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World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham [Three Weeks]
Both more, and less than advertised. Far from sticking to the First World War the course flew away on a gust of enthusiasm in various directions that stretched beyond the Second World War … without really taking off.
|From Jack Wilson MM|
Fig.1 My late grandfather – the period I thought we’d cover was his experience of flight. 1911-1919
100% Coming out of the MA in British Military History with a Postgraduate Certificate and 60 credits after one year shows that I am still passionate about the subject of the First World War, but not how it is taught in a traditional ‘Saturday School’ format: I felt that I was back in the ‘C’ set of my lower-sixth History A’ level. The course tried hard to understand the affordances of learning online in a MOOC and will surely make many changes before it is presented again in the New Year. It rather failed to understand who its audience were: more niche, specialists and some extraordinarily well informed. The WW1 tag drifted rapidly into events between the wars, into WW2 and beyond with very little of the development of aviation offered or explored, except by us students, often in great depth. Its saving grace. It was too much an effort at shoehorning a lacklustre campus-based course of lectures, talks and books with long lists of qualifying but unreadable lists of references attached. The quizzes in particular were awful. Put in with no understand of their purpose or the considerable level expertise required to get these right.
Four activities remaining to complete. A touch more academic than some. I guess this is undergraduate English Literature, but third year. Or is it pitched at postgraduate level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.
|From E-Learning V|
More than any module or exercise I have done over my four years with The OU, it is a MOOC in FutureLearn that is giving me the most thorough experience of where the future or learning lies. I’m in week seven of eight weeks of ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from The OU, on the FutureLearn platform. Just in these few weeks I’ve seen the site change to solve problems or to enhance the experience. Subtle lifts and adjustments that make a positive out of constant adjustment. Those tabs along the top: activity, replies where under a tab. I think ‘to do’ is new while ‘progress’ was elsewhere. This is a responsive platform that listens to its students.
In the final week we submit our third piece of work.
As assessments go these are far less nerve racking than a TMA. The first piece was 300, the second 500 and the last will be 1000. These are assessed by fellow students. In my case I had one, then two reviews. Most people seem to get at least two sometimes three. The system is designed, I’m sure, to try and ensure that everyone’s work is reviewed at least once. Tens of thousands, certainly thousands of people are on the course.
We’re here to the 19th of December or so … if you follow the tracks as laid.
I hazard a guess that between 20-100 have posted there final piece already. Some, I know, got to the end of the entire course a few weeks ago; I looked ahead to see out of curiosity. There have always been 20 who post comments one, two even three weeks ahead. If 20 are posting I hazard a guess knowing my stats on these things that another couple of hundred could be clicking through the pages to read and observe. They may, like me, be coming back later. They may only be following the course, but not participating. Often, it is like standing on a stage looking into the gloom of the auditorium. Someone probably out there. One or two let you know. The rest don’t.
I hope those that race ahead come back …
I find that if I get ahead then I slow down and retrace my steps. To learn in this connected and collaborative way you are far better off in the pack … it is not a race to get to the end first. In fact, those who do this have already lost. They’ve missed the point. I’d suggest to people that if they have the time to do the week over. That’s been my approach anyway – the beauty of these things is everyone can come and go as they please, at a pace that suits them. Skip a bit. Go back. Follow it week by week, day by day … or not. Whatever works works?
There’s another very good reason to stay with the ‘pack’ or to come back and do a week over – the platform depends not on tutors and moderators commenting and assessing work, but us students doing a kind of amateur, though smart, peer review. This is what make a MOOC particularly vibrant, memorable and effective. Not listening to an educator telling us what’s what, but the contributors sharing, figuring it out, answering each other’s problems in multiple ways. We all learn in different ways and at a pace that shifts too. I find that often a point I don’t get first time round, on the second, or third, or even the fourth visit to an activity someone, somewhere puts it in a way that suddenly brings complete clarity – their way of seeing a thing, or expressing it, makes more sense than the writes of the course could manage. Because they can only write one version, not the ‘tartan’ that comes from an intelligent, threaded online conversation.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.1. My mashup from the FutureLearn App using Studio
I continue to wonder what impact FutureLearn will have on future models for e-learning platforms. I turn screengrabs into aide memoires like the one above.
Comments on the ‘Start Writing Fiction’ threads are now down from 3000 per thread to a few hundred … a fall out of 95% is usual for a myriad of reasons. It’ll be interesting to find out how many make it to the end … and in due course who ends up a published author, and most especially how many migrate from a FREE MOOC to a paid-for course with The OU. I have a sense that most on the module are over 60 and broke.
We’ve just listened to a handful of authors talking about the importance of reading.
I found this insightful and helpful across the board. I relate to Louis de Bernieres in terms of reading habits – different authors, same approach entering and re-entering writing/reading modes in months … something I need to change i.e. write, edit and read a daily pattern. Patricia Duncker says she read and views everything – a philosophy of Francois Truffaut who I was a fan of, especially trashy novels in his case. And from Alex Garner I see the value of seeing a novel as a screenplay, even as a director setting scenes, something incidentally Hilary Mantel talks about in an OU / BBC interview – write in scenes. Succinct. No messing. It relates to her understanding of how we reader in the 21st century – that we are used to and know the snappiness of the movie and TV. She says that the lengthy descriptions of Victorian novels are no longer palatable. I take from this that we have far too great a vivid view of the world. We know what slums, jungles and places globally look like. We see through time in documentaries, and film and now online. You mention the mud of Passchendaele and most people can picture it from commonly shared photographs and documentaries. An editing exercise reduced 500 words to 50. Most novice writers grossly overwrite. This OU MOOC favours pithy craft.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.1 A flippant title for the first draft of a novel set in the First World War
The power of social learning? I’d a two hour an online meet up on Tuesday – and topped 1,200 words.
On Sunday as eight writers met in a café in Brighton to write. This ‘Write a novel in a month’ has over 200,000 participants – novels are written at these events and published. We’ll have to see what I can do.
There’ll be a dedication to The OU should it ever comes out. As there is a fabulously vibrant Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) they are running on FutureLearn “Start Writing Fiction’ that has put the emphasis on character – another month to run on this. It is free. The OU BA in Creative Writing runs for several years. It works. There are plenty of published authors.
I’ve written on about blogging and its worth for over 14 years.
Regularly kindly people have suggested I stop blogging and put my energy into writing fiction. Courtesy of FutureLearn ‘Start Writing Fiction’ (From The OU) and the Write a Novel in A Month think for November I have duly written close to 60,000 words. This first draft, I understand, could take two or three months to edit – that will be the next step.
Gladly my early morning hour or two has been spent on this, rather than stacking up things to blog about. Instead I have fretted about scenes, characters and plots. The FutureLearn MOOC became apt and timely ‘applied’ learning as I’d had to write 1,600 words a day – today I topped 4,500.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig. 2. Stacking up the numbers
More than any MOOC I’ve ever done I feel certain that this will convert some for doing a freebie to becoming students. It’ll be interesting to see what the take up it. I know the percentages from OpenLearn are very modest 0.7% being a good figure.
I’ll reflect on what this means in due course.
Learning promoted like the Lotto? With badges, prizes, write-ins, writing wars … and more prizes, and tips and incentives.
What I think it means for e-learning and what personally I have picked up. I shouldn’t fret about TMAs anymore. You do a marathon and a short run ought to feel like something I can do in my stride. I always wished I could write first drafts under exam conditions then edit.
I’ve done enough of the FutureLearn MOOCs to be certain of one thing: those produced by The OU are incredible.
Somehow, not surprising really, they know how to put on a show. Just the right amount of content, the right number and type of activities, the right amount of moderation and support.
Over the last few years I’ve see a quest for a format that can be a panacea for challenges to learning. Setting aside the obvious need for a person to have the kit, the line and therefore the budget to use online learning … and probably a space, or context where they can do so undisturbed for regular parts of the day, there have been various efforts over the last decade to make ‘social learning’ or ‘connected and collaborative’ learning work.
FutureLearn is now achieving this.
I’ve done, or tried to do some FutureLearn MOOCs that are either make false promises and are rather hollow in content, failing to exploit the value of the platform, and others that are so intense that I feel you need to be a postgraduate with a niche interest. In both these cases I could simply say that very different target audiences were addressed: school leavers and those applying to university in some instances, those seeking to go on to PhD research at the other. In which case, no wonder I struggle to relate to either one.
Should I return, each time I’ll be happier to stand back and let others find their way. I will have read more, seen more, thought more and written more. If I can help nudge others towards finding their own ‘truth’ I will have done something useful.
Inevitably over the next five years many of us will become imbued with a unique sensibility on the subject. I think my perceptions shift on walks, or in the middle of the night.
TV is a mixed bag, and I’m reluctant to recommend much of it, however I am currently watching ad watching again the brilliantly smart, moving, visualised, engaging ‘War of Word’ Soldier Poets of the Somme which is far broader than the title may suggest – this goes well beyond the obvious to paint a vivid sense of how impressions of violent conflict alter and sicken.
Several of these poets are now forgotten, but celebrated here, as we come to understand how they transitioned from glorification and patriotism on joining up to the ghastly reality. War of Words: Soldier-Poets of the Somme must have been shown on BBC2 in the last week or so – available for a month I think. Very worth while. Expertly done. A variety of approaches. Never dull. Often surprising and some stunning sequences of animations to support readings of short extracts from the poems. And it even tells the story of British Military advances during the period running up to, through and after the Battle of the Somme.
Fig.1 What makes for a busy restaurant?
It’s the difference between a busy restaurant and an empty one; a party you never want to leave because of the buzz and one that you wish you’d never gone to the trouble of turning up for.
This is because ‘social, collaborative and connected’ learning isn’t properly factored into the design of all online courses – at least not until the last couple of years.
I’m sure the techniques and platforms used at FutureLearn will find there way over here – but not, I believe until the entire system on which the OU learning operates I believe. I think there is an inherent weakness in Drupal that will never permit the kind of interactivity that is no possible on other platforms.
Fixing this will be like unknitting the Bayeux tapestry and re-stitching it in silk without anyone noticing. Now there’s an IT challenge.
Fig.1 At the war memorial to the Machine Gun Corps (MGC) on Hyde Park Corner, 1991. I’m with my late grandfather – dark suit and beige shoes, fourth in from the right. That’s me on the far left of the line in the glasses holding the standard. (Volunteered about five minutes previously) Marking the 75th Anniversary of the formation of the MGC in 1916.
I’ve just completed fascinating couple of weeks, often gruelling on The OU’s World War 1: Trauma and Memory on the FutureLearn MOOC platform.
My love for The OU is restored. Everyone should pick a course from FutureLearn to understand where learning is being taken. You cannot go wrong with an OU lead and designed one of these – some of the others are re-versioned books, leaflets, extra curricular workshops and lecture series, not embracing the affordances of the platform at all.
An eye opener for anyone studying learning – go over there anyone studying education.
At the end of each week, which officially run for the five working days of the week, we are invited to reflect on the lessons learnt. A very significant part of this are the ‘massive’ conversations that follow each ‘activity’.
A week of looking at and contemplating the dead from violent conflict I conclude that ‘war breeds hate; hate festers and breeds war.’ Unless the population is wiped out, or dived between the conquerors. Or unless the conquerors stay put – the Normans eventually subjugated England and Scotland and 1000 years on some of them still rule and own the land.
Responses to hatred are diametrically opposed: forgiveness and peace, blame and violent conflict. Has humankind moved on that far from the tribalism of one or two millennia ago? If young men, the typical combat soldier truly understood what could happen to them would they still go? It applies to every kind of risk, and testosterone fuelled it is more of a male thing? This willingness to take outrageous risks believing that it ‘won’t happen to them’. And of course, commemorating ‘our glorious dead’ and ‘returning heroes’ risks celebrating war rather than being a period of reflection and commemoration. A veteran of WW1 my grandfather never used the term ‘heroic’. Do young people joining up think that if nothing else, wounded, or dead in a coffin, they will at least come back ‘a hero’ – making it OK? And yet, however frightful, violent conflict remains a way that peoples, people, cultures attempt to resolve their differences.
It’ll continue until the world’s resources and ‘life chances’ – are fairly distributed. I feel the awakening of a burgeoning political sensibility that may wobble towards republicanism and socialism.
|From E-Learning V|
Fig.1. Web 1.0, Web 2.0, Web 3.0. The way it was, the way it is, the way it will be. J F Vernon (2013)
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are new and FutureLearn, a wholly owned subsidiary of The OU is itself adapting as traditional institutions embrace e-learning, respond to feedback and to results and improve.
MOOCs will be new for a decade.
E-learning like this is not a lecture series online, TV online, a book or book list online, quiz or a tutorial online. Whilst this is invariably the starting place for ‘ground based’ educators, the academics working with instructional designers, not in isolation, need increasingly to begin with a blank sheet rather than looking at the physical assets of academics, books, lectures and papers around them.
What we are witnessing today is that transition from the Wright Brothers to World War One fighter planes: we are seeing hints of the jets to come: we are a long way from drones. I use the analogy having just completed a wonderful three-week FutureLearn MOOC ‘World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age‘. Innovation takes time, though not necessarily violent conflict.
Innovations go through recognisable phases.
E-learning in the forms of MOOCs is still at the stage of ‘early adoption’ – rest-assured they will become commonplace, though surely with a different name? MOOCs can be a hybrid during a transitional phase so long as this is seen as the first step in many away from traditional approaches, embracing what works online.
Academics need to resist hiding away in their silos and welcome into their midst those of us seeking to understand and to integrate the processes involved – that combination of learning and e-learning: how and why we learn (neuroscience and physcology) and how then scale (massiveness), interactivity (digital) and connectivity (openness) changes things. In time, when the academics themselves have reached their accredited status of ‘doctor’ and ‘professor’ through e-learning and when we can call them all ‘digital scholars’ – then we’ll be able to look down from the clouds and smile at how much things have changed.
Think evolution not revolution
Think how long it will take to see out the current generation of academics – thirty to fifty years? Whilst many embrace change, most do not. They chose academia as a lifestyle and fear closer, open scrutiny and engagement. Learning is now experiencing what retail has gone through over the last decade. They are exhilarating as well as scary times.
Ultimately MOOCs are about a combination of sequential activities and ‘interactivities’, collaboration and connection.
Gilly Salmon coined the term ‘e-tivities’: sadly not in common usage, it nonetheless captures beautifully what is required for students to learn online – doing stuff on your own, with other fellow students and with the academics. Academics who like to observe from their ivory towers are failing in a duty as educators, and are missing the opportunity to have their own thinking challenged and refreshed.
Collaboration is a long held view of a kind of learning in ‘communities of practice’ most associated with the academics Lave and Wenger: how working together is a more effective for of constructed learning.
Connectedness as a way of learning is dependent on a few things: the affordances of the platform to permit this with ease: if you have the opportunity compare current student messaging and blogging platforms at your institution with those at FutureLearn which has stripped back the unnecessary and concentrated on this ‘connectivity’; the number and mix of participants: massive helps as a small percentage of a group will be the front runners and conversationalists with others benefiting from listening in, out of choice not pressure and the ‘quality’ of the participants in that they need to have both basic ‘digital literacy’ skills and reliable access based on their kit and connection. ‘Connectivity’ is often associated with the academic George Siemens and is the new kid on the ‘learning theories’ block.
Embrace the pace of change
A lean and smart organisation will tumble over itself, re-inventing and experimenting with ways things are done until clear methodologies present themselves for specific types of learning experience: ‘head work’ is different to’ handiwork’ – academic study is different from applied practice. Subjects freed from books and formal lectures, like the genii released from the bottle will, in the cloud, form into shapes that are most suited to their learners and what is being taught: blended and ‘traditional’ learning most certainly have their place.
Academic snobbery is a barrier to e-learning.
John Seely Brown, working out of the Palo Alto Research Centre, famous for coming up with the WYSIWYG interface between us and computers and a ‘learning guru’ is passionate about the idea of ‘learning from the periphery’ – this is how and when someone new to a subject, or team, hangs around at the edges, learning and absorbing what is going on at the heart. The wonder of open learning is the participation of equally brilliant and curious minds, some who know a good deal on a subject while others are just starting out, eager to listen, willing to ask questions that may be naïve but are usually insightful; in the two-way exchange both the die-hard academic and the newbie change for the better. Learning feeds of this new fluidity. It is evidence of the ‘democratisation’ of learning.