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World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham [Three Weeks]
Both more, and less than advertised. Far from sticking to the First World War the course flew away on a gust of enthusiasm in various directions that stretched beyond the Second World War … without really taking off.
|From Jack Wilson MM|
Fig.1 My late grandfather – the period I thought we’d cover was his experience of flight. 1911-1919
100% Coming out of the MA in British Military History with a Postgraduate Certificate and 60 credits after one year shows that I am still passionate about the subject of the First World War, but not how it is taught in a traditional ‘Saturday School’ format: I felt that I was back in the ‘C’ set of my lower-sixth History A’ level. The course tried hard to understand the affordances of learning online in a MOOC and will surely make many changes before it is presented again in the New Year. It rather failed to understand who its audience were: more niche, specialists and some extraordinarily well informed. The WW1 tag drifted rapidly into events between the wars, into WW2 and beyond with very little of the development of aviation offered or explored, except by us students, often in great depth. Its saving grace. It was too much an effort at shoehorning a lacklustre campus-based course of lectures, talks and books with long lists of qualifying but unreadable lists of references attached. The quizzes in particular were awful. Put in with no understand of their purpose or the considerable level expertise required to get these right.
This free, open, interactive and connected online course is about to start. It runs for only three weeks and will take a couple of hours a week to do, a little longer to take part in, and as long as you like to indulge.
|From First World War|
Fig. 2. Gustav Hammel – an early aeronaut who my grandfather saw fly in age 13
I’m doing it to refresh my knowledge from my late grandfather who say the very earliest aviators as a boy and then after 18 months as a machine gunner on the Western Front successfully transferred to the Royal Flying Corps to train as a pilot.
The course is led by a retired former senior RAF officer, Dr Peter Gray with whom I’ve already had a lecture courtesy of the MA in Military History, also with the University of Birmingham. His lecture was on how to read and review a book, and on how to write a competent essay. I’ve been respectively three, then one then ? marks shy of a distinction with my essays so he got me pointed in the right direction.
These courses are known as MOOCs for ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ because courtesy of the Internet they are global and can attract thousands of participants and ‘open’ because they are free to do and talk about … the other two are obvious. An off-putting acronym for a set of rich, multi-media webpages designed for learning? Lord Reith of the BBC, one of the founding fathers of the BBC, would have approved as these MOOCs from FutureLearn entertain, inform and educate.
Anyway, the course is about to start. It is open to anyone, and it is free. So see you there?
Fig.1. My whirlwind of postgraduate learning. (c) J F Vernon (2013)
For a brief period I have been a registered student at three universities: Oxford Brookes (FSLT14), the Open University (MAODE H818) and the University of Birmingham (MA First World War). This is what my mind needs to feel I am ‘in the flow’. Live TV does it too – behind the camera, anything can go wrong, or go right.
The first two online and the latter campus based. My motives for joining FLST14 were to push my learning towards education in Higher Education and applied learning in business – as a practitioner I’ve been making the transition from production and learning services to the education side for a good decade – seeking to be part of the learning process rather than creating resources at a distance. First Steps into Learning and Teaching 2014 (FSLT14) came along where I have had a brief window and for an opportunity to revisit, understand and apply this process of reflection it worked where previous efforts to crack this have failed. I’m also, in some respects, testing from a professional perspective different learning platforms and approaches.
I’ve done three MOOCs in as many years – some huge, one so closely managed it was like a formal MBA module. I’ve done and nearly completed a FutureLearn MOOC too (WebSciences) and enjoyed taking part in another FutureLearn MOOC on Hamlet (University of Birmingham) as an observer. I can see myself doing a couple of these a year: they replace an inclination of buying hefty, coffee-table non-fiction books on a thing in the belief that ownership alone will result in the transmission of knowledge from the page to my head. For the last decade I’ve applied the same principle to eBooks which hasn’t worked either. I need to be reading the things for a reason – increasingly this is because, voluntairly, I need to respond with a book review, intelligent intercourse in a seminar or in an essay that will be assessed and graded.
It is interesting to be back in class: lectures and reading lists with essays to write, but the comparison I make for FSLT14 is with other online modules.
Where, for me FSLT14 worked so well as that it clearly knows what it can and cannot deliver. It is a Bonsai tree, not the entire forest. It might even be a cherry-tree haphazardly trained along the back wall of the garage if I am to continue the metaphor. This is a blessing. More is definitely less.
I’ve been on modules that say it is 14 hours a week but it quickly becomes apparent that it is more like 22 hours – sometimes they excuse this by having ‘Optional’ activities, but these are ambitiously long, even indulgent reading lists set up us students to feel we may be failing or inadequate if we can’t or don’t take an interest in these. I am not a strategic learner; I expect those responsible for the learning design to do this. If you go to the trouble of putting a book or paper it is because you expect students to read it – rather than, what I feel the academic is doing – showing off how much they have read. Research shows that activities that are marked ‘optional’ are not done. I find, where I do these any effort lands on deaf ears – no one else could give a monkey’s … That said, I’ve also just completed an OU heavy-weight H818: The Networked Practitioner.
Here the commitment and presence of the Chair was palpable and of enormous value. As students it is encouraging to us to have those who designed a course to show maintain their presence.
On the one hand you have the course content, designed and posted online, on a railway track learning journey that is suitably detailed, but never overwhelming. You can battle on alone, or join in. With fellow students this is straight forward, it is simply a matter of sticking your head over the garden fence on a regular basis and returning the compliment of someone commenting or providing feedback to do the same to them … while being mindful as you become one of the experts to look after those who may feel on the edge of things. How, when and if the tutor is a presence depends on if they go by their contracted hours, or are indulgent enough as a vocational educator to be around. I feel a tutor should host their group. Over four years, and seven modules I’ve had seven tutors, of course, though seen and probably remarked on the actions, behaviours, strengths and weaknesses of at least another 14 tutors. Some what the French call ‘animateurs’ – they galvanise their group; others are withdrawn, very academic and correct – but brilliant in their own way. Others become, for want of a phrase ‘one of the lads’. I’m less certain that this works or is appropriate – not in primary, secondary or tertiary education. And so on. The worse are the ones who simply are not there. Who seem to have less idea what is going on than their students and as you’d expect a student who is struggling to do start to winge and make excuses. I’ve never had to do it so I ought to be more circumspect; I am sure that it can only be reasonable to expect tutors to work their contracted hours. My view of education and being an educator is more Socratic. I expect their presence.
With seven significant online postgraduate modules under my belt this is of course not the typical picture: some are heavily based on reading, others on activities with assessments patterns to suit. Mentioning the ‘traditional’ course I am doing, actually 1000 pages to read per week is clearly excessive isn’t it? You give up lie-ins and TV, and other hobbies … (By the way, I share regularly in the OU Student Blog platform thoughts and hopes with someone who has now completed 21 postgraduate modules with the Open University. I think this equates to four degrees!!)
Fig. 1. Muir Woods. One visit wasn’t enough. I spent three days in here.
I describe my inability to see the wood for the trees as I was too busy enjoying being a woodsman.
I could not stand back and reflect on what had taken place – not during the course, though perhaps a few months later. I return to this horticultural metaphor as I found with FSLT14 that I could fit it in, no more, no less. I could see it for what it was and admired its focus. During FSLT14 I feel I have become fluent in the language of education. It has been the tipping point, the moment, where like learning a new language you feel the fog has cleared.
This has been possible because of its modesty and humanity – there is an intimacy in the connectedness that I haven’t found elsewhere – perhaps in specialist interest groups in LinkedIn and Google+
Fig.2. Dr. Zbigiew Pelczynski taking his grandson for a walk
Our feedback session felt like an Oxbridge Tutorial; I’ve had the privilege of learning through that system as an undergraduate but took it for granted thinking that it was how all university’s could do things. There is significant value in a few people being able to talk around a topic and have enough time to take in what people were saying. And of course, the global reach of this is such a revealing way to consider your own position and practice. My insight on the Oxbridge tutorial system – I was an undergraduate thirty years ago, has been embellished by marriage to the daughter of a prominent Oxford tutor and personality, Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski. I interviewed him about the tutorial system and shared this online. Ever since I’ve pondered how Web 2.0 could be used to give tens of millions the Oxbridge tutorial experience – some institutions are doing this already. The Webscience MOOC I did, though hosted by two University of Southampton professors, was populated, on rotation I think, by four PhD students each week. This meant, as we have come to expect using communications platforms, that more often or not, a reply came to whatever you posted in a few hours, or sooner – rather than days later or not at all. As an online student you start to recognise the pattern a tutor has – never on a weekday, never at the weekend, only on a Tuesday. That’s their plan, but it feels like a gross misappropriation of powers they ought not to have … to effectively ignore you until they can be bothered. All should and could be receiving updated posts on an RSS feed.
Fig.3. Something I drew.
Setting out to become a ‘Master’ of anything at all – ‘Open and Distance Education’ has received my attention, though four years ago I was interviewed to take an MA in Fine Art.
True! It has taken this extra year, a couple of modules beyond graduating with the MA, to feel that I can describe myself as a ‘Master’. It’ll be another six years before I can, some theorists think, a ‘Scholar’. But I, like John Seely Brown, do not believe in this ‘10,000 hours’ thing – I’ve read the original research paper on musicians learning violin at the Berlin Conservatoire. Playing a musical instrument does not readily translate to anything else or everything else, especially where most violinists start at the age of 4. Which is when Picasso picked up a paint brush under the tutelage of his father, an art teacher from the local university. What were your learning at age 4 that you have developed into an expertise ten or twenty years later? Picasso, in his words, could paint like Rubens by the time he was 14. And we know about Mozart. There’s value in starting young and sticking with it: swimming anyone? Singing too.
Web 2.0 allows ‘learning at the speed of need’, to prefer learning over TV or the gym, over friends and relationships, walking the dog and the garden.
I have for the last five months been working on two MA degrees in parallel – not something I would have considered even three years ago. Not only do I think it is doable, I think, with the right course, you can contain it to the 14 hours a week each requires. The magic, the synergy, the insights that come from this greater intensity is, going back to it, what Oxford and Cambridge expect when they ‘hot house’ students through their short, eight week terms. And how many hours are they expected to put in? At the Oxford Internet institute I was advised that the MA students would be doing 44+ hours a week. Intensity works once you are up to speed. For this means getting myself into ‘the flow’ as Mihaly Csikzentmihayli puts it.
Fig.1 SimpleMind Mindmap based on Niall Ferguson’s ‘The Pity of War’
I’ve now read ‘The Pity of War’ twice in a row. As I’ve gone through it I’ve highlighted passages and added notes
and tabs in Kindle. I also grabbed a few highlighted passages and put them into the iPad App ‘Studio’ to annotate and took slides from a
presentation on how to prepare a book review by Dr Pete Gray of the University of Birmingham and annotated these too.
On the second reading I created the SimpleMinds mindmap above.
This ought to be my starting point for a solid 1,000 word book review.
Further reading in the from of Books and papers of interest have been picked up along the way too.
Those to find in a university library, those acquired secondhand through Amazon or uploaded as eBooks in Kindle and papers I can find as a postgraduate student online, either through the Open University or the University of Birmingham (I am a postgraduate student at both). There are various ways I can offer the above, though the best is to download the FREE version of SimpleMinds and read it that way.
Offered with a view to sharing the views of others.
I can export it into a word file and develop the categories I already have as separate themes:
Insightful (in yellow) has some 52 notes, most referenced by Kindle Link (KL).
Do I buy the print version or go to the library and cross-reference?
Descriptors: meticulous, original, weighty, highly referenced, all sides, high brow, thoroughly researched, well read … often
intricate, taking us to detail researched by others? NOT, as he says in the introduction, a textbook or a narrative of the war.
No Trivia – nor the chronology if the war, nor countless aggregated memories of veterans, though there is a bit of poetry and some
mention of movies and TV films from ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ to ‘Birdsong’, ‘Gallipoli’, ‘Blackadder goes forth’ and
‘Ghost Road’ Bias – I wonder about this in relation to where Niall Ferguson – that he relishes a dig on the landed gentry and public
school system, their types, behaviours and hobbies, from leadership to country sports.
Debunking myths: the desire for war, the Germans to blame, the Russians to blame, militarism, German economic efficiency, not donkeys, the AEF didn’t win the war and blundered in making the mistakes of 1914, naval supremacy and ambivalence to war.
The Press – censorship, Buchanan, DORA. Finance – givernments
A dilletante, too thorough, comprehensive: penny dreadfuls, invasion stories, art history and drama, from Karl Kraus to Oh What a Lovely War.
Errors or mistaken emphasis: Fashoda, conjecture that Grey et al. exaggerated the threat of Germany despite intelligence, attempting to interpret stats on fatalities, wounded and prisoners, the Entente were better at killing, maiming and taking prisoners, Tommy gets angry with a Jerry prisoner, All
Quiet on the Western Front is not biography though Ferguson quotes from it as if it is. Remarque wasn’t a front line soldier. The Oxford Union as any kind of representative body for comment. That Belgium neutrality would have been breached by GB. That skilled workers lost to the war impacted our economy when women very effectively stepped in. That the EU in its current form might have emerged has GB stayed out of it. That waving Tommies are from a photo archive when they are grabs from the Battle of Somme footage.
Kinds of historian: cultural, military, diplomatic, economic.
Why was recruitment successful? Recruitment campaign, female pressure, peer and employer pressure, impulse, economic motives, and more?
Other historians and commentators:
Alan Clarke, Lidell Hart, John Terraine, Correlli Barret, Michael Howard, Norman Stone, Lafell, Bidwell, Graham, Travers, Holmes, Martin van Creveld, Dominic Graham, JMBourne, Michael Geyer, Martin Samuels, Gudmannskn, Paddy Griffith, Theo Balderston, Knaus and Hew Strachan.
With distinct sections on:
Finance and JMKeynes Writers
With a bit on poets, and rather less on films and art.
What did he leave out then?
- The Home Front
- Technological developments, especially in the air
Fig.2. A brief response to the ten questions Ferguson poses at the start of the book and attempts to answer by the end – I’m not wholly convinced.
Fig. 1. Ironically, given what I am writing about below, this book is recommended (though not compulsary) reading for the Open University (OU) module H818: The Networked Practitioner. I could only find a print version.
I’ll add notes to this blog (which I use to aggregate notes and as an e-portfolio, not just as a shared or private journal-cum-log) as the differences between the online and ‘traditional’ learning experience dawn on me as I do two in parallel.
An MSc in Development Management (a convenient way to be recognised for a collection of education and further modules on e-learning that I am doing with the OU) 100% online … except for the above book.
An MA in British First World War studies (with the University of Birmigham) 97% lectures and tutorials on campus. (There is online support, an online library and database, but books and 100 year old archive as physical artefacts in collections are the primary materials)
Actually there’s a third comparison I can make – that of ‘corporate learning and development’ which the other week with the E-Learning Network included something neither of the above formats offer – ‘social learning over an excellent buffet lunch’. (see below for my view of campus fodder).
The ‘traditional’ seminar or lecture forces your hand somewhat – you have to be there. Many these days are recorded for you and put online, 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. Lunch I may have to take with me as the campus only had premade Spar sandwhiches at every outlet.
After lunch on my MA induction day I did something I remember last doing in double Geography on a Friday afternoon with ‘Dusty Rhodes’ – I sat at the back, cupped my hands over my eyes as if in deep thought … and grabbed ‘forty winks’.
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.
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 with the OU was a webinar on using RefWorks.
People ‘in the flesh’
It was obvious as we gathered in the hall below the lecture rooms that the group of mainly male, mature students were turning up to the same gig. A handshake, a look in the eye and after pleasantries about where we had travelled from we got straight down to what MA were were doing and why: First World War, Second World War or Air Power. Meanwhile online, as many have been ‘gathering’ asynchronously online saying ‘where they have come from’ i.e. their last module, nerves and who they already know. No handshake, some faces, but not all, and largelly female. What these have in common is that human desire to find something in common amongst strangers. Doing a head count I’d say the ratio of male/female for war studies was 80/20 … for the MA in e-learning modules it would appear to be close to 30/70, perhaps 40/60.
In three and a half years with the Open University I have not met any of the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) tutors or moderators. I wouldn’t even recognise some of them if I met them. In some cases I might know the voice. The ‘Chair’ of each module is the intellectual powerhouse, with tutors as moderator-cum-markers can be professors, not necessarily with the OU, or ‘fellow’ students who are a few steps ahead having completed the MA ODE. At the University of Birmingham the ‘intellectual powerhouses’ are our tutors and they were out in force – which given the subject matter included two retired Air Commodores.
Learning that is ‘any time, any where’
The MA ODE can be studied any time, any where – though in practice it is studied evenings, weekends and vacations as students tend to be in fulltime employment, those with children, during the term at least, may have some semblance of a ‘student day’ if they can settle down each morning. The MA WW1 is strictly confined to a Saturday, and not just one lecture, potentially three or four. There are Tuesday evening talks which I will never make and can only hope will be recorded and put online.
What does any of the above say about:
the traditions of learning
the subject matter
formal postgraduate learning for mature students in the 21st century
Fig. 2 The First World War archive at the university of Birmingham
This would have been quite impossible online – handling archive 90-100 year old materials from a university collection. I was particularly taken by the personal diary and several hundred photographs of an officer who was posted widely during the war, from the Western Front to Malta, Italy and Egypt. The original artwork of Louis Raemaekers also impressed and inspired, while the actual typed up letters of cabinet ministers reasly brought home the opportunity to ‘turn to original sources’.
Having not taken stock for a while it was refreshing and re-assuring to consider the Open University postgraduate modules that I have taken, though it has taken this long to understand the meaning of a module that is approaching its final ‘presentation’. In some cases a better word for this might be ‘sell by date’ especially with a subject such as ‘e-learning’ as at least three of those listed below were on their final or penultimate presentation and it mattererd – ‘H817:Innovations in e-learning’ wasn’t particularly innovative for someone who had worked in the creation of interactive and online learning. I’m used to and value the amount of background theory, but I still feel that in these ‘H’ modules that form the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) is considerably biased towards learning in formal secondary and tertiary education, rather than applied L&D in business which interested me most – indeed I know of two people across these courses who quit early on because they were working in a learning creation position in business and felt the modules were not suitably applied. B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change was the exception as however dated some of the content (video content shot in the mid 1990s that included companies that had long since gone out of business and innovations such as laptops the size of a small trunk with a carrier bag of cables) the activities and theory in relation to innovation were timeless – it was also an MBA module. Any of us who have taken part in or hosted learning in an organisation involving games of some kind would have found B822 familiar – much of it also touched on the kind of creativity used in advertising, marketing, PR, events and communications.
H804: Implementing Online, Open and Distance Learning (2001)
H807: Innovations in Elearning (2010)
H808: The Elearning professional (2010)
H800: Technology enhanced learning: practices and debates (2011)
B822: Creativity, Innovations and Change (2011)
H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students (2012)
H809: Practice-based research in educational technology (2013)
I’m continuing with these modules to demonstrate that the standard I am now able to achieve is sustainable so that working in academia, even studying for a PhD is viable. ‘H819:The Networked Practitioner’ is a new module. Reading through the course notes and first units (it came online today and goes live next week) I can see the care, clarity and thought that has gone into it, as well as the substantial use of a variety of online learning tools for ‘connected’ or ‘networked’ learning … what some might call ‘social learning’ but here has more structure to it that that (parameters, goals, set tools etc:). It is tailored, every step of the way, to the production of a conference piece – there is considerable latitude here, but what is meant that you have a presentation that may be given in a variety of formats featuring a choice of core themes develop through the module but set in your ‘world’ or field of interest or expertise.
A teacher is taught to teach something in class, not simply to teach.
I feel that I have learnt over the last three years how to teach online, but I haven’t developed a subject specialism, prefering to date to behave as if I were in an e-learning agency serving the needs of many, disperate clients. For this module, and potentially for one or two beyond, I hope to develop and demonstrate how the history of the First World War can be taught using e-learning – apt as we approach its centenary. In parallel I will be taking a Masters in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is also a part-time course, and ostensibly ‘distance learning’ – though in this instance the distance component is handled by my driving to Edgbaston once a month for a day of intensive face to face seminars and tutorials. This in itself will make for a fascinating constrast with the 100% online experience of the Open University.
In the back of my mind, whatever the subject, my interest is in how to address the global problem of there being 123 million people who want to study at university, but only 5 million places. Even if every university modelled itself on the Open University there would still be a massive shortfall – the answer must be in Open Learning that is supported, possibly by a huge cohort of volunteer alumni, as well as qualifying participants as they accumulate credits. Somewhere in here there may be a question for me to address with doctoral research.
It’s disengenious of me to say that I’ve been studying online for a decade.
I did a module in 2001 but did no further online learning in the subsequent decade – though I did qualify as a swimming teacher and coach! The reason for thinking about a decade as a period of time in which to study is that some would say it takes this long to become an expert. This comes from a piece of research carried out at the Berlin Conservatoire in relation to muscians and the years of training and practice they need to put in to get them to the concert hall as a soloist. Actually it wasn’t years so much as tens of thousands of hours required – 40,000 I think it was with kids introdcued to the instrument early and pushed by parents and institutions getting the furthest youngest. Martin Weller, Professor of e-learning, suggests that a decade is still the time scale in which someone might be deemed a ‘digital scholar’. John Seely Brown, who has applied learning and e-learning to business in the US, notably at Xerox’s famous research institute, suggested earlier this year that scholarship or expertise of the kind we are talking about may be achieved in five years because online learning can speed things up. People do take two degrees in tandem if they study online. Is there a fast track to a PhD? My perspective as a parent with teenagers is that they could begin a part-time online degree in their A’ Level year and graduate at the same time as getting their A’ level results or the year after.
I’ve just read ‘The Sleepwalkers. How Europe went to war in 1914’. By Christopher Clark.
More than any book I have read before on the subject this blows away any myths or propaganda – not least the fact that Germany did not start the war, that award goes to Russia with France’s support. I’d have liked to study this period with the Open University but the History modules simply don’t accommodate this. I’ll therefore be going up to the University of Birmingham, in person, once a month for a mammoth day-long series of tutorials and lectures. That’s as ‘distant’ as it gets with very little online support.
A few weeks ‘out of the loop’ (it’s called a vacation) and I feel the knowledge on e-learning I have gained over the last few years draining away – it is such a vibrant and fast-moving area that I feel I need to refresh and update at every opportunity. This is why I am returning to the Open University to study the module H818 The Networked Practitioner. Having already achieved a Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education earlier this year, H818 and H809 which I completed three months ago, will go towards an MSc in Education; not that I am chasing a qualification, rather I went to keep my thinking alert, current and applied.
There’s a practice based element to this which I’ll apply to an long-held interest in the First World War. There’ll be a lot of interest, reflection and soul-searching over the 100th anniversary from 2014 to 2018. That war is relevant to the Europe and wider Europe we live in today, from Northern Ireland to Syria, via the Balkans and the EU.
This completes the Masters Degree. I graduate on Saturday 27th April 2013
Currently (March 2013) I am taking H809 as a bridge towards doctoral research or professional consultancy. Complete in June 2013.
I joined the #H817open MOOC for one component of this module. I will register for 2014
- Why skiing is my metphor for life and learning (mymindbursts.com)
- Martin Weller and the MOOCers (mymindbursts.com)
- Openness in Education WK1 MOOC (mymindbursts.com)
- Making swim coaching a tad easier with SwimTag (mymindbursts.com)
- How to visualise learning – think Lava Lamps! (mymindbursts.com)
- How more deeply embedded is a visual memory if you crafted the drawing or painting that is the catalyst for its recall. (mymindbursts.com)
- No. 5 aha moment: the Web as a universal standard (downes.ca)