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How to visualise learning – think Lava Lamps!

Fig. 1. Lava Lamps – and how we learn – on a rising thermal and in coloured, slimy blobs …

There is a physiological response to the first moments of a new module – I am nervous. This is like meeting the cast for a student play for the first read through. Intrepidation and expectation. As ever, I know no one, not the tutor or fellow students, though many of us have surely crossed paths on previous MAODE modules. We certainly have all of that in common so will have a set of themes and authors, favourite moments and gripes to share.

Visually I see this as my ‘Lava Lamp’ year!

The blob is starting to stretch and will at some stage take me away from the Master’s Degree – now complete – and onwards either returning to learning and development in the multinational / government department arena of my past, or into research.

Fig. 2. Lava lamp inspired quilt – illustrates this idea of the thermal. Is this how we learn? It’s how I visualise it.

If you want the wordy, academic response then read Kolb.

Fig. 3. How I see learning occuring – as expressed during H808 – The e-learning professional

On finding a thermal … that creative lift … that moment of inspiration that motivates …

Fig. 1 Riding the thermal of personal and intellectual development. Vernon (2011)

My sketch – my view of an end of module assignment. (H800 – Postgraduate – Masters in Open and Distance Education – a year ago).

Used as a treatment, more a feeling of the journey I’ve been on all my life.

(This sketch is 7ft tall, runs to seven or eight cycles, was marked out on wallpaper lining paper and taped to my bedroom wall).

Looking for that thermal, that intellectual and creative challenge. This expresses something that offers a path for L&D Directors, for personal development planning – the simple premise that you aim to stimulate a desire, a need, the possibly, that motivates someone to take off.

I’ve treasured the moments in my career when I’ve been here, been there – independent and on the rise.

It’s taken a good deal of postgraduate and professional development to put my head in this place again. The MA in Open and Distance Education could just as well have been an MA in Fine Art.

How do we cope with these choices? How can we deal with that fact that our life is finite and that the runnels we drain through limit us to just one path (or two).

I’ll attached two dozen baubles in a list of references to suggest where this all came from drawing on 38 years of diaries that for the most part catalogue what I read, what I saw and who I was with – I do laugh when the word count for references is greater than the text. I’m not aspiring to be an academic (not enough fun or potential income) or in my case a ‘digital scholar’.

If I reference my life do I deserve a PhD?

How could it ever be less?

Surely I could and should and in my case am able to list vast quantities of references that have a bearing on what I now express?

I could probably show you a specific diagram from an O’Level Physics text book that I first looked at on 17th May 1975 that could have something to do with the above … 

I could, and should, retrospectively look through a list of thinkers whom I have read, or have heard about and who surely had some kind of say? Or not.

Scholarly publication needs to re-invent itself.

Are our children not the first for whom we may say as they enter university – here is everything, to the best of our knowledge, what they have ever read? Here are all the key people who may have influenced their thinking – with a comprehensive profile if you want it. Here are is a reasonable narrative of the 8 trillion images they have seen on TV, online or at the cinema, let alone stuff they seen in magazines and on bill-boards.

Can I not have an original thought of my own?

Are we not all derivative?

Which has me thinking – my thermal is someone else’s water draining down a plug-hole. There are mirror images that may attempt to illustrate what goes on in ones head when you are flying.

A catherine-wheel on a rainy November 5th is how I sometimes see it.

I’m caught up in the ‘flow’

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1975)

Fig.2. Out tutor’s sketch at the ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’ Residential earlier this year.

I think of myself as someone who has ideas.

On the one had people say I think too much. Perhaps I read to much? Perhaps I indulge my curiosity. Take for example the chapter I am reading for the current module I am taking on accessible online learning – where I am curious to know more I chase the reference. I’d say on my current outing I have read all but four or five out of fifty references in addition to the chapter … so a four hour read has become … and is yet to complete … it’ll be 32 hours. And worth every syllable. I don’t want one authors intellectual vomit if they have nothing original to say (they don’t), so I have to refer to the list that has allowed them to assemble their argument. THIS is where I find the treasure – those earlier moments of revelation.

Online this journey takes minutes. I find everything. Three decades ago I would take a day physically moving from one library or another in Oxford to find a particular paper on a particular subject that had me. I recall going from the Map Room, to the Radcliffe Science Library to the Rhodes Library to find a piece of contraception and lactating mothers … is learning diminished when such a journey takes place across a QWERTY keyboard? The inch between two thumbs rather than a mile or so across a campus?

I’m about to ditch the thinking and return to doing.


Fig.3. People who make me think

Excited to be team building for the first time in over a decade.

Are you interested?

I feel like the 17 year old who says ‘let’s start a band’.

Do I?

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I’ve just read the introduction to H800 : Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

I’ve just read the introduction to H800.

Or should this read Technology-enhanced debates, learning and practices?

Fig. 1. OU VLE Screengrab January 2011

I imagine and hope there will be some hot discussions.

This is a module in the Open University Masters in Open and Distance Education.

I found this is a gentle, caring, thoughtful and reassuring ‘laying out of the OU stall.’

No jargon, clearly written in a reassuring and friendly tone.

Even the lay out is more magazine article than academic abstract, I like this. Don’t scare new folks on day one. Or me. And old hand now.

Were we gathered in the real world this is the equivalent of tea and cake with the course team and future student colleagues.

Even though this is now my third module towards the MA in Open & Distance Education I begin with trepidation as pressures on my time mount; professionally I am now incorporating the contents of H807 and H808 into my daily life and activities – evangelising about all things to do with e-learning (and the OU), while developing projects and talking to prospective clients and sponsors, employers and potential employees.

Personal Development Planning wrapped up the H808 ECA

Fig.2. Personal Development Planning (PDP) expressed as a riding skywards on a thermal

This was my take on PDP. This is now, along with reflective blogging and use of MyStuff (the OU e-portfolio) very much part of my weekly routine.

I struggled through H807 on an old iBook, succumbing to printing off far too often. With H808 I acquired a new laptop and barely printed off a thing (the ECA and evidence being the exception). Everything went into MyStuff.

(I tried Pebbelpad for several weeks then gave up. Having paid an annual sub of £20 for this I will give it a more thorough try in H800. I sense a need to have an alternative e-portfolio as the OU abandons or replaces MyStuff).


With H800 I feel the need, professionally, for a Smart Phone.

Returning from Learning Technologies 2011 I came away with one conviction – mobile learning and a number of trends (more video, less text; more chunking, easy create software and platforms; the creative/planning/production process being brought inhouse; shake up in higher education; significant investment/development in learning & development departments/functions … a list I will continue to develop this week as I finish going through my notes. See below for my take on Learning Technologies 2011)

Going mobile doesn’t simply mean learning on the commute, or during a lunch break or riding a chairlift in a ski resort if only), but using the device at a desk, around the house, in corridors. Think of is this way, why do so many of us work from Laptops at a desk, when surely a desktop computer would do a better job. I feel a Smart Phone will simply offer an alternative way to work, as if on a micro-computer … on a bench overlooking the English Channel. Stuck in traffic (as a passenger) .. even while making supper.

We will see.

Perhaps Smart Phone and the next piece of business will go hand in hand.

I’ll no doubt often using sports related analogies, so I’ll treat week one and two as a warm up, rather than a sprint. In previous modules I’ve been like a pace setter at the start of the four minute mile, dashing off quickly only to retire before the end.

My key thought for H800? Pace.

In any case, I’ve got a self-assessment tax form to submit, more job interviews, client meetings too – even seeing a Venture Capital organisation. This and some swim coaching and quite a bit of swim club managing/organising (internal training, submission to a national audit, final assessment for the Senior Club Coach certificate). As well as time with family, children, our dog and the guinea-pigs ‘E’, ‘C’ & ‘A’.

Putting Personal Development Planning (pdp) at the centre of things

I had an interview in London that by fortuitous timing ties directly into the H808 ECA (end of course assessment) that I have to complete and upload in the next 13 hours. What is more, every part of the MA in Open in Distance Education with the OU would have some application to the role for which I’d applied. Personal Development Planning (PDP), the subject of the ECA, would be important too, indeed it is a vital component of ‘learner-driven’ or ‘learner-centred’ education. Successful, engaged, pumping PDP is at the heart of e-learning – people must be motivated to take the initiative, to drive their learning while others support them in every way they can with appropriate resources, many of which will be ‘electronically enabled,’ i.e. ‘e-learning’.

I have a draft of the ECA written, the choices of evidence have been made, collated and labelled.

I’ve already uploaded a draft so feel confident that the ETA system will handle whatever else I do.

I had the file, rather more chunky printed out and clipped into an Arch-Lever Folder than on a memory stick or zipped on the laptop so that I could review it on the train journey in and out of London. I like paper; things need to be expressed in other ways that via a QWERTY keyboard. It helps to talk, to discuss, to animate your thoughts with your hands even … as we shall see.

On the way into town I find myself sitting with a friend who is 18 months into the Creative Writing course at Sussex University and was having a second interview with a literary agent; our respective career paths were shared. He is a professional photographer who has an online resource of stock photos targeted at UK Councils. I don’t look at the ECA.

The interview, like so much I now do, is duly reflected upon, though for reasons of privacy not here as an open blog. This debrief, this self-assessment, served a dual purpose, at the front of my mind, of course, is the possible outcome and responses to the interview. And notes on how and where I felt it went well, or not so well, for future reference and to judge what improvements I might make when attending such interviews in future and how to compose my written thanks when I reply.

I recognise the purpose and value of reflection and make the time to do so

At the back of my mind, of course, as we talk, is the ECA.

Coming to the end of the interview process I felt compelled to share this sketch to add conviction to my belief that Personal Development Planning is ‘at the heart of things’.

I did this earlier today to get a handle on how in one shot I now see PDP, not as a self-contained ‘do it and move on unit’ at the start of a course, but at the heart of what you do: at the beginning, the end, everything in between … and beyond. (And yes, you should hear Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) saying it!).

It was somewhat evangelical of me, but I feel passionate about it. I believe it as a consequence of my own personal experience and from others who take this approach.

Reflection with a second person can help; it is natural that my wife would take an interest in the day’s events. This is invaluable, and is a form a assessment. However, where I find I become increasingly animated regarding PDP is that I felt I still hadn’t got it right, that had I seen myself in that meeting what was I doing with my hands? What else was I trying to express? Sometimes recording an interview to look over it afterwards has advantages. You need to be winkling away to find ideas and inspiration.

I’d mentioned life-long learning, that PDP can benefit both your career, how you organise a hobby, even family life.

And then I remembered this:

My interpretation, visualised, of what life-long means from H807.

The problem I have with my sketch of ‘PDP at the heart of things’ is that it loops back on itself, there is no suggestion of improvement, of advancement.

I toss around further ideas like a board game, the PDP process being, for example, what happens every time you ‘Pass Go’ in Monopoly. Then I imagined climbing up a helter-skelter, or fairy-lights around a tree. I thought too about Kolb’s cycle of development … and then, as I was standing up waving my hands about I got it … a great analogy would be of a glider catching a thermal and rising in a series of circles.

‘A load of hot air.’ My wife remarked, laughing.

And yes, I could imagine giving a presentation and a heckler saying exactly that – so I’d have to have a reply prepared. (Be prepared for anything)

With this in mind I set to work.

Earlier this week I threatened to photograph myself standing next to the family washing-line with my evidence pegged out. This is how I said I would make my choices and write the assignment. As it was raining instead I got a roll of wall-paper backing paper and stuck it to the bedroom wall with masking tape; I would draw my washing line. I have just taken this down and taped it vertically.

At the bottom I draw this.


Then I go for this.

JFV PDP Cycle as thermalJFV PDP Cycle thermal close up


In a live presentation I would draw this from scratch on the largest sheet I could find, talking my way through it, seeking input, offering explanations.

As a video-asset I would lock off an overhead camera and draw it onto a sheet of A3 paper, possibly over a lightbox, and then use EFX to speed it up. I would then add a voice over.

There are many other ways to play with it to varying degrees of simplicity (authenticity) or elaboration. Not least by using stock footage of a glider or Condor or some such catching a thermal with labels tagged onto the video archive footage as it played out. Indeed, going from the basic sketch it might be better still to invite course participants to create their own expression of this PDP as an ascending cycle – say playfully spinning around in front of camera with a balsa-wood model glider with the person’s name on it! Fun is good. Originality is good. personalization is good. This makes it memorable without needing it as an APP or an electronic alert.

The conclusion I find as convincing as the process.

The process here includes reflection, blogging, collaboration … and could in due course include video, podcasting, presentation and moderation.

As I was able with ease to add every aspect of H808 onto this simple diagram I felt I had reached an important point, not least vindicating my methodology that might look as if it is depends on technology, but does not. Often the route to get an idea from the mind into the public domain is via face-to-face discourse, a few movements of the arms, then reaching for pen and paper.

This diagram can be draw it up differently depending on the context.

This implied versatility suggests it effectiveness.

PDP as indicated here suggests a set period to repeat or revisit the process … this ought to be expressed to occur every quarter, rather than after every cycle as suggested here with loops that might represent a typical OU unit of two weeks and the activities one engages with along the way.

A productive day then.

What does learning look like ?

Fig.1. What learning looks like. As I find it, or a model for creating an online learning platform?

I have for four weeks avoided printing anything off for H808. There has been no need.

However. So that I have it in front of me, Blu-tacked to the wall, I am printing off

The processes of writing reflectively: a map of reflective writing. Moon (1999a) Appendix 1 in Moon (2001)

And the Kolb Cycle. Kolb (1984)

This, as well as doing as I intended a month ago, drawing a simple knowledge-map by way of a treatment into a pad of A5 paper before I write in here may be how I do things here on in.

Dull, but dutiful?

REFERENCE

Kolb, D (1994)    Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Moon, J (1999a)  Learning Journals: a Handbook for Academics, Students and Professional Development, Kogan Page, London

Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher educationlearning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from:http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf(Accessed 26 SEPT 2010).

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