase of the learning.

During the Master of Arts Open and Distance Education (MAODE) that I took through The Open University (entirely online), we often created and used flowcharts of various forms. This appealed to me. Keep it simple.

Gilly Salmon was the star of the moment. For a while she was the queen of all things ‘e’ from e-learning to e-moderators and her eponymous’e-tivities’. That was a few years ago. As I predicted when I started the MAODE in 2010 the expression ‘e-learning’ would soon be reduced to ‘learning’ – out context is digital in 2016, is mobile too – it is learning whether done at a desk with a book, in a class face to face, or on your smart phone during the daily commute.

Gilly Salmon has a system called ‘The Five phases’ delightfully explained in a Blue Style presented video from Swinburne University.

I love it. Though in one of her books or papers, I forget which, she did liken learning online to building not with Lego, but with Lego ‘Technics’. In this video she uses kids’ coloured wooden building blocks.

I’ve gone along with this so that the system can be moderated and applied to the online learning that I am always doing: currently on Search Engine Optimisation (Coursera), Photography (Coursera) and French (Rosetta Stone). As well as the MAODE, and two further MAODE modules I did ‘to complete the set’, I have done some 27 other courses on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs, First World War history, Climate Change, Arts in Medicine and much, more much.

Each course is made with familiar ingredients, though the recipe and outcome is always different. Some do it better than others. Some are poor. All could be better. Most will improve as the science behind learning online informs the educators where they are doing wrong. This is particularly the case I have found with Coursera who are on missions to analyse, research, share and improve every course that they offer.

Gilly Salmon 5 Phase Flowchart

Gilly Salmon 5 Phase Flowchart

Fig 2. Gilly Salmon’s ‘Five Stage Model’ simplified.

This is how Gilly Salmon’s model looks laid out left to right. A softly softly opening with human intervention leads to every so slightly more involved learning and ends with a test or assignment of some kind.

Model of Phase OneFig 3. How the building blocks are used. I would go further and give each shape meaning too.

The blue row represents people, an associate lecturer at the Open University, or a moderator. This, though ‘distance learning’ is more akin to ‘blended learning’ – this component of human involvement from the course tutors limits its scalability. Increasingly this blue row is fulfilled by the green row. The green row represents the technical side of things: the learning management system, the design and other digital support, easiest with copious and user-friendly ‘frequently asked questions’ (FAQs).

My own take on this is different.

This I take from the numerous online courses I have taken: starting in fact with one of the original Master of Arts Open and Distance Learning (MAODL) courses from the OU in 2001. I have taken multiple courses with FutureLearn, with Coursera, a few from Open Learn, specialist one-offs on MOOCs from various providers and language learning with Rosetta Stone (French and Spanish).

Ideal Supported 6 Phase Flowchart

Ideal Supported 6 Phase Flowchart

Fig 4. My own version of the ‘ideal’ e-learning or online course

Here, I have followed the same patterns and approach to suggest what I understand to be best practice for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2016. For a start, the blue row should not be thought of as a person. The course design, the platform, ought to be intuitive enough and easy enough to follow without the need, for all the support and education benefits, of anyone from the course design team. How could a senior lecturer or professor engage with 10,000 or more students in any case. Far better to have the means for students to engage with each other. And where ‘constructed learning’ through collaboration is required maybe have self-selected and vetted student moderators taking an active role moderating forums and discussion threads: seeding conversations, acting as a catalyst for discussion and debate …

Of significant difference, from a learning design point of view, I introduce testing almost immediately. Simple testing, with a well-designed multiple-choice quiz for example, sets the tone for later, gets students engaged, and will build knowledge and familiarity with one assessment approach that should become a regular feature, and increasingly challenging as the module progresses. At Coursera learners are expected to gain an 80% grade in the formal assessments or not progress. You can, and have to repeat these, sometimes multiple times, going back over course materials three or four times even – this is what learning is about: not progressing until you have the concept in your head.

There’s a new row or column that needs to be added to this: monetization. In most cases these courses need to pay for two reasons: from a learning point of view people who pay for their course upfront are more likely to completed; from a funding perspective the creators of these platforms need to show a return. There are ample ways to make a course available free to the worthy.

Here’s some detail on each of these phases:

JFV Phase One MAX

Learning Online Phase Two JFV

Learning Online Phase Two JFV

Online Learning Phase Three JFV

Online Learning Phase Four JFV

Online Learning Phase Four JFV

Phase Five Online Learning

My aim is to develop a system to analyse online courses I do or have done.

I’m not looking for a ‘magic formula’ but rather simple indicators that can be shared with educators during the design phase, or when appraising a course after its first ‘presentation’ so that faults can be understood and fixed, strengths developed and repeated.

Can you write a story in 140 Twitter characters?

Today FutureLearn pushed a contest on Twitter to write micro-stories of 140 characters. I gave it a shot, posting the following, mostly moments in different scenes of a story I’m writing.

Dad pulled over to pee. Mum told me to stay put. I didn’t. A truck smashed into the car and killed mum. Dad wasn’t bothered. I was. #Fic140.

A full potty is not something to fight over. Nanny G clung to one edge, her your charge Robbie the other. #Fic140

As a wealthy heir his nanny had instructions to keep him on a close rein. A boy first and an heir second Robbie had other ideas. #Fic140

Her smile was intoxicating. He’d kiss her but she smelt of alcohol. She said. “Giv ‘us a kizz, gadje” He said. “Giv ‘us a drink.” #Fic140

What’s not to love about her? he thought as she grabbed his ears and pushed his face into the bed of nettles. At least she’s a girl. #Fic140

Willing his art teacher mother to understand the child sitter cracked, then lashed out at every piece of work the class had done.  #Fic140

To escape his locked attic room on the 5th floor Robbie used the fire escape rope. Never checked,  it left him hanging 16ft short.  #Fic140

Certain it’s Kizzy the boy grabs the girl’s arm. He is promptly set upon by her brothers who have dressed up in her best clothes. #Fic140

“I will.” “I do.””You diven’t?””We just have.” “Where’s the ring?” Robbie bursts open the crisp packet and finds the plastic ring. #Fic140

“Whatever it is the answer’s ‘No!” The man never looks up.  In the doorway his son holds a little tighter the hand of a pretty girl. #Fic140

Unstuck from its rock pool the lumpsucker ogles the kids from the bucket. “Take me back” it said “and I’ll let you into a secret.” #Fic140

“They’re a family of illiterate, homeless, scroungers.” He said. “‘Family’ will do, his son replied. #Fic140

“Ah divn’t wanna help ye thieve from ’em!” She said. “You’ll dee as ah tell ye or I’ll shove your face in the fire.” He said.  #Fic140

As the storm breaks the boy runs off to his favourite hideaway: an upturned boat above the beach. He find it half submerged. #Fic140

He tied the girl and boy together but loathing turned to love and pulling in the same direction they escaped. #Fic140

The burglar nicking stuff on seeing a portrait of him done by the owner’s wife hesitates. Delaying too long he is caught. #Fic140

“If I can’t have her, no one can.” Drukker wraps his arms around his daughter and jumps of the Point into the angry North Sea. #Fic140

The blow meant for his daughter kills his wife. Jailed his children go into care. Once out he goes after the girl. #Fic140

His parents divorce. He is sent to posh prison a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. He is hit by a car trying to hitch home. #Fic140

___________________________________________

He drew a passable likeness of the girl. Rehashed the picture of the headmaster’s daughter naked should have led to his expulsion. #Fic140

Expecting to hear she’d be OK for  ten years Kizzy was devastated to learn from her transplant team that they were giving her two. #Fic140

He loves her to bits but she’s falling to bits. She begs him to find another. He does. Her heart breaks first then fails. #Fic140

Cause-and-affection. He saw. He loved. His life felt whole again. #Fic140

Though her kiss and thrust were erotic, Robbie felt threatened by Angela not loved, intimidated not tamed. #Fic140

Both arms smashed the determined artist drew with his feet. Falling off the scaffold he broke his legs. He now spits paint. #Fic140

Lying bruised in piss and vomit in the bus shelter opposite his grandparent’s house after the disco Robbie concluded that Christine wasn’t ‘the one.’ #Fic140

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

My love of learning thrilled by some of the online courses with FutureLearn

Fig.1 Medicine and the arts. The University of Cape Town. FutureLearn 2015. Mosaic by Lovell Freidman.

I’ve completed many online courses because of an insatiable delight in learning; without any hesitation of the 12 courses thus far done with FutureLearn and five years studying formally online … and before that in a regular university and at college, the course ‘Medicine and that Arts’ from the University of Cape Town has been one of the most professional, comprehensive, insightful and dare I say it even ‘entertaining’ pieces of online learning I have done. It will repeat every year, so do watch out for its next presentation.

Fig.2 Medicine and the arts. The University of Cape Town. FutureLearn 2015. Mosaic by Lovell Freidman.

Great videos, and graphics, a balance of views, a variety of approaches (video, text, audio, quizzes and assignments) engaging conversations with fellow participants, an extraordinary wealth of speakers, moments of magic, and shock, and inspiration. I will return for more … and to get my 89% completion up to 100%.

Fig.3 Medicine and the arts. The University of Cape Town. FutureLearn 2015. 

The course creators at the University of Cape Town and the support they will have had from FutureLearn should make them deservedly hugely proud. I would not be surprised to find several awards coming to this course: it is one all involved in learning, and especially learning online, should come and view and do then emulate.

Who are we?

From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. © University of Cape Town CC-BY-NC-ND

It has been a lifelong, and rather futile quest of mine expressed in writing and art, diaries, blogs and stories and fed by academic study and non-academic spiritual and cranky pursuits to understand who I am – not what I am. There is in consciousness something rather odd going on that no amount of research into my ancestry, or to living relatives, no amount of writing or painting or visualising of ideas can explain. Is it not a trait of being a teenager to feel alien to the world? Although in my fifties I don’t think the euphoria of being a teen is a phase I’ve yet to pass through smile

This online course from the University of Cape Town has been fascinating.

I could study neuroscience or get drunk and paint a mural on the side of the house like Jackson Pollock, but I don’t think it would get me any closer to finding an answer … even if I had fun doing so. To sum it up for all of us, to excuse and explain all behaviour from Gandhi to Hitler, from Hockney to Terry Gilliam, Richard Dawkins to Robert Winston, I simply think that each of us is unique – yet ironically society and others repeatedly fight to contain us. 

I’ve been prompted to express this by a question posed to participants on the course ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town on FutureLearn. 

An utterly absorbing, heartfelt conversation so sympathetically and convincingly shared. Worth of many return visits and further deep study. I’m driven by a limiting interest in everything. My curiosity knows no bounds – which is limiting, as it might be enlightening.

It is easy to visualise the dog chasing its tail, though in my mind, excusing the vanity and narcism of it I see myself more as that omnipresent foetal child from the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

5 Free Online Courses on the First World War from FutureLearn

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.1 The Response, Newcastle

There are several ways to enter thinking relating to the First World War courtesy of Open University subsidiary FutureLearn. Each of the First World War courses takes a different tack: aviation, Paris Treaty, idea of heroism and coming up soon, through one hundred personal stories.

During the recent course on heroism we were asked to share images of out favourite First World War Memorials.

Born and raised in Newcastle my late mother went to the Art School on the other side of the road, then King’s College, Durham. She often talked of this memorial, knew its history and had done studies of it as a student.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.2. Lewes War Memorial

I know Lewes War Memorial as I have lived here for nearly 15 years. As a member of a bonfire society we stop at the memorial every 5th November … so whether there is a centenary or not, we make a lot of fuss about it. This memorial features online where Steve George has pinned every name to an address in the town. This make for very painful viewing as you realise how many households lost husbands and sons to the war.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.3 My late mother and grandfather at the Tynecot Cemetery marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres).

If I were to add a couple of other memorials it would be the extraordinary First World War memorial to mariners at Tower Hill with sumptuous stone carvings around the miniature garden where it is set, and the oddly incongruous memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park Corner which shows the figure of Boy David. I was a standard barer at a memorial to the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in which my late grandfather had served … he was there too, age 94.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.4. The Tower Hills memorial to mariners of the First World War

And most recently, at my daughter and son’s school, I came across this extraordinary mural that fills the assembly hall of the old Grammar School. Surely this achieves its goal of creating a lasting memory amongst students?

Fig. 5 Brighton Grammar School First World War commemoration mural

My First World War Future Learn (MOOCs) … online courses:

Coming up:

World War 1: History in a 100 Stories Follow at #FLww1stories  Starts 13th April. Duration Five Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week.

Completed with repeat dates:

World War 1: Trauma and Memory Follow at #FLTrauma15  Starts 25th May. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Two hours a week.

World War 1: A New World Order (The Paris Treaty of 1919) Follow at #FLtreaty Starts 22 June. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Five hours a week.

World War 1: Aviation Follow at #FLaviation Starts 13th July. Duration Three Weeks, Study time: Three hours a week.

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism Follow at  TBA. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week.

Having completed all but World War 1: History in a 100 Stories my sincere suggestion would be to set aside seven hours a week. I aim to do an hour a day during the week and complete on Friday. I generally achieve this unless I get deeply engrosses in the conversation, or have to go over a point a few times to understand it. Maybe 45 minutes every day then. Skip the discussions and these are easily done: then it becomes akin to watching a bit of TV and reading a few leaflets – not the same as testing your thoughts, and having your ideas tested, turned around, built upon and altered.

Tell me about it …

Fig.1 me, bis sis, and big brother.

I remember the shorts and the wellingtons. I loved it when I stepped in a puddle so deep and the water came over the top. I had a habit of not wearing underpants which meant that dangling from a tree or turning backward somersaults gave a view of my ‘bean sprout.’ It also resulted in my getting my willy caught in the zip on my trousers more than once. I guess I am four and a half. There’s a very similar picture of me dressed in school uniform a few weeks before my fifth birthday: shorts again, tie, blazer and cap with one sock up, and the other one down. I remember that first day at Ascham House as I waited forever to have a go on a huge rocking horse but couldn’t because Nick Craigie was having a turn, also the mashed potato in the school lunch made me sick because this sloppy gunk still had the eyes in it.  The response from the teachers: all spinsters of at least 90 years of age was the same ‘eat it up or you won’t get any pudding!’ The gooseberries and custard made me sick too.

I’m recalling all of this as I try to get my head into that of a child for the FutureLearn course ‘Medicine and the arts’ in which we are recalling stories of children in hospital. I had a hospital visit to have stitches put in my willy. It was a short, traumatic visit where I recall at least three people having to hold me down.

Children begin to release what matters to them with paintings and figurines, in song and play.

It matters that it takes a little thought and care to figure out what a drawing, poem, song or dance means to a child. My late mother, who taught art, said that on looking at a piece of work created by a child you should only ever say, ‘tell me about it.’ i.e. never presume that what you are looking at is a ‘house,’ or a ‘dog’ as you may discover that this is a ‘castle and a dragon,’ or a ‘hutch and a mouse,’ or a ‘prison and someone escaping.’ Let them talk it through and elaborate.

9 ways to create the perfect online course

Fig.1 Mosaic by featured in the University of Cape Town FutureLearn course ‘Medicine and the Arts’

Don’t call MOOCs MOOCs, they are ‘courses.’

Don’t even call them online courses. I suppose therefore, don’t call it e-learning either or even online learning … it is simply ‘learning’.  I am on my eighth or ninth course with FutureLearn. I may have three or four open at any one time and complete two of these at least. I love ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town while I am both maddened and intrigued by ‘The Mind if Flat’ from Nick Chater. I’m certain that online courses longer than a couple of weeks should not be treated like books or TV programmes. What works best, as the University of Cape Town shows, is to get the entire team involved. They have a lead host and presenter who each week introduces several colleagues, something like four to six each week. It is stimulating and necessary to hear from so many different voices.

1.  The Platform Provider

Brand and technical aspects. Think of this as the channel. It has both technical and brand qualities. Is it smart? Is it current? Does it all work faultlessly? Is it intuitive? Is it simple? I’ve done many FutureLearn courses but struggle every time with Coursera and EdX. Feedback on Udacity is dire from both suppliers and users.

2. Funding/Cost or Cost Benefit

You can’t make a movie in $125,000 dollars. If a 30 point 16 week distance learning course from the OU costs £1.5m to produce should a 3 week MOOC cost up to £300k? It’s a poor comparison is the cash cost may be a fraction of this: a university team’s job is to plan a programme of teaching anyhow. What matters is how a budget is spent. The learning designer for an online course is like the scriptwriter for a movie: they provide the blueprint. Is the investment worth it?

3. The Subject Matter

Are you true to your subject? Don’t try to be something you are not. Is it ‘made’ for an online course, rather than shoe-horned from a regular, traditional ‘classroom’ lesson plan? Would it be better served on a different platform in a different way? Can you teach sports coaches or movie directors online? Or rather, what can you, and what can you not teach them? Are you fully exploiting the affordances of the platform and easily linked to alternatives on the Internet.

4. Audience

Who do you attract and is this the same as who you get? Who do you attract by level of education, age, gender, culture and location.  Are you getting the audience you want as participants? The contribution participants make is crucial. Are there enough active voices to sustain this? Be aware of the extreme differences in digital literacy skills and competences. Do you know your audience? How do you relate to those who start the course? Do you try to appeal to multiple ‘personas’ – a dozen student character types, as the Open University does, or do you appeal to one person only, as an author would do?

5. Champions

One advocate over more than a couple of weeks will tire. It will feel like an ego trip any way. How good is the mix of contributors? Both in what they have to saw and show, and their levels of and variety of experience. An online course is not necessarily akin to a TV documentary that can be carried by a single presenter. Is it a one man show or a team effort?

6. Objectives

What are the hidden and implicit goals? To attract students, to build reputation, for the good of mankind? To make money? To massage an ego? What do results say in terms of those completing a course? Doing assignments and getting to the end then singing the praises of the team? Another guide can be whether as a production fulfils the initial Creative Brief. Both qualitative and quantitative research is required to provide answers.

7. Brand and creation/production values

Is is possible to stay true to your own brand, even have a distinct image, when on someone else’s platform? Are the values of the design, creation and delivery consistent with the standards and image of your institution? If not publishing, and not TV what is it? It cannot be a lecture series with a reading list and essay put online. It has to pick the strengths from individual media platforms to succeed in this multimedia setting.

8. Assessment

These must never be taken lightly. There are examples of trite, ill-thought through multiple-choice quizzes: these are a learning opportunity. A good quiz makes you think, challenges your knowledge, and provides feedback whether you get it right or wrong. Bravely ‘Medicine and the Arts’ has both quizzes and a regular written assignments. These are not onerous yet some participants are scared by a 300 to 500 word piece of writing. They oblige you to read back through the week’s activities before replying.

9. Connectedness

How ‘sticky’ is the content? Has it got people talking to each other, not simply replying to the headline. Are people connecting as ‘friends?’ Are they continuing this relationship beyond the ‘walled garden’ of the ‘open’ learning site? Does interest in the subject, in the presenters and the institution ‘have legs’ – does it last for the years before a person may make the time, and raise the funds, to take a formal course?

Medicine and the arts: children’s experiences of medical institutionalisation

Age 12 Stacey Pidden was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) and given a couple of years to live unless she went on a new trial drug which, with her parents behind her, she did. A decade later and she was given two years to live and put on the waiting list for a double lung and heart transplant – that was three years ago. She blogged her story to fellow students of the Open University from 2010, then a couple of years later started her public blog.  One friend with PH stopped taking drugs and died. She shares everything openly and honestly. From age 4 she underwent heart surgery and had a couple of operations every year or so. What is immediately apparent in blog is her skill as a writer and her view that “life is worth fighting for.” She is a feisty and determined and would be far weaker had she not found her voice and even a purpose in life: she is the voice of a new NHS donor card campaign.

Based on Marc Hendricks concerns of children’s voices being marginalised I see value in blogging as a creative outlet: it combines so much that the University of Cape Town team address: giving young patients a voice – their voice, in a way that suits them. Tracey, for example, is in close contact with the 17 other in the UK waiting for a double lung and heart transplant like her: this empowers her and reassures her – there are other people in her situation and she has a voice that requires no filters. Susan Levine talks of a person’s life world.’ Tracey shares her ‘life world’ with us; whilst we may think of our community as neighbours and friends, hers includes her transplant team and regular consultants. A blog is text, voice, photos, artwork and even song; whatever the author wants in fact. It’s certain than visual metaphors as Kate Abney found are an important way to express meaning too. While hospital radio is another way to enable storytelling as Nina Callaghan has found.

Creatively Stacie is a erudite, witty and frank voice representing those waiting for a transplant. Where permitted, children, not just young adults, should be given such freedoms to communicate and share beyond the confines of their ward and so give them confidence to speak their minds, improving their lives, their motivation to live and the quality of communication with hospital staff.

A personal story, in sharp contrast to TB in southern Africa, is a skiing accident in the French alps. This is a world away from the many children around the world who spend long, life threatening spells institutionalised in hospital, and in the UK is historically a century from TB (my great uncle died of TB when he was 27 in the 1920s). A skiing accident is like a traffic accidents these days, nonetheless resulting in children being hospitalised. Age 13 I smashed my leg. It took a traumatic 36 hours to get me into hospital near home 1000 miles away during which time I was trusted with a bottle of pain relief pills. Despite this responsibility once in hospital all power rested with the consultant to whom all communicated, deferred to and waited to hear from, my mother included. If I was in pain – it had to wait.

I found myself isolated in a private room courtesy of family insurance with nothing for pain relief other than a panic button to call a nurse. As I reflect on it I would say the isolation and not getting a response when I called for pain relief was the most difficult. I had no one to talk to. Not even a radio or TV to distract me.

Only when my mother was present did I feel I had an interpreter between the medical staff and me: I was not consulted, I was told. Just as I was told six weeks later moments before I went under that my leg would be re-broken, reset and put in a new plaster which in turn would mean my missing an term of school. The consultant knew everything. I knew nothing, and the way they were treated the nurses knew less.

Decades on, and age 10, I am with my daughter who has potentially suffered a fracture of some kind too. We are in France. Although their English wasn’t fluent and I was present more effort was made, even to my exclusion, to talk directly to her: after all, it was her suffering the pain or discomfort, not me. In this instance there was no broken limb, but I can see that efforts we made to communicate directly with my daughter, not to hear an interpretation of her possible ailments through a parent with a tendency to exaggerate.

Hearing from the patient is not only better for the patient, it is also sound medical practice – increasingly so as we can take some responsibility for understanding what is wrong with us by making informed searches on the Internet.

 

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