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23 ways to an e-learning fix

Fig.1 Grab from a BBC Horizon programme on the brain. 2014.

The courses I’ve done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton

Those I’m on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre

Why the mind is flat … in 100 lessons, in 30 hours over six weeks!

The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick [Six Weeks] (5 hours pw)


A challenge in many ways. As Nick Chater carries the entire course, with aplomb, one feels as if you are in the presence of Socrates: there is a dominant voice – his. Perhaps because he is the expert in this niche. That said, there are many interviews, which although he may conduct are carried substantially by the interviewee. The subject matter is mind boggling and breathtaking. If you’re not familiar with the subject it can take a few reads of the transcript to get on top of it. The weekly roundups and better than anything I’ve come across: a comprehensive, reasoned selection of the key ideas and the thinking behind them. The ‘experiments’ are exceptionally good – a treasure to indulge and a surprise always with the results. The FutureLearn quizzes are used less well: too much like multi guess, that multi-choice.

The mind is wobbly … Brain is flat? The brain is unstable? I love this. It’s better than the Thorn Birds.

From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. Grab from The mind is flat. 

Across FutureLearn videos the name caption always come up right of screen whether or not there are one, two or more people featured. Does this kind of thing bother you? There are no fewer than THREE opportunities to brand this as ‘The University of Warwick’ – one would do, none are necessary. We know that this entire course if from Warwick. See them: Branded watermark in the top right hand corner, on the strapline (the least necessary and most erroneous) and yet again in the video time line … there is a fourth if you include the page this grab came from.

Other amateur antics include surreptitiously reading off notes, glancing away at the camera operator, having a second camera or wobble cam as if this a Jamie Oliver cookery course, that’s before we have to think about the antics of the video editor who wants to prove that they should be cutting pop videos.

Otherwise I love the learning and discussions and the argument for multimedia being ‘good enough’ rather than of TV broadcast quality is largely right: overly produced is just as bad as amateurish. The thinking is gripping, engaging, thought-provoking, mind bend and even funny.

Anything that gets in the way of the message is wrong.

Otherwise the above is perfect: an authentic exchange and share. So, authenticity rules?

Mistakes and all. Speak the language of the fluid internet conversation. Keep it simple. Employ people with experience who know what they are doing.

From E-Learning VI

Fig.2. Nick Chater and Jess Whittlestone. Co-stars of ‘The Thorny Birds’.

Does the mind exist? Shouldn’t we be talking about the brain?

Reflection on Learning

Guide for busy academics. No.4 Notes. Learning through reflection.

Jenny Moon, University of Exeter – the guide. Upright.

Jonathan Vernon, my thoughts – my reflection(s), in italics and (parenthesies) as if I don’t quite mean it. Or do I? These thoughts just pop into my head. They bubble up from nowhere. (Reflection or an unfortunate chemical condition called myelination.)

PDP can involve many forms of reflection and reflective learning.

A mysterious activity … or capacity? (or indulgence)

‘it lies somewhere around the notion of learning.’ (What on earth is meant by that?)

(Plenty of people reflect, it is apparent in those people who listen during meetings. When they have something to say it is because they have taken on board various ideas and are then able to summarise and offer their own thoughts. They don’t need to write it down, all they have to do is sit forward and concentrate on what is being said, rather than thinking about what they would like to say.)

Generally reflection is a means of working on what we know already and it generates new knowledge.

(I disagree. Why reflect on something you know already? Surely not giving it a second thought applies when you understand something, better when you can act intuitively. On the contrary, the time to reflect is when you don’t understand, or your thinking has been changed and you need think twice?)

Reflection is a form of mental processing that we use to fulfil a purpose or to achieve some anticipated outcome.

(I disagree. Reflection can be a form of indulgence, a pastime, an entertainment. Indeed, does this author not start out by calling it a ‘mysterious activity … or capacity?’ Nothing they have thus said convinces me that they know otherwise.)

It is applied to gain a better understanding of relatively complicated or unstructured ideas and is largely based on the reprocessing of knowledge, understanding and possibly emotions that we already possess.

(Two words worry me here, ‘relatively’ and ‘largely’ suggest to me someone who doesn’t know, who is hedging their bets and has no evidence to support what they are saying.)

Reflection has a role in:

• academic and non-academic learning
• self development
• critical review
• considering our own processes of mental functioning
• decision-making
• emancipation and empowerment and so on.

(And here it is tag on, cover-all, phrase ‘and so on’ that worries me. A list. An open list. Why not just say ‘reflection has a role in everything.’)

Perhaps it should be called ‘reflectivism’ this obsession with navel gazing.

(It will work for some, not for others. And just because someone reflects a great deal, does not mean they find any deeper truth as a result, or as a result are then capable of deciding a way out of this intellectual impasse and turn thoughts into actions.)

There is a close relationship between reflection and emotion or feelings and many would suggest that the use of reflection in academic contexts provides an appropriate channel for exploration or expression of this human function.

(This is just poor English or Jenny has been listening to too much of ‘Just a minute … trying somewhat awkwardly to avoid using the same word twice.)

Self-awareness and control of emotions is an important factor in academic performance and PDP provides opportunities for emotional engagement with subject learning.

(Perhaps I’ll buy into this based on what I have read on ‘How to study’ in Richard Northridge’s OU book of 1990)

What’s more effective than reflection? Debate.

(And if open, formal debate in the style of a debating society is not feasible, then at least engaged discussion in a tutorial-like setting is required. This makes information stick, this transforms they way you think, changes behaviour and builds knowledge. Reflection doesn’t have teeth, it lacks the emotional edge of tussle with colleagues, fellow students, subject matter experts and senior tutors.)

Reflection compared to debate, is the difference between tea and scones and a bun-fight. Which are you going to remember?

Reflection is tame, learning should be a wild tiger.

• being reflective slows down learning, because it requires time for a learner to reprocess ideas.

(It can cause learning to grind to a halt. If all you are doing is traveling across the same ground. Reflection as a dog chasing its tail, not even that, reflection as a dog chewing its own tail.)

• material on which we reflect is relatively complicated or unstructured material. It challenges learners and when they are challenged, they gain greater abilities in dealing with difficult material of learning.

(We agree on this. But I don’t believe that reflection engenders challenge. Nor do I think, should students share their ‘reflection’ that this should be challenged unless the tutor or moderator wishes to or is trained to act as a kind of therapist who helps the reflective process along, by turning old thoughts into new ones, then seeking and agreeing a way forward.)

I don’t feel challenged by this ‘guide,’ only irritated. Irritation does not foster reflection or debate.

There are many vehicles for reflective learning in the curriculum:

• learning journals, logs etc
• the use of portfolios
• reflection on work experiences
• reflection on placement experiences beyond the deliberate curriculum
• in the context of peer and self assessment
• in the context of careers work, counseling or student or personal development work.

(How about reflection without ever writing it down, or recording it? Just person to person, not talking to yourself in a mirror, or talking to yourself at all, but by speaking with a friend, or colleague, or mentor, or ‘significant other.’)

There are some things to think about when asking students to reflect.

(i.e. before you reflect, reflect and before you get students to reflect, reflect. Indeed, why not stop and think again, think twice, think trice.)

‘You think too much.’

If labels stick, this one stuck. Time to move on, or not. Perhaps I’ll reflect on it.

Perhaps I just did?


Northridge, Andrew (1990) The Good Study Guide. Open University.

The Higher Education Academy
Guide for Busy Academics No.4
Learning through reflection

Resources for Reflection

(18 September – 1 October)

Unit 2 (part 2): Reflection and learning

Core texts

Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (2009) ‘Completed RLOs – study skills’ (online), Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Available from: http://www.rlo-cetl.ac.uk/whatwedo/rlos/completedrlos.php#studyskills (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).

Crème, P. (2005) ‘Should student learning journals be assessed?’Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 287–96. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602930500063850 (JV accessed 25 SEPT 2010).

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

Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc (JV accessed 27 SEPT 2010).

Smith, C. and Haynes, R. (2005) ‘Reflective writing RLO’, London Metroplitan University. Available from: http://intralibrary.rlo-cetl.ac.uk:8080/intralibrary/open_virtual_file_path/i1026n24186t/reflective_writing/reflective_writing.html (JV accessed 28 SEPT 2010).

Smith, M. (1996) ‘Reflection: what constitutes reflection – and what significance does it have for educators? The contributions of Dewey, Schön, and Boud et al. assessed’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-reflect.htm (JV accessed 26 SEPT 2010).

Supplementary resources

Chen, H.L., Cannon, D., Gabrio, J., Leifer, L., Toye, G. and Bailey, T. (2005) ‘Using wikis and weblogs to support reflective learning in an introductory engineering design course’ [online], paper presented at the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Research & Innovation in Engineering Education. Available from: http://riee.stevens.edu/fileadmin/riee/pdf/ASEE2005_Paper_Wikis_and_Weblogs.pdf (accessed 25 May 2010).

ERIC Digests, http://www.ericdigests.org/ (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter a keyword search for ‘reflection’.

Lister, S. (n.d.) Do it Yourself Reflectionhttp://www.educause.edu/blog/slister/DoityourselfReflection/165694 (accessed 25 May 2010).

Making Practice-Based Learning Work (n.d.), Reflectionhttp://www.practicebasedlearning.org/resources/reflection/intro.htm (accessed 25 May 2010).

Reiss, D. (n.d.) Donna Reiss’ Active Learning Online Resourceshttp://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/ (accessed 23 June 2009). See also a sample reflective hypertext essay at http://wordsworth2.net/webfolio/refhypertext.htm(accessed 25 May 2010).

Richards, C. (2005) ‘Activity-reflection e-portfolios: an approach to the problem of effectively integrating ICTs in teaching and learning’ (online), Teaching and Learning Forum, Curtin University of Technology. Available from: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/refereed/richards.html (accessed 25 May 2010).

Sierra, K. (n.d.) Karina’s Writing Portfolio Wikihttp://cooper.pbwiki.com/Karina (accessed 25 May 2010).

Smith, M.K. (1996/2007) ‘David A. Kolb on experiential learning’ (online), The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Available from: http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm (accessed 30 SEPT 2010).

Trafford, P. (2005) ‘Mobile blogs, personal reflections and learning environments’ (online), Ariadne no. 44 (July). Available from: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue44/trafford/intro.html (accessed 25 May 2010).

University of Denver (n.d.) DU Portfolio Communityhttps://portfolio.du.edu/pc/index (accessed 25 May 2010). Enter ‘reflection’ in the keyword search box for examples of student reflection.

University of Warwick (2004) Recording, Summarizing & Reflectinghttp://www2.warwick.ac.uk/elearning/tools/blogbuilder/recordreflect/ (accessed 25 May 2010).





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