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What’s a MOOC from FutureLearn life? It’s as easy as turning the pages of a book

Fig.1 Alice in Wonderland pOp-Up.

FutureLearn MOOCs are as easy and as pleasurable to do as a child turning the pages of pop-up book on Christmas morning surrounded by friends and family.

Engaging. Puts a smile on your face. Teaches you something. Leaves you wanting more. What content is presented and the way it plays out changes things. The interaction with others matters massively.

My interest is e-learning. A decade ago it was web-based learning and before that it was online learning … as compared to ‘offline’ learning on an intranet or in a computer learning centre. Across this period, whether on Laser disc, CD-rom, DVD, or online the key words to describe a successful piece of learning might include: easy to use, intuitive, effective, measurable results, gamified and impressive. ‘Impressive’ for a corporate client has always been important – they want to see how their money is spent. It matters to jazz a thing up, to find a way to deliver exception creative qualities in both the ideas and the execution of these ideas. In H.E. this ‘impressiveness’ has been thin on the ground the experience and view of H.E. that someone talking to camera with a slide show or whiteboard will do the job; it doesn’t, not any more.

At the risk of writing a list I want to think about the ‘enhanced learning’ experiences that have impressed over the last 15 years:

Audi Shop DVD – Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. Stunning animated 3D animations of the engine. Like a 3D animated Dorling Kindersley

What are you like? – Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. An interactive life and career guide for teenagers done in the style of ‘In Betweeners’ and ‘Some Girls’ – nailed the audience with creative tone and visual effects. This won BAFTAs, the IVCA Grand Prix and NMA Effectiveness Awards.

Ideafisher – first on floppy discs, then a CD. It did in the 1990s what various websites do today by linking vast collections of aggregated ideas and concepts that it filters out and offers up. The closest I’ve felt to AI for creativity.

MMC – online marketing courses. These were, for me, in 2010, an early example of stringing the face to camera lecture together with course notes to create a course. Still more like a self-directed traditional lecture series but the volume of content was admirable and some of the tools to control the viewing and reading experience were innovative.

TED Lectures. Are they learning? Or are they TV? Are they modelled on the BBC’s Annual Reith Lecture series? Top of the Pops for the lecture circuit so tasters and Open Education Resources for grander things.

Rosetta Stone – iPad App

Pure simplicity. I love these. I gave a year to an intermediate course in French, learnt some grammar and fixed several problems with my pronunciation. Like that game ‘Pairs’ you play as a child: a pack of cards with pairs of images on one side that you pair up. With considered, only sometimes over art-directed photography. Repetitive, always in the language you are learning. The next best thing to being dropped in amongst native speakers as an infant. It just works.

iTunesU – The History of English in One Minute.

Not so much a course as a series of stunning and memorable cartoon pieces that galvanise your interest. The next step is to follow through with a free trial course through OpenLearn and perhaps a nudge then towards a formal course with the Open University proper.

FutureLearn – the entire platform.

As easy as reading a book. I’ve done eight of these and have another three on the go (two for review rather than as a participant). Across the myriad of subjects and offerings there are differences, all gems, but some are more outstanding than others. It is no surprise that those MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) produced by the Open University are some of the very best; it’s what you’d expect with their experience. Other university’s shine through for their confidence with the the platform too, for example, ‘How to read a mind’ from the University of Nottingham.

MOOCs I love enough to repeat:

Start Writing Fiction: From the Open University

I may have been through this a couple of times in full and now dip back into it as I get my head into gear. I’ll do this as often as it takes to get the thinking to stick. It’s working. I read as a writer. I will interrupt a story to pick out how a succinct character description works.  I’m also chasing up a myriad of links into further Open University courses and support on creative writing. For example: next steps, creative writing tasters, and audio tasters on iTunes. 

MOOCs I may repeat next year … or follow similar topics from these providers:

Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: From the Open University with the BBC

World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: From the University of Glasgow with the BBC

MOOCs I admire that target their academic audiences with precision:

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham

Shakespeare’s Hamlet: From the University of Birmingham

Web Science: How the Web is changing: From the University of Southampton

 

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FutureLearn MOOCs – learning of the future has just arrived

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.

What is meant by a ‘tutorial’?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. What is a tutorial?

In my decade+ using these platforms (I first attempted a module of the Open & Distance Learning MA in 2000/2001)we’ve gone from ‘computer-based learning’ and ‘web-based learning’ to ‘online learning’ and ‘e-learning’ or ‘eLearning’. ‘MOOC’ (Massive Open Online Course’ is a dreadful term so ‘Free Online Course’ must surely be better?

It’ll pan out over the years.

I have come to like ‘hang-outs’ (a term coined by Google) as an informal online gathering. A lecture online, is by default something akin to a ‘TED lecture’ surely? Webinars are a reasonable catch-all and perhaps what becomes of an OU Live moderated sessions?

Regarding tutorials, though traditionally small groups, a tutor and one or two, maybe three students for an hour – it is these asynchronous conversations that match this where the role of ‘tutor’ is taken by the educators, but also by well-informed contributors – this can happen here. The learning effect is, I would say the same, or very similar. You offer thoughts, these are challenged, or people agree and add or amend them and in this way you ‘construct’ meaning. Constructivism is one of the older ‘learning theories’, whereas ‘connectivism’ is very much a product of learning like this.

These is called a blog platform, yet it has affordanced of what used to be called a ‘Bulletin Board’ (I did one of these with the OU in 2001. Think text messages strung together in a kind of Excel spreadsheet). A blog, for my money, has a modicum of independence of design, tools and sharing. Go see WordPress. I wouldn’t change much here though. I cherish the new things I learn from people on totally different courses, the company and support that I know is here too.

Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup – the wonders of FutureLearn, the Paris Conference of 1919 and the birth of the League of Nations

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup

How do you compare and mark a variety of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

We need to treat them like one of those challenges they do on Top Gear, where Jeremy Clarkson – ‎Richard Hammond – ‎James May set off to Lapland in a Reliant Robin or some such and then get marks across six or so criteria. Hardly scientific, but it splits the pack.

So, let’s say we take THREE MOOCs, what criteria should there be? 

  • Commitment. What percentage of participants signing up complete the course?
  • Comments. I use the word ‘vibrancy’ to judge the amount and nature of activity in the MOOC, so this is crudely reduced to the number of comments left.
  • Likes. Another form of vibrancy where comments left by the team and by participants are ‘liked’. It has to be a measure of participation, engagement and even enjoyment
  • Correct answers. Assuming, without any means to verify this, that participants don’t cheat, when tested are they getting the answers right. This is tricky as there ought to be a before and after test. Tricky to as how one is tested should relate directly to how one is taught. However, few MOOCs if any are designed as rote learning.

You could still end up, potentially, comparing a leaflet with an Encyclopaedia. Or as the Senior Tutor on something I have been on, a rhinoceros with a giraffe.

It helps to know your audience and play to a niche.

It helps to concentrate on the quality of content too, rather than more obviously pushing your faculty and university. Enthusiasm, desire to impart and share knowledge, wit, intelligence … And followers with many points of view, ideally from around the globe I’ve found as this will ‘keep the kettle bowling’. There is never a quiet moment, is there?

I did badly on a quiz in a FutureLearn Free Online Course (FOC). World War 1. Paris 1919. A new world order … 

I think I got half right. I chose not to cheat, not to go back or to do a Google search; what’s the point in that. I haven’t taken notes. I wanted to get a handle on how much is going in … or not. Actually, in this context, the quiz isn’t surely a test of what has been learnt, but a bit of fun. Learning facts and dates is, or used to be, what you did in formal education at 15 or 16. This course is about issues and ideas. A ‘test’ therefore, would be to respond to an essay title. And the only way to grade that, which I’ve seen successfully achieved in MOOCs, is for us lot to mark each others’ work. Just thinking out loud. In this instance the course team, understandably could not, nor did they try, to respond to some 7,000 comments. They could never read, assess, grade and give feedback to a thousand 4,000 word essays. Unless, as I have experienced, you pay a fee. I did a MOOC with Oxford Brookes and paid a fee, achieved a distinction and have a certificate on ‘First Steps in Teaching in Higher Education’.

As facts are like pins that secure larger chunks of knowledge I ought to study such a FutureLearn FOC with a notepad; just a few notes on salient facts would help so that’s what I’ll do next week and see how I get on. Not slavishly. I’ll use a pack of old envelopes or some such. For facts to stick, rather than ideas to develop, the platform would have needed to have had a lot of repetition built into it. Facts in an essays are like pepper in soup.

Armed with an entire module on research techniques for studying e-learning – H809: Practice-based research in educational technology – I ought to be able to go about this in a more academic, and less flippant fashion.

Why some online learning works better than others

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 This is what a reading list looks like – too much of a good thing makes it a bad thing

I ‘do’ e-learning for two reasons:

  • love of a subject, or a desire to fill holes or build mountains in my knowledge
  • fascination in e-learning: what works and what does not.

FutureLearn is a magic platform

I love it’s simplicity, clarity and intuitiveness. In the right hands it’s the perfect cup of coffee. (and once a day takes about as long to consume)

Classy copy

The considered, edited and crafted content doesn’t dick about: it is a brief talk, or walk and talk BBC documentary style opening (video), followed by a a dozen paragraphs of a succinct piece of required reading that is then opened to the ‘floor’.

‘Connectedness’ is enabled

The threaded discussion looks more like this bulletin-board cum blog cum student forum. Perhaps, as this has developed over the last decade, is where the idea came from? As a bulletin-board each time you comment your thoughts are placed on the top of the pile: someone has to read it when they log in, or at least there’s a  greater chance of that.

This connectedness is facilitated and encouraged further by alerts you get as others comment in a thread you’ve contributed to or started.

Your contributions are sorted for you and so build, without you needing to do so yourself, into a threaded line of thought – you can see how you are learning, how your knowledge improves and your ideas develop.

There are parameters

There is a word count for each posting. 1200 characters I think and a time frame during which you can edit (15 minutes).

There is a modicum of overload

We, as students, are the masters of the time we have, or want to give to a thing. We are also the ones who know and control the pace. It is too simple to say that some people read faster than others, so can consume more. We approach text in very different ways. What is crucial and done in the FutureLearn module I’m doing on the 1919 First World War Paris Treaty is the amount of reading offered. It is more than enough, but not overwhelming. It takes itself and its students seriously by saying that ‘we think you can read all of this and contribute to the discussions in the time allocated – five hours a week’.

Module teams get it wrong when content is sparse or when they overload the student with that laziest of get-outs ‘the reading list’. Getting it right requires effort, confidence in the subject you are teaching and a belief and understanding of the way people learn and the platforms and tools now available and how their evolving use impacts on learning. I’m doing a couple of FutureLearn modules: ‘Writing Applications’ at two hours a week, compares to World War 1: Paris 1919 at five hours a week. The contrast couldn’t be greater.

It’s like the first offers you a small cup of coffee: no refills. Instant. You get it with milk whether you like it or not. While the second gives you a rich cup of coffee and, if you want them, a couple of refills. No more. There are parameters.

FutureLearn keeps it simple

What matters are the words people type. There are none of the mess of unnecessary buttons provided here. Honestly. Keep it simple OU. They just muddle things massively. Where used they invariably take away from the ability to communicate. It is enough of a challenge to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Plain text does the job. In the hands of the amateur (all of us), being able to add colour, change font size and a whole lot more serves no useful purpose.

Content is self-moderated by the group

A simple alert button allows you to flag something to let moderators know that something inappropriate is going on: hateful language, foul language, ‘drunken’ rants …

Go see

‘There’s something for everyone’.

A response to any challenge: it takes time, experience, risk and a sense of what you are capable of

20140325-001651.jpg

Fig.1 The only time I ever got down this precipitous drop in one go, falling the fall line, was as a fit and by then experienced skier. Plagne-Bellecote, France.

It took eight years, a badly smashed leg, both thumbs and a rib. It is thirty years since I have been in the flat we used then – this is the view from the window. I have no intentions of getting any closer than this. Instead I will join the Ski Club of Great Britain Guide and in so doing learn from others and remain in one, unbroken piece.

My H818: The Networked Practitioner

Though I completed the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education (MAODE) last year I didn’t feel like a ‘master’ – further modules as continual professional development have realised this: H809 for research and H818 for applying and sharing in an open and ‘directed’ way. My background is a producer in corporate L&D so the aim has been to support the shift from linear to interactive, to connected and open learning founded on applied knowledge of a number of learning theories.

H818 pulled together or touched on a number of personal interests:

  • Can creativity be taught or managed online?
  • What are the parameters, pitfalls and potential of open learning?
  • Recognition not just of an interface between online and ‘offline’ learning, but the blended mix where lessons from either world can inform the other.

There’s a difference between open (small ‘o’) and Open (large O): the latter, as I have done over 14 years posting content, is akin to ‘exposure’ – putting it all out there; whereas the Open movement to be effective, ironically, requires parameters and goals. From H818 the need to, reasons to and how to ‘ask’ became apparent.

The outcome of H818 is the Quick Response code in a Poppy to support open and connected learning about the First World War. As a creative exercise despite being unable to single out a ‘partner’ the working process has been akin to that in advertising where the creative team is a copywriter and a visualiser, with one if these or both likely to have programming skills – or the creative team becomes three. Openstudio online is like the studio I worked in at the School of Communications Arts where I was a student and now mentor.

The ask component has two parts to it:

I post then share blog posts on the QR Code idea via WordPress and a number of platforms: LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Stumbleupon. This at best makes serendipity a possibility but is small ‘o’ – though the connections directly from this include BBC TV, BBC Radio 4, the national trust, King’s College London and a couple of people with direct, personal connection to the content I have posted – they recognise a face from a 1918 postcard.

The second part is, still early days, putting the idea to individuals and groups directly and asking questions that I take care to recognise where they are forthcoming. Using the above social platforms the request is directed at an individual, or to a specific specialist group. The ‘use of QR codes’ in education has uncovered far greater use and interest than the current papers suggest. Direct questions have gone to niche interest groups such that ‘talks’ on the use of QR codes in this way will be given to schools and to regional history associations. Not all that I approach have responded – this kind of ‘ask’ is a kind of selling or PR. It isn’t simply connectedness, it is networking too that expects a professional offering and response. ‘Consultancy’ is one thing, but the production side of it – seeing content successfully briefed in, financed, designed, scripted and delivered is my aim and so with tentative steps ‘Mindbursts’ is coming to fruition and will build on some 15 years of creating learning content in the corporate sector.

The second outcome of H818 is to try and continue and build on the relationships that were developed. In LinkedIn two groups have been set up: ‘The online masters’ and ‘MAODE’ – early days, but experience from the Open University Business School shows how from tiny beginnings great things can grew. The challenge in the early days will be to keep the kindle alight so that there is just enough ‘vibrancy’ to make it a worthwhile place for current and future members. Similarly, a blog where all members have ‘editor’ rights has been set up.

Returning to the idea of big ‘O’ and little ‘o’ it strikes me that my little ‘o’ behaviour is akin to being loudly in a crowd while big ‘O’ requires directed engagement and responsiveness. Which has me wondering that a journalist writing for a paper with its parameters and audience is more open than hiding behind the obfuscation of the blog. Which in turn, as has occurred throughout H818 has seen me completing a huge loop into an online world of the possible to the offline world of the actual and realising that quicker than I imagined learning is increasingly blended whether you put an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ or an ‘m’ in front of it.

S.C.A.R.F.

Trying to rationalise and reflect on what next I’ve reduced it to this mnemonic:

S=Strategic

C=Connectedness, Collaboration and several other Cs

A=Applied

R=Reciprocal

F=Financed.

In that order too.

S = Strategic is a term I know a few fellow students of the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education (MAODE) have used. This means time management to some, curbing the desire to disappear down intellectual rabbit holes to others … while for me it probably means taking on less and being more focused and less distracted. Immediately on leaving this space I will refine my contacts on Linkedin and reduce the groups I am in yet further. I should concentrate only on people I know or strategically relate to and then make time for them – ditto the groups. I only need to be in a couple. These can be vibrant and worthy of your attention. “S’ might also stand for ‘sustainable’ – see ‘financed’ below.

C = Collaborative is key for me. Historically success has always come from at least two, sometimes a small team of us doing something. I find the second person or others creates a responsibility to see a thing through to its conclusion which may not happen when I am left to my own devices. And of course, two heads are better than one from a problem solving point of view.

A = Applied, over the other ‘a’ word ‘academic’. While the MAODE usually draws from your real life experience I really want to be spending most of my time putting into practice the many insights and skills I have gained on the MAODE and had to bring into play for H818: The Networked Practitioner. This means, most likely, returning to learning and development (L&D) – agency side rather than client side. This may happen sooner rather than later as I have a second interview with a learning company this week. This would see me designing learning for workshops and online. ‘A’ needs also to stand for ‘ask’ – see ‘Financed’ and ‘O’ below.

R = Reciprocal. This I have known for a decade. There is no ‘gaming’ the system to create collaboration or connectedness online. You have to be less selfish and more altruistic. It pays to seek out like minds and take an interest in them as they will return the favour. Just a handful of people will do. I feel I had deserted a few of the folk I used to converse with all the time … and have let relationships with some people from earlier MAODE modules slip. No more!

F = Financed. So funded too. Contracted or raising funds for my projects. Applications have gone out seeking funds for the Quick Response Codes Poppy thing – either to apply it to the activities, say of the Western Front Association, or simply to go to schools or associations and give a talk … which would in due course become a self-contained why and how to e-learning module. This means asking for money. Yes, it is about selling. Amanda Palmer is a reminder of this. Crowdfunding is a little distance, while applying to appropriate sources of funding is another. The entrepreneur in me has raised funds commercially too in the past. If I need financing I have to ask for it.

There ought to be an ‘O’ – as in ‘open’ or ‘openness’ – in this coming out of H818, but I have to differentiate between ‘Big O”, ‘little o’ and ‘gratuitous exposure’. I tend to have been the former. It all goes online whatever its value or not. It doesn’t take much to make more postings closed and use a blog as an e-portfolio so I will. I use to say to people that the best place to hide a secret was to post it in a blog – the sophistication of the probing search engines means that this is no longer the case (if it ever was?). Serendipity isn’t as effective as a request i.e. ‘ask’. So ‘open’, but nuanced. Early in this module we reflected on this. So I wonder what the outcome might be? For some it would be the value of being open at all, whereas for me it is to be less so.

Time and effort

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

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

Knowing how to tutor ‘in the real world’ is vital if you are ever to succeed at this online.

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Spending four hours with some 30 students attending the School of Communication Arts is always an eyeopener and reminder of the worth of paying the closest attention to how a person is responding to the brief they have been set. In order to spread myself across the ones, twos and threes I sit with I set the timer on the iPhone to 15 minutes.

Four hours later my overall impression is that this is an impressive intake of students – I last sat with them in October so it is wonderful to recognise that they are in tune with the needs of advertisers – solving problems in a 21st cenutry blend of ways. Every team had answered their respective briefs with a solid response – all I felt I should do was to help them think through their rational and give them confidence to push their idea with every ounce of their energies. If I had the means to take any of them on I’d so so – they are smart, open and receptive. The real world is less kind and less receptive – someone should always be there to fight their corner, but it doesn’t alter their need to be able to sell and defend their ideas too.

So what does my background in eLearning have to offer to this? And is it possible to recreate any of this sense of collaborative creative problem solving online? Many turn to the Internet to embellish their ideas; all could be smarter with their search, not least favouring images or video, but asking what it is the Web will offer before they key in a few words. All presentations they give are as two minutes pieces created in Adobe Premier – the best are online, some pick up prestigious D&AD and other awards, many of the students are now gainfully employed in advertising agencies.

If judging learning I would conside the learning theory behind it and in the context its likelihood of success; how therefore do I judge the work of these students? As I learned at the School of Communication Arts myself the test is to be able to construct a sense of the creative brief that they must have received to get them to this point: is the problem that they are responding to self-evident? Do I know who the audience is? Can I see them as a persona, if not as an actual person? Would they relate to it? Is the ‘call to action’ clear? Is the execution memorable? Would I grab it on my phone? Would I blog about it and embed the student video from YouTube?

Selecting a topic and title. H818 Activity 3.1.

Fig.1. Listening to a memorable and evocative ‘visitor audio tour’ on Alcatraz. Away from the bustle of people, by a nature reserve for nesting gannets. 

1) Theme and Format. Presentation of a multimedia model, QStream, for use before, during and after a trip that might be to a museum, historic property or battlefield.

2) With the centenary of the First World War upon us I would like to find ways to enhance the visitor experience, perhaps for those with a GCSE or A’Level, or an undergraduate interest rather than for the general public. Ideally there would be options to select a level of interest and previous understanding.

3) For this audience Secondary or Tertiary audiences will be of most interest. Perhaps even promoting an MA course for graduate Historians?

4) I have had an interest in QStream for a couple of years and developed a proposal for its use with patients with chronic illness. This is an alternative, though equally valid use for the platform. My only variation on this would be to include an audio component, and/or to track visitors so that content might be tailor to and for them.

5) How an App that spaces learning over a period of weeks and months can support the experience of visiting a museum, historic property or battlefield.

How an App is able to create a personalised experience for a visitor to a museum, historic property or battlefield that enhances the learning experience without distracting from the artefacts or the place itself, in other words, in compliments and augments the experience created by the visitor on their trip.

6) Already familiar with QStream (aka Spaced-Ed) I checked on latest papers and developments. I searched ‘museum’, ‘augmented’ and ‘elearning’ and from a selection of around 12 papers have thus far read, in depth, two of these as well as a couple of commercial conference presentations of a museum platform.  Based on this the idea is shifting towards headphones tracked in a space feeding a bespoke sound landscape and commentary based on where a person is and their observed and apparent behaviour. One platform avoided the need for any input by the user, though for my purposes GCSE (Key Stage X), A’leve (Key Stage Y) or Undergraduate, even Graduate is considered necessary so that you compliment the person’s necessary learning experience.

7) My literature research approach can always be refined, having completed H809 Research-based practices in online learning I feel competent to conduct a thorough search.

8) One glitch was to in error delete a folder in RefWorks rather than create a bibliography. There was no back button to undo. I make look at purchasing a commercial referencing tool such as EndNote. Having always felt that online learning was a process I felt the need to have a subject specialism too, for this reason I am taking a Masters degree in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is a very different experience. A monthly day of lectures/tutorial, a reading list with books to find from a regional university library, and an online platform that makes the OU VLE look like Whisley to Bham’s assorted allotments under the railway bridge! But you do get to meet fellow students and librarians.

9) Audio, without visuals, feelslike harking back to audioguides of the 1980s and 1990s, yet today, with GPS and other sophisticated tracking devices a visitor experience can be situated, to the spot, personalised to the individual, and still be evocative through ‘painting pictures’ in the mind without distracting from artefacts museum curators have so carefully chosen. A recent experience visiting Alcatraz, for all its Disneyfication and complimentary wildlife sanctuary cum Native American protest camp, included what I would describe as a BBC Radio 4 docudrama that was intelligent, moving an engaging – a blend of officer, prisoner and officer family oral memoir and soundscape. However, it did rely on the visitor being in the right spot when the audio was played so that very quickly, taking my own route around the island, I found the content in my head at odds, in an interesting way, with what I was looking at: gannets nesting on an old basketball yard (making it akin to a visit to the Farne Islands or the Bass Rock, also an old prison) while in the distance multimillion dollar multi-hull yachts raced the America’s cup.

On Reflection

The experience of Alcatraz would be extended if I had this audio-tour still to listen to repeatedly, to read as a transcript and then to find links for my own research. Having circumvented the regular tour I nearly found myself embarking with the headphones still plugged in … I’m like the characters in ‘Jurassic Park’, I soon tire of someone else’s plot and create my own journey.  It gave new meaning to the ‘birdman’ of Alcatraz, for example. And I can see why Clint Eastwood would never have made it to land … you’d be washed out into the Pacific.

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