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On access to uncensored, openly authored information

Fig.1 Open Education and learning online – is it the flight path to intellectual emancipation?

We’re considering the nature of ‘openness’ in education as part of this new Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) module. This is increasingly about ease of access to information, all of it, uncensored.

Often for ease of access and to gain a qualification with a marketable value, information that is packaged in books, journals and lectures, though increasingly in ‘sexier’ interactive and multimedia forms with the related ‘scaffolding’ that comes with learning design and planning. The natural tendency is to consider the hectic last decade of the Internet at the expense of the history of openness in access to information and an education over the last century.

A hundred years ago all but the most privileged were in the dark: leaving school after an elementary education, with reliance on biased newspapers, magazines and part works.

Libraries, BBC radio and affordable paperbacks, secondary then tertiary education, cinema and TV have each had a role to play, as has the Open University.

Does enlightenment come with access?

What does it say of power of information and ideas where access is controlled, as in China? Does connectedness within openness lead to even greater coalescing of likeminds in cliques, reinforcing stereotypical biases rather than exposing them to valid alternative views? Nothing is straightforward when it comes to people – heterogeneous by design, homogenous by inclination.

What is digital ‘academic’ scholarship? Should 19th and 20th century definitions even apply?

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Martin Weller published ‘The Digital Scholar’ in 2011 on a Creative Commons Licence. You can download it for free, or purchase the book or eBook, and then do as you will with it. When I read it I share short excerpts on Twitter. I’ve blogged it from end to end and am now having fun with a simple tool for ‘mashing up’ designs called ‘Studio’. It’s a photo editing tool that allows you to add multiple layers of stuff. I rather see it as a revision tool – it makes you spend more time with the excerpts you pick out.

You cannot be so open that you become an empty vessel … you have to create stuff, get your thoughts out there in one way or another so that others can knock ’em down and make more of them. Ideas need legs. In all this ‘play’ though have I burried my head in its contents and with effort read it deeply? Do we invoke shallow learning and distraction with openness? If we each read the book and met for a tutorial is that not, educationally, a more focused and constructive form of ‘oppenness’?

In relation to scholarship shoulf the old rules, the ‘measures’ of academic prowess count? In the connected world of the 21st century ‘scholarship’ is able to emerge in unconventional ways, freed of the school-to-university conveyor belt.

REFERENCE

Weller, M (2011) The Digital scholar

Online vs. Face to face Learning

I’ll add notes here as the differences between the online and ‘traditional’ learning experience dawn on me as I do the two in parallel. Actually there’s a third comparison I can make – that of L&D which the other week included something neither of the above formats offer – ‘learning over a good lunch!’

Time Management

The ‘traditional’ seminar or lecture forces your hand somewhat – you have to be there. Many these days are recorded, though mine will not be. I’m inclined therefore to take either a digital or audio recorder along to record these things. I have, just a couple of times over three years, got behind with the online course as I kept putting it off.

Travel … and the associated cost

It’ll be around four hours door to door once a month. This means getting up at 4.30 am. Not of course something someone in full time tertiary education needs to do. Off peak, unless booked well in advance it’ll cost £74 return … £24 if I stick to exact trains. The last train home was heaving. I could and did ‘work’ the entire journey whereas home is a constant distraction.

Eating on campus

Lunch I may have to take with me as the campus only had premade Spar sandwiches at every outlet. A jacket potato or pasta would have been better.

Nodding off

After lunch I did something I last did in double Geography on a Friday afternoon. I sat at the back, cupped my hands over my eyes as if in deep thought … and fell asleep.

When to put in the hours

Something, however common to many people on any part-time distance learning course is ‘the early morning shift’ – putting in 90 minutes or so before breakfast.

Library Services

While this and other support services are offered to us on our VLE it was invaluable to to have a person run through it as a presentation in person. This kind of stuff should be given a linear expression … a mini-module for newcomers and as a refresher. All I’ve done, two years after the event, was a webinar.

Reflections of a post-post graduate – the no-man’s land before a PhD

 

Fig. 1. How the eBrain looks – everything’s tagged. (Lost property, London Underground)

I’m delighted to say the Open University’s student blog upgrade is an enhancement. The improvements are seamless without any loss of what we had before … a ‘bulletin-board-cum-blog-thingey’.

Become an OU student to see this for yourself.

I will get Internet access in my ‘office’ – a studio down the road, away from home and family, DIY, the garden … but not the dog. She’s allowed.

All that it requires from me is something I lack – self-discipline NOT to get distracted by email, which includes updated postings from forums and the likes of Linkedin (let alone a gaggle of family members on Facebook). AOL is the worst as I innocently go to check email and find 20 minutes later I am still clicking through the inviting gobbets of news and sensation that is offered.

I had hoped to behave like the smoker trying to give up – I’ll only smoke other people’s fags. A very, very, very long time ago … I can honestly say I have never smoked a cigarette since I turned 20.

Back to the Internet. Like Television.

Or diet. We are living in an age where self-control is vital. Having not had a TV for several months I was eventually pushed to buy one. Courtesy of Which? we now have a TV so Smart that it probably tells my brother in South Africa who is watching what …. we can Skype sofa to sofa. I just wonder if our antics could be recorded and posted on YouTube? Not my doing but any of the teenagers with the wherewithal just hit a record button somewhere.

In all this hi-tech I DO have a tool I’d recommend to anyone.

I’ve invested in an hour-glass. In runs for 30 minutes. While that sand is running all I may do is read and take notes. This might be an eBook, or a printed book, either way they are on a bookstand. I take notes, fountain pen to lined paper. What could be easier? The left hand may highlight or bookmark and turn a page, while the right writes?

This works as the filtering process of the knowledge that I am reading and want to retain needs to go through several steps in any case. The handwritten notes will be reduced again as I go through, typing up the ideas that have some resonance for me.

My current task has been ‘How Europe went to war in 1914’ by Christopher Clark.

I doubt my second thorough read will be the last. From notes I will start posting blogs and going into related social platforms to share and develop thoughts and in so doing be corrected while firming up my own views. I need this social interaction, to join the discussion if not the debate.

Meanwhile I will revisit Martin Weller‘s book on Digital Scholarship.

However swift the age of the Internet may be he suggests it will still take a person ten years to achieve the ‘scholar’ level … whereas John Seely Brown recently reckoned this was now down to five years. i.e. through undergraduate and postgraduate levels and popping out the other end with a PhD in five years.

DIdn’t an 18 year old who was home schooled just get called to the Bar?

She graduated with a law degree while contemporaries did A’ Levels and finished High School and then did a year of pupilage I suppose.

The intellectual ‘have’s’ of the future will, by one means of another, achieve degree status at this age. The Internet permits it.

School is far, far, far, far, far too lax.

It tends to the median if not the mediocre. Long ago it found a way to process kids as a genderless year group instead of treading each student as an individual … so let them skip a year, let them stay back a year … allow them to expand and push subjects that appeal to them.

H810: Language, Terms, Access, Disability, Impairment, Xenophobia …

Multiple asynchronous discussion in a tutor group, more of the same here – then get online and do the same live, in a synchronous chatroom or tutor group, or with those around you (family, friends and collegaues). This is such a terrific way to mold and shape your thoughts on an issue. I am doing H810 on ‘accesibility’ – a timely eyeo–opener with the Paralympics raging.

Forgive me if I keep mentioning the radio but I’ve driven well over a thousand miles in the last three days and not suprisingly there have been many BBC 4 programmes relating to disability due to the Paralympics – all on issues such as the terms to use, accessibility provision and even on how and when someone who becomes disabled ‘Comes Out’ to friends and family, as well as potentially to an institution where they work or study. Best of all, in the company of young cousins galore we have watched the irreverant, though brilliant, ‘The Last Leg’ on Channel 4 – comics and athletes, mostly with a disability though plenty of guests who do not, who rib and tell jokes, or make observations about the events of the day constantly making fun of themselves, their attitudes and the attitudes of others.

Dare I offer the kind of email or text they answer?

‘Is it OK to punch a disabled person if they are being a knob?’ Very Edinburgh Fringe, live and late in the evening, so fruity language used all the time – It breaks down barriers so is a form of access. I’ve got some time having finally got back home for 24 hours so plan to track down through BBC iPlayer the radio shows I’m referring too – as streamed radio these are only available for 7 days after transmission, though some are available as podcasts. Not necessarily outside the UK though? Perhaps if we act quickly we can persuade the BBC to archive and share some of this content? It’s the kind of content that should be given a longer shelf life through Open Learn.

‘Thlid, spas, spasmoid, mong’ … obviously and horrible terms used by boys age 8-10 at a boarding prep school in the 1970s.

Locally and with abusive undertones, children at a nearby home were name-called using a diminutive of the name of the place, ‘Stellers’ for Stelling Hall while at a public school where, for far too many bullying was the favourite sport, any act of stupidity you were called of all things, ‘a right Balliol’ after a local home for kids with learning difficulties. Even tourists got it in the neck as at any opportunity we’d lean out of a bus and yell ‘tourist’ at anyone with a rucksack and hiking boots (the school is in the Lake District). I turned up at this instituion after six months hospitalization, ops etc: having broken my leg very badly. I was nicknamed ‘booties” as I had to wear lace up ankle boots as one foot was smaller/weaker and required support. Did I like the term? Of course not, but by protesting the bullies insisted on using it. An entire cohort of younger boys, if anything at all distinguished them, they got a name, so accent, learning difficulty, squint, hearing, colour, religion – not just Jewish, but Catholics, were singled out.

Courtesy of Facebook I’ve recently been reminded of a list of abusive nicknames given to the teachers – in every case picking out a pysiological trait, accent or behaviour. Horrible.

All what I am saying coming to me from a dark, buried place in my head – no wonder Harry Windsor is admonished for calling a fellow soldier a Paki becuase he got this from Eton and being brought up in an elitist, underserved poweful and exclusive environment. To carry this on ‘we’ should now forever nickname him ‘Bottom’ so he isn’t allowed to forget. I have to wonder from only a term of social anthropology as an undergrad if this, in a pack, or small group, comes from some innate sociatal xenophobia?

Thinking about the opposite of the appropriate behaviour or teriminology makes it apparent how much effort needs to be put in saying the best and correct thing especially as words come with all kinds of associations.

Historically was everyone who was different persecuted?

The solution to this is to get the person’s name as soon as possible, double check with them how it is pronounced, even spelling, then use it – they are a name first, not a category, or a cohort, or an institution, but (like all of us) unique and individual, deserving respect, love and understanding. As I’ve come to understand v. painfully, whatever our bodies may be doing to let us down or limit mobility or the ability to communicate or even help ourselves, there is a good chance that much of or even a part of this unique being is cognitive to the last.

Respect this and imagine if by some twist of fate you were in this position not them – not pity, but the politeness to listen and look with care, even ask questions and never assume anything at all – being kept from the same life chances is perhaps what accessibility is all about, why should those who already be at an advanage be the first or only ones to benefit from enhanced approaches to learning? Technology risks giving an ‘unfair advantage’ to those who already have a head start while access aims to gives everyone a chance or more appropriatley the choice to keep up or catch up in a way that suits them.

‘Accessibility is a process of negotiation’ – spot on.

Listen, ask questions, learn what you can about the person, their needs, wishes and expectations – get to know them. Where it is required offer choices, sometimes by trial and error, as for disabled people like all of us, we have our likes and dislikes, experiences of what works for us and what does not, and from a plethora of potential gadgets one thing or another, good bandwidth or not, a high resolution screen or not, preference for a mouse, tracker ball or tablet and stencil or a specialist keyboard – and so on. Take a course in learning theory!

Context matters. Pressume nothing.

Within reason be prepared to make the time to individualise and adjust everything – and expect to return to this to adjust as circumstances ebb and flow. One size never fits all – wherein lies the biggest barrier caused by mass produced technology from a mouse to off-the-shelf software. Can it be adapted? Is there an App that suits my specific needs? That opens a door that is currently closed?

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