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Thirty years ago I took a Sony Betamax kit to the Edinburgh Fringe and shot all the action around the Oxford Theatre Group as they set up, rehearsed then put on five productions: Titus Alone, Edward II, The Thirteen Clocks, The Oxford Review and The Hunger Artist.
The clips above are random grabs from the video. The playback quality suffers from drop out. There are several hours of rushes – putting up the stage, putting up posters around town, rehearsals in a sunlit hall for Titus Alone and the Oxford Review, and rehearsing Titus Alone outside on Arthur’s Mount. The cut ‘documentary’ features several copyright music tracks that I need to replace before the entire video can be shown, for now those featured can view by providing their email address.
For three decades the original Betamax tapes have been in a box, carefully stacked, in an attic or garage.
Nicky King, who produced Titus Alone wrote and voiced the ‘documentary’ with Matthew Faulk the editor – all achieved mixing between a Sony Betamax and VHS player.
I’m keen to put together the complete crew and cast list – I had or have programmes and posters somewhere in a large box.
The above include:
Patrick Harbinson, Nicky King, David Tushingham, Nigel Williams, Humprey Bower, Mark Ager, Rebecca Rosengard, Jack Latimer, Carrie Gracie … Stefan Bednarczyk.
Other productions I have from Oxford include: The Taming of the Shrew (OUDS) – hours of rehearsals, Abigail’s Party (Directed by Anthony Geffen) – the entire production, as well as various clips from other Oxford productions I am yet to identify.
Fig.1. I like spirals. Thirty years ago this was just a photo. For me it is an expression of what learning looks like. (I think this is St.John’s College, Boat House – or is it Balliol?)
At the base are the undergraduates, the first years, as you climb the steps you find the second and third years, then the middle common room the MA and D.Phil students while at the top are the lecturers, senior lecturers and professors.
And when you die they raise a flag.
In 1983 (or was in 1982?) this was the epitome of ‘closed learning’ – the Oxford College boat house.
Not so much ‘dreaming spires’ as ‘dreaming spirals’.
- It was a privilege, but like many of these I’ve been either in denial or trying to shake them off for the best part of 25 years.
- ‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’ (Jacques Prevert)
- And there’s no going back.
I was up at 4.03am. Back to bed at 6.15am. Then up again 20 minutes ago.
- My body was tired, my head continued to buzz.
Regarding ‘Open Learn’ what’s all this fretting about process for?
Have we all forgotten the purpose of research????
Not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’
Why? Why? Why?
We are seeking answers, not trying to construct a bridge across the English Channel with chopsticks and bendy-straws.
Not to get the process right, but to get answers to problems, to find better ways, to understand and share what is going on so that we can act, or not act on it?
Sometimes I read an academic paper and it is all about the process.
Too often I write an assignment and it has to be written to be marked – not to generate ideas. In fact, my finest few hours, a total End of Module Assignment rewrite was a disaster for a set of marks but is my theory and philosophy of what learning is. It was the culmination of months of work, years even. Expressed somewhere like the School of Communication Arts I would have had the attention of eyes and ears.
Fig.2. Submitted as the hypothesis for an End of Module Assignment the grade was catastrophic – it is of the module, but the examiners didn’t have a grid filled with the appropriate crumbs that would permit them to ‘tick the boxes’. (I did submit more than the image, 6ft high and drawn on a sheet of backing wallpaper).
Creativity doesn’t fair well in a process driven system, either in research or in marking assignments.
This isn’t an excuse regarding a grade or the need and value of process drive, guideline controlled, parameter set research, but rather a cry for some ‘free thinking’ the ‘parcours’ of mental agility and expression.
Fig.3 The cliffs below Roche de Mio, La Plagne
There is value in going off piste.
It isn’t even the democratisation of education and knowledge either, it is the Tim Berners-Lee rather than the Google approach to knowledge – i.e. give it away for free.
It is ‘communismization’ – which is a word, however horrible it sounds, I just looked it up.
This moves me onto dwelling on Creative Commons.
If the idea of openness is to give it away for free what is the reward for the author? Recognition as the author. However, I get the feeling that unless it is published some readers think they can help themselves to the ideas and words of others and claim them as their own.
There will always be theft, but as children aren’t we told that for someone to copy your ideas is a compliment?
We need to behave like the children we still are.
But does even that matter in an open society – theft of intellectual property I mean?
If the spreading of the word is all important should any of us give a fig?
If we have a roof over our heads, food and water, electricity to charge the iPad, the BBC … a health service like the NHS what more can we want?
- Better schools.
- Better roads.
- Better weather.
‘Peace on earth and good will to humankind’.
A better word needs to be found for what is meant by ‘communismization’.
Is is just ‘communization’?
- Is it simply ‘open’?!
- ‘Open’ might do.
As the air we breathe …
P.S. I worked the season in Val d’Isere in my gap year and returned a decade later and stayed in La Plagne from December to May researching a book and a couple of documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films. None saw the light of day, though after several weeks thinking about it I came down that cliff face. I made a big mistake by slowing down at the edge and nearly didn’t have enough distance to clear the rocks. I no longer have a death wish. And it wasn’t even fun. It focused the mind though. In fact, the best way to stop yourself thinking about other stuff is to take such risks. Racing Fireballs in the English Channel has its appeal – I have a tendency to end up in the spinnaker or under the hull though.
- Web Inventor Tim Berners Lee Shares £1m Prize (news.sky.com)
- Fostering Creativity – The Use of Open Educational Resources (classroom-aid.com)
- Tim Berners-Lee: The Web needs to stay open, and Gopher’s still not cool. (boingboing.net)
- Tim Berners-Lee: ‘You can do anything with a computer that you can imagine’ (venturebeat.com)
- Inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee says web neutrality crucial (radionz.co.nz)
- What I wish Tim Berners-Lee understood about DRM (guardian.co.uk)
Sequence showing my conceptions of the shift in learning.
From traditional top down, to horizontal and collaborative and what’s goes in in the human brain – the interaction between different parts of the brain.
However, whilst this might be an expression of traditional classroom based teaching, through to collaborative Web 1.0 and the semantic Web 2.o as I have illustrated before, the reality is that all of these approaches are going on simultaneously: we still have, and benefit from top down learning – being told or shown stuff, there is collaborative learning, more so in certain subjects.
The second line suggests how things are changing: traditional learning being tipped on its head and on its side or at various angles as an institution, or policy changes, due to the influence of the teacher or because of the subject.
Horizontal learning from siblings, friends, family and extended family – always there in the past goes into hyper-mode as we can connect with ease with many of these people making every day like a family event if you so choose, following and joining in with the antics of others or sharing thoughts on school and life. I should add unconscious learning too – asleep, that sorting process we go through when we dream.
I doubt, from what I am coming to understand about neuroscience, that activity in the brains is greatly different or increased courtesy of the Internet or that stimulation has increased – this is for various reasons: our brain gets bored with the familiar, we turn off, we filter, we select. There is a limit to how much can be process. We give up other things to engage online – though I wouldn’t think giving up ogling at the TV all evening is any loss – the average viewing in the UK is 4 hours a day? Really!!
Open Learning is the last image in the bottom right hand corner – a lot going on, a good deal of connectivity.
But not less perhaps than living in a close, frenetic, village community – more akin to how we lived thousands of years ago with the world at our doorstep rather than our being squirreled away as we now are.
Informal learning (circles look good, or a hub)
Neuroscience for Dummies (a great intro to the subject, I recommend it!)
Put it all together – as your brain does in sleep, and as occurs anyway as you daydream in class or have a parent help you with homework …
Open Learn is kindle in the fire … it stokes it up, motivating, demotivating and distracting. Key is the continued connectivity to friends and family wherever they may be. That ‘hub’ of activity you may get after a family holiday or gathering can be with you in your pocket to support and advise.
Is this what Open Learning looking like? More of what we’ve always had, but now, if you want him, your grandfather can sit on your shoulder all day – in our family my brother would have been asking advice on car maintenance, I would have been quizzing him on first hand detail of the war. Cousins often get briefings from my father-in-law a retired Oxford Philosophy Tutor.
And now, courtesy of all learning online, open and formal, the action really gets going. Or does it? Is it not simply replacing something else? The very active person in clubs, societies, in a large extended family and so on would be getting this anyway?
This second A2 sheet works with Vygotsky and Engestrom and the idea of how we construct knowledge in a context.
The second image shows the familiar Activity System, an expanded version of how Vygotsy expressed how we learn. The activity system has six interacting components: subject and object, mediated by tools or artefacts, rules, community and division of labour. Enegstrom’s next generation expression of the Activity System is to show two systems interacting, the key here being the interaction of two objects or outcomes to produce a third.
This model is manageable, with set links between the components.
‘In the field’ it is possible to allocate roles to people or departments, to kits and guidelines but then on the second line you start to consider how many activity systems are connected. However, it is no longer simply the case that there is one point of contact – this drive to an outcome or objective.
Already authors wonder if Activity Theory (I have the reference I’ll dig it out for you) can no longer apply, that it has melted.
The middle image in the middle of the bottom row circumvents the set connections to indicated that everything can interact with everything else. Feed this into a multitude of Activity Systems (the final diagram in the bottom right) and you see what complexity is created – the suggestion being that the there is more direct connecting between people with no mediation factors or systems. This assumes that there are no gatekeepers or other barriers, but increasingly, in tertiary education you may find yourself in a discussion alongside the biggest names in your field, whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral student, no matter what institution you are signed up to.
In fact, it is far more open than that of course – by chance or because of an enthusiasm or wish to connect anyone in theory can connect with anyone else – or at least with those who are taking part.
Some 4% of the population in Great Britain who by all accounts should be digital residents don’t event visit – there lifestyle choice is not to use the Internet, just as in the past people may have chosen not to have a TV. Another13% don’t have access at all – no connection, no kit, no space or place to use kit that is shared. And this is the UK. So Open Learning, though not exclusive, cannot be called universal.
Of course, being a purist, if you’re interested in Vygotsky you need to study him in Russian. Now where is there an Open Learn course on Russian?
Models work, as do metaphors, but with the digital world are all such models melting like sheet ice in a warming climate? Merged and blurred like so much ink dripped into a digital ocean?
Though Engestrom sees this as things and institutions, I like to see two people here, say an Art Director and Copywriter working together to solve problems. Two heads better than one and all of that. Any psychologists out there might offer me person to person models as alternatives.
And how many institutions can and do interact? Think of a $100m movie. Think of planning the Olympics. Think of six people with different skills and experiences working together.
Is this what Open Learning looking like?
At what point does the model break down?
Become redundant? Even ideas of ‘learning from the periphery’ (JS Brown and Duguid) falls apart if there is no centre, and no periphery, if everyone is equally ‘linked in’ with no degrees of separation at all, where you are anyone else’s father, brother or son. (mother, sister or daughter).
Engestrom ends up using the metaphor of a Mycorrhizae fungi growth such as this. I also found this rather beautiful image. But can art therefore fool? Something beautiful that is attractive and persuasive may not acutally be representative of the ‘truth of the matter’ – but what is?
Mycorrhizae = the real thing (apologies to the originator, when I can find the reference I will add it)
Which has me thinking of something more fluid, like the water cycle (think digital ocean into the could, then back again)
And in a system, as something more dynamic, with patterns behind the chaos.
In which case, to my mind, Open Learn and e-learning is like global warming to the climate – it is simply putting more energy into the system. Just re-annotate the above (which I will eventually get round to doing).
And if this doesn’t make your brain hurt or your jaw drop take a look at this:
and click on ‘Powers of Ten’ which is, I feel, evocative of Open Learning too – scalable from the micro to the infinite.
Engestrom, Y Various. I recommend ‘From Teams to Knots’
Vygotsky, L (1926 if you want it in Russia, 1974 for the first translations into English)
Rebecca Eynon from the OII for ‘Mapping the Internet’ stats on GB Internet use.
(I’ll flesh this out in due course. There are a dozen references related to the above. But this is Open Learning. You get my thoughts on this in all its various drafts).
- Openness in Education WK1 MOOC (mymindbursts.com)
- Inter-life, Young People and Activity systems (mymindbursts.com)
- OLD MOOC 2013 – Why Activity Theory needs to be seen, not itemised, to have any chance of being understood (mymindbursts.com)
- “More Complex Than the Milky Way?” –Project ‘Blue Brain’ and New Insights into the Biochemical Makeup of the Human Brain (dailygalaxy.com)
- Martin Weller and the MOOCers (mymindbursts.com)
- Has education come full circle? (jmajor.org)
- Who would you invite to an e-learning dinner party? (mymindbursts.com)
Fig.1. Three years later
“Emergency Home Birth!” my wife exclaimed pointing at a book on pregnancy and childbirth.
My wife went into labour at 2.30am, we’d planned a home birth (this is her second) however our hospital was some 37 miles away and our allocated Midwife was another 20 miles beyond that.
I got her on the phone and she spoke to my wife between contractions – she wouldn’t make it.
‘Call an ambulance and I’ll be over in due course’, she said.
Chapter Six, ‘Emergency Home Birth’ looked like it needed half an hour to read and at least as long again to digest; there wasn’t time.
Thankfully om the facing page of Chapter Six the editor had laid out the essentials in clear bullet points – towels, scissors and string are the ones I remember, probably because I required all three, these and the warning that the umbilical cord can get caught around the baby’s throat. I needed that too.
Just in time learning, delivered just in time.
And so it was, at around 3.20am, my wife on floor holding onto the the end of the bed, towels in place that our son was born.
First his head, the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his throat. I eased this over his chin and around his head, surprised at how thick and tough it was – then one,the both shoulders and he fell into my arms like a muddy rugby ball out of a scrum. My wife rolled around and sitting at the end of the bed she took him into her arms.
A few minutes later the midwife arrived, thought everything was going well and went to run a bath. In due course she showed me how to cut the umbilical cord then took my wife to the bathroom.
Learning in extremis?
In my day job I was supporting the teaching of such techniques at the logistics and distribution group UGC in Oxford.
I didn’t need a book, or a training video and given this was 1996 I wasn’t going to have Google, Quora or YouTube offer some advice.
I’ve had no further need for these particular parenting skills, though it’s been an adventure following two infants through childhood into their early teens.
Learning works best when it is pushed, when there is a challenge of time and circumstances, where it can be applied and seen to work.
How do we apply this to formal education, to studying for exams through secondary and tertiary education?
What is the difference with learning in the workforce, between physical actions on a factory floor, in a mine, power station or warehouse, out on a civil engineering building site or in an office or boardroom?
There need to be exams – from mocks to annual exams and finals.
Essays and regualr assignments are part of this best practice.
And how about tests, even the surprise test, not so much for the result, but for the pressure that ought to help fix some learning in our plastic, fickle minds?
In advertising we often spoke of ‘testing to destruction’ that nothing beats a clear demonstration of the products power, staying power or effectiveness in memorably extreme conditions.
I like the idea of working Against the clock, of competition too, even learning taken place, as I have heard, as someone cycles around Europe, or drives a Russian Jeep from Kazakstan back to Britain.
I believe in the view that ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ – that you can galvanise a group to rally round when needed and those new to this game will pick up a great deal in the process; personally I loved the ‘all-nighters’ we did in our teens breaking one set then building another in the Newcastle Playhouse, some sense of which I repeated professionally on late night and all night shoots, often in ‘extreme’ places.
- Umbilical Cord: To Clamp or Not to Clamp? (lovingcareblog.com)
- Where Does Intelligence Come From? (dranilj1.wordpress.com)
- Zoologists watch as monkey midwife delivers baby (io9.com)
It’s rare for me to miss a few days but the simple truth I am too wrapped up in the rebuild of one ‘storyline’ in the OU Business School website.
This and preparing another presentation, this time on ‘blogging’ having opened what will become a series with ‘Social Media’ last week.
I see three necessary phases in becoming a blogger:
- Create (and collaborate)
‘Listen’ as in reading loads, being led wherever someone appeals to you, ‘listening in’ on the conversations that are being started and saving these sites to peruse regularly.
There were over 150 million blogs the last time I cared to seek out the statistics.
How do you even begin to find those few that you are prepared to read on a regular basis?
Clearly you cannot read everything; even in your own field of interest, unless it is the tightest niche, might have thousands of commentors.
I go for ‘like minds’, authors with whom you feel you could converse, those you wish to emulate, whose thoughts maybe like your own, but fully fledged.
I am currently following Andrew Sullivan a bit, but some of the many other bloggers he lists a lot. Andrew is British born and raised, though now living in New York, somewhat right-wing (has always been wedded to the Conservative Party), gay (he played the lead role in Another Country at Oxford though took a while longer to come out – at Harvard I believe.
Is his background relevant? Probably not, this is about intellect, confidence, informed opinion and a degree of early precociousness and desire to be heard.
His intellect and presumption took him to Oxford (Modern History) and then Harvard.
By all accounts, with 1,000,000 page views a month Sullivan has many followers.
He does this by
- being well informed
- being willing to express an opion
We look to commentators for ‘breaking views’, as another Oxford graduate of this same era puts it; though Hugo Dixon, a grandson (or great grandson) of Winston Churchill has a somewhat different background to that of Sullivan.
Irrelevant? Both men are a product of their intellect, so more nature that nurture in this case.
What they had in common as undergraduates was a precocious desire to express their opinion. Is it any wonder that we are drawn to what they have to say ? Even more so now than in previous eras we are in desperate need of people to filter the overwhelming deluge of information and offer some path through-out, in their different ways these too do it. All I need are other minds like these across other fields.
They make a convincing point succinctly.
I’m clicking through the 60+ blogs Andrew Sullivan lists in his blogroll and find it hard not to click the ‘save bookmark’ option with every one of these. Nice when someone has done it for you, though I am yet to come across the UK equivalent. The idea that these are read but Sullivan regularly is also daft; look at my own blog roll (somewhere needs to tear a few off for me).
Any suggestions for the most informed bloggers to follow?
Stephen Fry is of the same ilk as the two given above, though more embedded in the performing arts than Andrew Sullivan.