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23 ways to an e-learning fix

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

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

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

Those I’m on or have pending

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

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.

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?

Sharing a response in Week 3 of FutureLearn’s ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town.

It has been fascinating as a parent to watch my children growing up. Of particular interest and relevance here are video games and how my son and his friends always sought out cheats and hacks that became part of the play process. Playing ‘Call of Duty’ online with his friends from school my son found a hack that got them in behind the wireframe landscapes. So having tired, or not, the tailored activities and levels of game play they would now make up their own behind the scenes missions in a lawless, often low functioning underworld. Finding the limits, subverting the rules, joining in with your mates and teaching each other what is what, continuing conversations they started in the playground and most importantly often getting into arguments that having a long laugh all made up their play

Susan Levine suggests that modernisation is possibly changing the essence of play. I would argue that whilst the context and tools of play may be different, in essence it is the same thing: our brains and child development haven’t evolved into something different, how could they?

What strikes me as potentially different isn’t to do with comparisons between the modern world and the past, or between levels of development, or specific cultures, it could however come down to communities, and even been confined to the family. Do your parents or carers allow you to play? How controlled and monitored were you formative years? Were you isolated, even in most desperate circumstances confined to a room alone … or to the other extreme were you surrounded by siblings and friends and given considerable freedom to come and go between mealtimes and bedtimes as you wished? The household of the Duke of York, home to the future Kings Edward VIII and George V, was horribly strict with two nurses, an nursery footman, governess and tutor given orders to push the children hard for the later responsibilities they would have. They barely had a moment without strict adult supervision; what they could do was prescribed and closely supervised so play was limited, controlled or even stylised, no wonder both ended so ‘screwed’ up – Edward VIII throwing away the crown in abdication, and George V having to be treated for a severe stamina and painful shyness. It is understandable how, for example, orphaned and mentally ill children in Romania, confined, even chained to cots from a young age, would be so developmentally disadvantaged: at that moment in their development when they needed to socialise and play they could not. Life was a serious business by all accounts in the 1930s depression too. I cannot help but feel some children of that era, in certain parts of the world, were ‘denied a childhood’ and turned out to be rather ‘odd’ adults with particular challenges. Both geographically and historically where children are denied the opportunity to play do they develop an odd, even contrary view of the world?

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