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The spoken word is crucial to understanding.

The spoken word is crucial to understanding.

Fig.1. Meeting face to face to talk about e-learning – sometimes a webinar wont’t do, though more often you have no choice. 

‘I don’t know what I mean until I have heard myself say it, Said Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift

Conversation plays a crucial element of socialised learning.

Courtesy of a Google Hangout we can record and share such interactions such as in this conversation on and around ‘personal knowledge management’. Here we can both see and hear why the spoken word is so important.

Trying to understand the historical nature of this, how and when the written word, or other symbols began to impinge on the spoken word requires investigating the earliest forms of the written word and trying to extrapolate the evidence of this important oral tradition, the impact it had on society and the transition that occurred, after all, it is this transition that fascinates us today as we embrace the Internet.

Humans have been around for between 100,000 and 200,000 years. (Encyclopedia Britannica).

There are pigments and cave painting have been found that are 350,000 years old. (Barham 2013), while here are cave paintings as old as 40,000 years (New Scientist).

Stone Age man’s first forays into art were taking place at the same time as the development of more efficient hunting equipment, including tools that combined both wooden handles and stone implements. (BBC, 2012). Art and technology therefore go hand in hand – implying that the new tools of the Internet will spawn flourishing new wave of creation, which I believe to be the case. This era will be as remarkable for the development of the Web into every aspect of our lives as it will be for a epoch identifying renaissance – a new way of seeing things.

We’ve been seeking ways to communicate beyond the transience of the spoken word for millennia.

McLuhan takes us to the spoken word memorised in song and poetry (Lord, 1960 p. 3) while a contemporary writer, Viktor Mayer-Schonbeger, (2009. p. 25) also talks about how rhyme and meter facilitated remembering. McLuhan draws on 1950s scholarship on Shakespeare and asks us to understand that Lear tells us of shifting political views in the Tudor era as a consequence of a burgeoning mechanical age and the growth of print publishing. (Cruttwell, 1955)  McLuhan suggests that the left-wing Machiavellianism in Lear who submits to ‘a darker purpose’ to subdivide of his kingdom is indicative of how society say itself developing at a time of change in Tudor times. Was Shakespeare clairvoyant? Did audiences hang on his words as other generations harken the thoughts of  H G Wells and Karl Popper, perhaps as we do with the likes Alan de Bouton and Malcolm Gladwell?

‘The Word as spoken or sung, together with a visual image of the speaker or singer, has meanwhile been regaining its hold through electrical engineering’.xii. Wrote Prof. Harry Levin to the preface of The Singer of Tales.

Was a revolution caused by the development of and use of the phonetic alphabet?

Or from the use of barter to the use of money?

Was the ‘technological revolution’ of which McLuhan speaks quoting Peter Drucker, the product of a change in society or did society change because of the ‘technological revolution’? (Drucker, 1961) Was it ever a revolution?

We need to be careful in our choice of words – a development in the way cave paintings are done may be called a ‘revolution’ but something that took thousands of years to come about is hardly that.

Similarly periods in modern history are rarely so revolutionary when we stand back and plot the diffusion of an innovation (Rogers, 2005) which Rogers defines as “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. (Rogers, 2005. p. 12). To my thinking, ‘diffusion’ appears to be a better way to consider what has been occurring over the last few decades in relation to ‘technology enhanced communications’, the Internet and the World Wide Web. But to my ears ‘diffusion’ sounds like ‘transfusion’ or ‘infusion’ – something that melts into the fabric of our existence. If we think of society as a complex tapestry of interwoven systems then the Web is a phenomenon that has been absorbed into what already exists – this sounds like an evolving process rather than any revolution. In context of course, this is a ‘revolution’ that is only apparent as such by those who have lived through the change; just as baby boomers grew up with television and may not relate to the perspective that McLuhan gives it and those born in the last decade or so take mobile phones and the Internet as part of their reality with no sense of what came before.

Clay tablets, papyri and the printing press evolved. We are often surprised at just how long the transition took.

To use socio-political terms that evoke conflict and battle is a mistake. Neither the printing press, nor radio, nor television, nor the Internet have been ‘revolutions’ with events to spark them akin to the storming of the Bastille in 1789 or the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 – they have been evolutionary.

Are we living in ‘two forms of contrasted forms of society and experience’ as Marshall McLuhan suggested occurred in the Elizabethan Age between the typographical and the mechanical ages? Then occurred between in the 1960s  between the industrial and electrical ages? ‘Rendering individualism obsolete’. (McLuhan 1962. p. 1)

Individualism requires definition. Did it come with the universal adult suffrage?

Was it bestowed on people, or is it a personality trait? Are we not all at some point alone and individual, as well as part of a family, community or wider culture and society? We are surely both a part and part of humanity at the same time?

Edward Hall (1959), tells us that ‘all man–made material things can be treated asextensions of what man once did with his body or some specialized part of his body. The Internet can therefore become and is already an extension of our minds. A diarist since 1975 I have blogged since 1999 and have put portions of the handwritten diary online too – tagging it so that it can be searched by theme and incident, often charting my progress through subjects as diverse as English Literature, British History, Geography, Anthropology and Remote Sensing from Space, Sports Coaching (swimming, water-polo and sailing). This aide memoire has a new level of sophistication when I can refer to and even read text books I had to use in my teens. It is an extension of my mind as the moments I write about are from my personal experience – there is already a record in my mind.

What is the Internet doing to society? What role has it played in the ‘Arab Spring’? McLuhan considered the work of Karl Popper on the detribalization of Greece in the ancient world). Was an oral tradition manifesting itself in the written word the cause of conflict between Athens and Sparta? McLuhan talks of ‘the Open Society’ in the era of television the way we do with the Internet. We talked about the ‘Global Village’ in the 1980s and 1990s so what do we have now? Karl Popper developed an idea that from closed societies  (1965) through speech, drum and ear we came to  our open societies functioning by way of abstract relations such as exchange or co–operation. – to the entire human family into a single global tribe.

The Global kitchen counter (where I work, on my feet, all day), or the global ‘desk’ if we are sharing from a workspace …

or even the ‘global pocket’ when I think of how an Open University Business School MBA student described doing an MBA using an iPad and a smartphone as a ‘university in my pocket’. You join a webinar or Google Hangout and find yourself in another person’s kitchen, study or even their bed. (Enjoying one such hangout with a group of postgraduate students of the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education – MAODE – we agreed for one session to treat it as a pyjama party. Odd, but representative of the age we live in – fellow students were joining from the UK, Germany, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates). I have been part of such a group with people in New Zealand and California – with people half asleep because it is either very late at night, or very early in the morning.

McLuhan  (1965. p. 7) concludes that the ‘open society’ was affected by phonetic literacy …

and is now threatened with eradication by electric media. Writing fifty years ago is it not time we re-appraised McLuhan’s work and put it in context. We need to take his thesis of its pedestal. Whilst it drew attention at the time it is wrong to suggest that what he had to say in relation to the mass media (radio and TV) if even correct then, others insight in the era of the Internet.  This process of creating an open society has a far broader brief and with a far finer grain today – , the TV of the sitting room viewed by a family, is now a smart device in your pocket that goes with you to the lavatory, to bed, as you commute between work and in coffee and lunch breaks. It will soon be wearable, not only always on, but always attached as goggles, glasses, ear-piece, strap or badge.

If ‘technology extended senses’ McLuhan, 1965. p.8 then the technology we hold, pocket and wear today, are a prosthesis to our senses and to the manner in which the product of these senses is stored, labelled, interpreted, shared, re-lived, and reflected upon.

If Mercators maps and cartography altered 16th century mentality what do Google Maps and Street View do for ours?

Did  the world of sound gives way to the world of vision? (McLuhan, 1965 p.19). What could we learn from anthropologists who looked at non–literate natives with literate natives, the non–literate man with the Western man.

Synchronous conversation online is bringing us back to the power and value of the spoken word – even if it can be recorded, visualised with video and transcripted to form text. The power, nuance and understanding from an interchange is clear.


Barham, L (2013) From Hand to Handle: The First Industrial Revolution

Carpenter, E and H M McLuhan (19xx) ‘Explorations in communications’. Acoustic Space

Cruttwell, P (1955) The Shakespearean Moment (New York; Columbia) New York. Random House.

Hall, E.T. (1959) The Silent Langauge

Lord, A.A. (1960) The Singer of the Tales (Cambridge. M.A. Harvard University Press)

Drucker, Peter F. “The technological revolution: notes on the relationship of technology, science, and culture.” Technology and Culture 2.4 (1961): 342-351.

Mayer-Schönberger, V (2009) Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age

Popper, K. (1945)  The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume One. Routledge (1945, reprint 2006)

Rogers, E.E. (1962) The Diffusion of Innovations.


The first of a million tragic love stories – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie Chotek

With a title like ‘My Mind Bursts’ I can justifiably offer moments of curiosity and indulgence. The First World War is an interest of some forty years – not least because my grandfather served in it as machine gunner and survived. In another blog I’ve begun to sketch out ‘a death a day’ for the duration of the war – to reach the figure of 9 million there were, as we know, some busy days indeed. Researching this is uncovering extraordinary moments I hadn’t heard about at all, whilst others, such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the heir presumptive to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife the Duchess Sophie are thoroughly covered. Here I go in search of what happened – what would I see if landed there to observe and could go anywhere and speak to anyone? What is the background to all of this? I uncover the mess and hypocrisy of the Imperial Family – their behaviours and culture, but also a love story with a tragic ending.

In doing so I have found myself editing Wikipedia, turning increasingly to Encyclopedia Britannica for something accurate while stumbling across some extraordinary resources, not least a forum for descendant of the Hapsburgs to share stories and family photographs. It is going to be a busy decade leading up to the centenary of the First World War and its aftermath. Have the consequences of that war yet been fully resolved? Trouble in the Balkans was its beginning and end – yet Europe, together, federalised or apart continues to be an issue – just so long as it doesn’t become violent again.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand new his mind unlike others at the Court of the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary. When he fell in love with someone ‘beneath his station’ he would not budge.

Knowing that his affection for the daughter of a Czech Count, Sophie Chotek would meet with disapproval and marriage never permitted they kept the relationship a secret.

Meanwhile his younger brother Otto married a Royal and kept a mistress, just as the Emperor Josef had done for decades. This kind of behaviour came unstuck when the heir presumptive to the Crown, Count Rudolph,  in an unhappy marriage, started to have an affair with a young girl, possibly as young as 15 when the relationship began and certainly only 17 when it ended.

In January 1889 he kills his young mistress rather than give her up then commits suicide.

Rudolph’s uncle, Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s father  Archduke Karl Ludwig and the next in line to his older brother Franz Josef, renounces the throne within days in favour of his 26 year old son.

Still not married, Franz Ferdinand may also have considered renouncing the throne for Sophie Chotek. She  was indeed considered by the court to be an unsuitable match due to the lack of broad royal pedigree in her lineage. Franz was exceedingly wealthy having inherited an uncle’s vast estates when he was 12 so perhaps he bargained with the Emperor – let him marry Sophie and he would indeed become the heir presumptive.

Deeply in love, Franz refuses to consider marrying anyone else. In turn, Pope Leo XIII, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and the German Emperor Wilhelm II make representations to the Emperor.

It is almost certainly his stepmother, Marie Theresa who is one the most influential at court – as after the death of Count Rudolf the empress had retired from court life and Marie Theresa had taken a far more active role.

In Vienna, on Thursday 28th June 1900 Franz Ferdinand signs a paper before Foreign Minister Goluchowski stating that neither Sophie nor their children would have rights to succession, the titles or privileges of a royal Archduke.

On Sunday 1st July 1900,  in the Chapel at Reichstadt in Bohemia, Marie Theresa’s home, Franz and Sophie are married.

The only members of the Imperial family attending are Franz Ferdinand’s stepmother and her two daughters – Archduchess Maria Annunziata and the Archduchess Aloys. Those absent included the Archduke’s grandfather the Emperor, his father the Archduke Ludwig, his brothers the Archdukes Otto and Ferdinand Karl and his sister the Archduchess Sophie.

Those present must surely include Sophie’s six sisters and her brother.

The couple have four children: Princess Sophie von Hohenberg  is born the following year on 24 July 1901, while Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg  is born on 28 September 1902 and Prince Ernst von Hohenberg in 1904. There is also a stillborn son born in 1908.

Because of their morganatic marriage, many European royal courts feel unable to host the couple, however, some do so, including King George V and Queen Mary, who welcome the Archduke and Sophie to Windsor Castle in November 1913.

Franz Ferdinand had entered the army young and was frequently promoted, given the rank of lieutenant at age fourteen, captain at twenty-two, colonel at twenty-seven, and major general at thirty-one. In 1898 he was given a commission “at the special disposition of His Majesty” to make inquiries into all aspects of the military services and military agencies were commanded to share their papers with him, which is how he came to be invited by General Oskar Potiorek to observe military manoeuvres in the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1914.

On the morning of Sunday 28th June 1914 the Archduke and Duchess are part of a motorcade with a number of planned stops.

There are seven armed assassins waiting for them – Serb Nationalists led by leading figures who wanted the province of Bosnia and Herzegovina to become part of a Greater Serbian nation.

The mind been this plot and previous assassinations – failed and successful – is Dragutin Dimitrijević, a very able,though ruthless 36 year old military man. He knew of Franz Ferdinand’s ideas for a federated ‘United States of Austria- Hungary’ and feared that would put an end to bringing the southern Slav provinces of the old empire into the Serbian fold.

A bomb is thrown at the open top tourer carrying the Archduke and Duchess but it bounces off the unfolded canopy, possibly as the chauffeur spots the danger and hits the accelerator. The bomb goes off under car behind wounding several of the occupants – soldiers from the academy.

Despite the self-evident danger of his presence in Sarajevo the Archduke presses on with a short engagement at the City Hall. Less than an hour later, against advice, Franz gets back into the open-top tourer. Given the heightened dangers General Oskar Potiorek suggests that Sophie stays behind, but she insists on remaining at her husband’s side. After more than a decade of being snubbed due to court protocol she may relish any rare opportunity such as this – despite the risk.

This map above is wrong. The car used, as can be seen here, was a right hand drive tourer … until 1938 they drove on the left in Austria. This photograph of the Archduke’s car coming down the Quai Appel also shows it on the left.

The vehicles in the entourage initially stick to the original itinerary until it is remembered that the Archduke had asked that they go to the hospital to visit the wounded from the bomb attack – so they stop.

By chance this presents Gavrilo Princip with an extraordinarily good opportunity to fulfil his mission. He raises the revolver he has been practising with for the last few months and shoots at point blank range. The first bullet hits Franz in the neck and the second hits Sophie in the abdomen.

As Sophie dies she expresses concern for her husband’s health, while Franz implores Sophie to stay alive for the sake of their young children. Both are dead within minutes. The couple leave behind them three children, their eldest daughter Sophie, soon to be 14, Max, age 11 and younger son Ernst age 8.

The repercussions for Europe are that Austria sends an army in Serbia which triggers a response by Russia to defend its Serbian ally and the Great Powers line up then tumble towards war.


Study ‘Total War’ with the Open University this February


100% Polish, 100% British – the life of Zbigniew Pelczynski

Zbigniew Pelczynski listens as former students remark on his life as a Pembroke Fellow, Hegelian Scholar, founder of the School of Leaders, Warsaw. And as the author, David MacAvoy listens too having authored the biography ‘A life remembered’ in which we learn how Zbyshek grew up in Warsaw in the 1930s, took part in the Warsaw Uprising and came to Britain where he studied Philosophy at St.Andrews, then wrote his D.Phil at Oxford where he remained teaching at Trinity, Balliol and Merton before a long stay at Pembroke. Never one to retire, he established the School for Leaders, Warsaw twenty years ago.

Dr Pelczynski remained in London after his presentation to fly out to Warsaw for a second book launch and attend meetings at the School of Leaders – Zbyshek is in his 88th year.

Copies of the biography can be obtained from Pembroke College at the following address:

Pembroke College

The main College switchboard number is:

Tel: 01865 276444
Fax: 01865 276418

‘The more our young people of today get to know of the nature of that world disaster, the less will they be eager to welcome or take part in any other international conflict’.

‘The more our young people of today get to know of the nature of that world disaster, the less will they be eager to welcome or take part in any other international conflict’. Hammerton (1936)

The unknown war against Serbia in 1912 that set the scene for 1914. Come 1914 what do we know of the Battles of Shabatz and Jadar?

QQ Why should war have rules? It isn’t a game. The attitude to the wounded, especially towards the enemy, is bizarre, where the desire to kill becomes a wish to save.

Yet atrocities against Serbia were condoned.

By the end of August 1914 300,000 Austro–Hungarians who had crossed the Drina and Save Rivers, not more than 200,000 returned; it was estimated that 324 officers and 41,215 men were taken prisoners, while the casualties in killed and wounded amounted to approximately 60,000 men.

Hammerton, J (1936) World War


The war to end war – but it didn’t

‘The scale and range and power of human activities have been altered by a complicated development of inventions and discoveries, and this has made it imperative to adjust the methods of human association and government to new requirements’. Wells (1936:4)

H G Wells wrote this in his introduction to the part work ‘World War’ published in November 1936.

On 22nd August just two weeks into the ‘Great War’ he had remarked that it would be ‘the war to end war’.

Wishful thinking.

The son of a domestic servant, the housekeeper in a grand house in Kent (a single mother by all accounts), he was largely self-educated and driven. His mind got the better of him. He had a voice and found an education.

Why do we listen to commentators such as H G Wells?

Why do we wheel out the likes of Will Self? Why do we even ask the likes of Boy George for an opinion on world affairs? Can we not make up our own minds? Must we refer to commentators, to those with an opinion, people who have a point of view regarding breaking news?
‘The Great War … the opening phase of a process of convulsive adjustment which will ultimately abolish war’. Wells (1936:5)
Further wishful thinking on Wells’ count. He hasn’t understand human psychology, nor how the fight to survive, to press home a point of view, or to protect it, ‘man’ will fight to the death. We’re an odd lot. Whatever advances we have made in computing in the last decade, imagine the swift advances that would be achieved during war giving the track record of the First and Second Wars to advance aeronautics, tanks, communications …

Not that I wish it upon us at all

I’m dwelling on all of this as we approach the centenary of the First War, the ‘Great War’ while reading a publication from that era, ‘World War’.

The opportunity to use the period of the centenary to ‘educate’ through museums, events, publications, online, on TV, through films and games is immense. But what impact will it have? As long as people consider violence to be the answer to their problems there will be war.

Does the learning ever end? Not in this family

I introduce  an 85 year old to an iPad, he wants one for what he can read, spots Engestrom’s ‘From Knots to Networking’ and he doesn’t look back.

Here he is taking a tutorial on Hegel some 50 years ago.

How the iPad works is less interesting than the subject matter. He takes to his first touch screen with little introduction.

He set up ‘The School for Leaders’ in Poland some 20 years ago and thinks he can use Engestrom’s ideas; I bought this and a few other elearning related books. Googling his name he stumblesupon a gallery of pictures of himself he’d never known had been taken and decides he wants at least one of these for his biography so calls his son over as the book is due to be published in the New Year. Prof. Zbigniew Pelczynski makes for an interesting father in law; he’s not the only academic in the house, art history, philosophy and politics are always part of the conversation between meals, walks and picking through bundles of papers and journals that sit in stacks around the house.

 As my daughter is thinking about A Levels that includes History and Philosophy she is invited to sit with her grandfather so they retire to another room and listening in to bits of  it I overhear what by all accounts becomes her first tutorial. He has such a gentle touch, listening, showing interest in how she is schooled, what she knows, how she is taught. 

I press on through Book 2 B822 and reach chapter 6. Through-out I think how I might apply the ideas. 

Lecture notes on line. How? Best Practice?

Migrating content to the web

Learning what I am doing I have been approached by two academics who would like advice on how to migrate content to the web to support their students, both are heavy hitters. Their apparently being somewhat behind the times ought not to tarnish their professionalism as educators; one is a professor in a faculty of law, the other a retired Oxford philosopher and political scientist.

For a decade now I have tried to imagine how the contents of a person’s brain might be saved, not just the content, but how they value and use it, including some kind of artificial intelligence so that should or when (inevitably) they die, or simply lose their faculties or retire, their life’s work can live on.

We know that simply putting stuff online doesn’t work.

I recall with pain being told to migrate the content of an extensive and rich interactive multimedia learning experience from a CD-rom to the web, none of the affordance of the web were to be given consideration, other than ‘having it out there.’ Video clips, this is 1998, were reduced to a snap shot (not streaming), and much of the interactivity was lost. i.e. it was reduced to a series of cascading pages, no better than a catalogue or at best a slide show. Over a decade later the Internet works best where it plays to its unique strengths, which must include thinking how it will improve and change much more.

How therefore, beyond a podcast and lecture notes, do I go about this task?

In the case of the Oxford don he has hundreds, thousands of books and paper and stacked three rows deep to the ceiling of rooms and corridors. Like a fairytale orphan confronted with a gargantuan task that can never be completed there is a feeling that every must count. I suspect that the only way in will be to interview this gentleman at length and use this as a way in, even go on a guided tour of the ‘contents of his brain.’ His is a journey coming to an end.

In the case of the professor in law the journey is just beginning, this is a path she will travel herself.

Do I therefore arm her with some of the basic tools to go down the DIY route?

Might it start with something as simple as a blog populated with lecture notes?

Or given the tendency for blogs to be a tad informal, might an e-portfolio be the answer?

Surely her faculty has a well-established policy and support network by now.

The degree to which academics behave like and are treated like boffins who only function in isolation surprises me. Their lack of commercial savvydoesn’t surprise me.

Their motivation isn’t financial, it is recognition and reputation.

Though this should not be a reason to encourage them to empty the contents of their brains online for anyone to exploit it as they see fit (or unfit).

My approach will be that of a professional communications consultant, someone whose tasks is quite simple.

What is the immediate problem that needs to be addressed?

We have to start somewhere, even if it is nothing more than the last paper they published, or the first.

What is the opportunity?

In their eyes what do they hope or expect to achieve and having discussed it with me, what do they consider to be the best outcome? Who are we talking to? (or teaching, or engaging, or impacting …)

In the case of the Oxford don, ‘everything online for everyone to exploit’ would be akin to building a match-stick model of the Eiffel Tower with chopsticks. The task would never end. Parameters must be set. A good beginning, will lead to a pleasant, potentially constructive and even valuable journey.

What is the message?

What are we trying to say?

And what do we want this audience to take from this? If they are students the completed essays or assignments of the best pupils these academics have taught (if we even have the rights to publish such work), serves no purpose – our interest is in the learning journey, not someone else’s journey’s end.

How do we want them to respond to this message?

See how it is message in the singular. However high the pile of papers, or however full the folder with documents, I want both to think in terms of single learning objects, taken one a time, rather than volumes of material.

To create connectivity between resources they need to be appropriately weighed, assessed, reversioned or multi-versioned and tagged. One at a time.

What do they say, in their words, about this asset or object?

What do we expect them to say?

Hear them speak. Something that is achievable, ultimately, through comment, feedback and evaluation. For now we must use our powers of imagination, we should put words into their mouths, suppose the best outcome.

And finally, kept to a few sentences or bullet points, bearing in mind the focus we require, ‘what else do we need to know.’

Not background notes, not ‘everything,’ but specifically, based on decisions already made by answering the questions above.

And then?

Make a start. Put something out there. It may be nothing more than a drop of ink in the digital ocean, an air-rifle shot into cyberspace, but it’s a start.

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