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Who are we?

From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. © University of Cape Town CC-BY-NC-ND

It has been a lifelong, and rather futile quest of mine expressed in writing and art, diaries, blogs and stories and fed by academic study and non-academic spiritual and cranky pursuits to understand who I am – not what I am. There is in consciousness something rather odd going on that no amount of research into my ancestry, or to living relatives, no amount of writing or painting or visualising of ideas can explain. Is it not a trait of being a teenager to feel alien to the world? Although in my fifties I don’t think the euphoria of being a teen is a phase I’ve yet to pass through smile

This online course from the University of Cape Town has been fascinating.

I could study neuroscience or get drunk and paint a mural on the side of the house like Jackson Pollock, but I don’t think it would get me any closer to finding an answer … even if I had fun doing so. To sum it up for all of us, to excuse and explain all behaviour from Gandhi to Hitler, from Hockney to Terry Gilliam, Richard Dawkins to Robert Winston, I simply think that each of us is unique – yet ironically society and others repeatedly fight to contain us. 

I’ve been prompted to express this by a question posed to participants on the course ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town on FutureLearn. 

An utterly absorbing, heartfelt conversation so sympathetically and convincingly shared. Worth of many return visits and further deep study. I’m driven by a limiting interest in everything. My curiosity knows no bounds – which is limiting, as it might be enlightening.

It is easy to visualise the dog chasing its tail, though in my mind, excusing the vanity and narcism of it I see myself more as that omnipresent foetal child from the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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9 ways to create the perfect online course

Fig.1 Mosaic by featured in the University of Cape Town FutureLearn course ‘Medicine and the Arts’

Don’t call MOOCs MOOCs, they are ‘courses.’

Don’t even call them online courses. I suppose therefore, don’t call it e-learning either or even online learning … it is simply ‘learning’.  I am on my eighth or ninth course with FutureLearn. I may have three or four open at any one time and complete two of these at least. I love ‘Medicine and the Arts’ from the University of Cape Town while I am both maddened and intrigued by ‘The Mind if Flat’ from Nick Chater. I’m certain that online courses longer than a couple of weeks should not be treated like books or TV programmes. What works best, as the University of Cape Town shows, is to get the entire team involved. They have a lead host and presenter who each week introduces several colleagues, something like four to six each week. It is stimulating and necessary to hear from so many different voices.

1.  The Platform Provider

Brand and technical aspects. Think of this as the channel. It has both technical and brand qualities. Is it smart? Is it current? Does it all work faultlessly? Is it intuitive? Is it simple? I’ve done many FutureLearn courses but struggle every time with Coursera and EdX. Feedback on Udacity is dire from both suppliers and users.

2. Funding/Cost or Cost Benefit

You can’t make a movie in $125,000 dollars. If a 30 point 16 week distance learning course from the OU costs £1.5m to produce should a 3 week MOOC cost up to £300k? It’s a poor comparison is the cash cost may be a fraction of this: a university team’s job is to plan a programme of teaching anyhow. What matters is how a budget is spent. The learning designer for an online course is like the scriptwriter for a movie: they provide the blueprint. Is the investment worth it?

3. The Subject Matter

Are you true to your subject? Don’t try to be something you are not. Is it ‘made’ for an online course, rather than shoe-horned from a regular, traditional ‘classroom’ lesson plan? Would it be better served on a different platform in a different way? Can you teach sports coaches or movie directors online? Or rather, what can you, and what can you not teach them? Are you fully exploiting the affordances of the platform and easily linked to alternatives on the Internet.

4. Audience

Who do you attract and is this the same as who you get? Who do you attract by level of education, age, gender, culture and location.  Are you getting the audience you want as participants? The contribution participants make is crucial. Are there enough active voices to sustain this? Be aware of the extreme differences in digital literacy skills and competences. Do you know your audience? How do you relate to those who start the course? Do you try to appeal to multiple ‘personas’ – a dozen student character types, as the Open University does, or do you appeal to one person only, as an author would do?

5. Champions

One advocate over more than a couple of weeks will tire. It will feel like an ego trip any way. How good is the mix of contributors? Both in what they have to saw and show, and their levels of and variety of experience. An online course is not necessarily akin to a TV documentary that can be carried by a single presenter. Is it a one man show or a team effort?

6. Objectives

What are the hidden and implicit goals? To attract students, to build reputation, for the good of mankind? To make money? To massage an ego? What do results say in terms of those completing a course? Doing assignments and getting to the end then singing the praises of the team? Another guide can be whether as a production fulfils the initial Creative Brief. Both qualitative and quantitative research is required to provide answers.

7. Brand and creation/production values

Is is possible to stay true to your own brand, even have a distinct image, when on someone else’s platform? Are the values of the design, creation and delivery consistent with the standards and image of your institution? If not publishing, and not TV what is it? It cannot be a lecture series with a reading list and essay put online. It has to pick the strengths from individual media platforms to succeed in this multimedia setting.

8. Assessment

These must never be taken lightly. There are examples of trite, ill-thought through multiple-choice quizzes: these are a learning opportunity. A good quiz makes you think, challenges your knowledge, and provides feedback whether you get it right or wrong. Bravely ‘Medicine and the Arts’ has both quizzes and a regular written assignments. These are not onerous yet some participants are scared by a 300 to 500 word piece of writing. They oblige you to read back through the week’s activities before replying.

9. Connectedness

How ‘sticky’ is the content? Has it got people talking to each other, not simply replying to the headline. Are people connecting as ‘friends?’ Are they continuing this relationship beyond the ‘walled garden’ of the ‘open’ learning site? Does interest in the subject, in the presenters and the institution ‘have legs’ – does it last for the years before a person may make the time, and raise the funds, to take a formal course?

Medicine and the arts: children’s experiences of medical institutionalisation

Age 12 Stacey Pidden was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) and given a couple of years to live unless she went on a new trial drug which, with her parents behind her, she did. A decade later and she was given two years to live and put on the waiting list for a double lung and heart transplant – that was three years ago. She blogged her story to fellow students of the Open University from 2010, then a couple of years later started her public blog.  One friend with PH stopped taking drugs and died. She shares everything openly and honestly. From age 4 she underwent heart surgery and had a couple of operations every year or so. What is immediately apparent in blog is her skill as a writer and her view that “life is worth fighting for.” She is a feisty and determined and would be far weaker had she not found her voice and even a purpose in life: she is the voice of a new NHS donor card campaign.

Based on Marc Hendricks concerns of children’s voices being marginalised I see value in blogging as a creative outlet: it combines so much that the University of Cape Town team address: giving young patients a voice – their voice, in a way that suits them. Tracey, for example, is in close contact with the 17 other in the UK waiting for a double lung and heart transplant like her: this empowers her and reassures her – there are other people in her situation and she has a voice that requires no filters. Susan Levine talks of a person’s life world.’ Tracey shares her ‘life world’ with us; whilst we may think of our community as neighbours and friends, hers includes her transplant team and regular consultants. A blog is text, voice, photos, artwork and even song; whatever the author wants in fact. It’s certain than visual metaphors as Kate Abney found are an important way to express meaning too. While hospital radio is another way to enable storytelling as Nina Callaghan has found.

Creatively Stacie is a erudite, witty and frank voice representing those waiting for a transplant. Where permitted, children, not just young adults, should be given such freedoms to communicate and share beyond the confines of their ward and so give them confidence to speak their minds, improving their lives, their motivation to live and the quality of communication with hospital staff.

A personal story, in sharp contrast to TB in southern Africa, is a skiing accident in the French alps. This is a world away from the many children around the world who spend long, life threatening spells institutionalised in hospital, and in the UK is historically a century from TB (my great uncle died of TB when he was 27 in the 1920s). A skiing accident is like a traffic accidents these days, nonetheless resulting in children being hospitalised. Age 13 I smashed my leg. It took a traumatic 36 hours to get me into hospital near home 1000 miles away during which time I was trusted with a bottle of pain relief pills. Despite this responsibility once in hospital all power rested with the consultant to whom all communicated, deferred to and waited to hear from, my mother included. If I was in pain – it had to wait.

I found myself isolated in a private room courtesy of family insurance with nothing for pain relief other than a panic button to call a nurse. As I reflect on it I would say the isolation and not getting a response when I called for pain relief was the most difficult. I had no one to talk to. Not even a radio or TV to distract me.

Only when my mother was present did I feel I had an interpreter between the medical staff and me: I was not consulted, I was told. Just as I was told six weeks later moments before I went under that my leg would be re-broken, reset and put in a new plaster which in turn would mean my missing an term of school. The consultant knew everything. I knew nothing, and the way they were treated the nurses knew less.

Decades on, and age 10, I am with my daughter who has potentially suffered a fracture of some kind too. We are in France. Although their English wasn’t fluent and I was present more effort was made, even to my exclusion, to talk directly to her: after all, it was her suffering the pain or discomfort, not me. In this instance there was no broken limb, but I can see that efforts we made to communicate directly with my daughter, not to hear an interpretation of her possible ailments through a parent with a tendency to exaggerate.

Hearing from the patient is not only better for the patient, it is also sound medical practice – increasingly so as we can take some responsibility for understanding what is wrong with us by making informed searches on the Internet.

 

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