maode

A response to any challenge: it takes time, experience, risk and a sense of what you are capable of

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Fig.1 The only time I ever got down this precipitous drop in one go, falling the fall line, was as a fit and by then experienced skier. Plagne-Bellecote, France.

It took eight years, a badly smashed leg, both thumbs and a rib. It is thirty years since I have been in the flat we used then – this is the view from the window. I have no intentions of getting any closer than this. Instead I will join the Ski Club of Great Britain Guide and in so doing learn from others and remain in one, unbroken piece.

My H818: The Networked Practitioner

Though I completed the Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education (MAODE) last year I didn’t feel like a ‘master’ – further modules as continual professional development have realised this: H809 for research and H818 for applying and sharing in an open and ‘directed’ way. My background is a producer in corporate L&D so the aim has been to support the shift from linear to interactive, to connected and open learning founded on applied knowledge of a number of learning theories.

H818 pulled together or touched on a number of personal interests:

  • Can creativity be taught or managed online?
  • What are the parameters, pitfalls and potential of open learning?
  • Recognition not just of an interface between online and ‘offline’ learning, but the blended mix where lessons from either world can inform the other.

There’s a difference between open (small ‘o’) and Open (large O): the latter, as I have done over 14 years posting content, is akin to ‘exposure’ – putting it all out there; whereas the Open movement to be effective, ironically, requires parameters and goals. From H818 the need to, reasons to and how to ‘ask’ became apparent.

The outcome of H818 is the Quick Response code in a Poppy to support open and connected learning about the First World War. As a creative exercise despite being unable to single out a ‘partner’ the working process has been akin to that in advertising where the creative team is a copywriter and a visualiser, with one if these or both likely to have programming skills – or the creative team becomes three. Openstudio online is like the studio I worked in at the School of Communications Arts where I was a student and now mentor.

The ask component has two parts to it:

I post then share blog posts on the QR Code idea via WordPress and a number of platforms: LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Stumbleupon. This at best makes serendipity a possibility but is small ‘o’ – though the connections directly from this include BBC TV, BBC Radio 4, the national trust, King’s College London and a couple of people with direct, personal connection to the content I have posted – they recognise a face from a 1918 postcard.

The second part is, still early days, putting the idea to individuals and groups directly and asking questions that I take care to recognise where they are forthcoming. Using the above social platforms the request is directed at an individual, or to a specific specialist group. The ‘use of QR codes’ in education has uncovered far greater use and interest than the current papers suggest. Direct questions have gone to niche interest groups such that ‘talks’ on the use of QR codes in this way will be given to schools and to regional history associations. Not all that I approach have responded – this kind of ‘ask’ is a kind of selling or PR. It isn’t simply connectedness, it is networking too that expects a professional offering and response. ‘Consultancy’ is one thing, but the production side of it – seeing content successfully briefed in, financed, designed, scripted and delivered is my aim and so with tentative steps ‘Mindbursts’ is coming to fruition and will build on some 15 years of creating learning content in the corporate sector.

The second outcome of H818 is to try and continue and build on the relationships that were developed. In LinkedIn two groups have been set up: ‘The online masters’ and ‘MAODE’ – early days, but experience from the Open University Business School shows how from tiny beginnings great things can grew. The challenge in the early days will be to keep the kindle alight so that there is just enough ‘vibrancy’ to make it a worthwhile place for current and future members. Similarly, a blog where all members have ‘editor’ rights has been set up.

Returning to the idea of big ‘O’ and little ‘o’ it strikes me that my little ‘o’ behaviour is akin to being loudly in a crowd while big ‘O’ requires directed engagement and responsiveness. Which has me wondering that a journalist writing for a paper with its parameters and audience is more open than hiding behind the obfuscation of the blog. Which in turn, as has occurred throughout H818 has seen me completing a huge loop into an online world of the possible to the offline world of the actual and realising that quicker than I imagined learning is increasingly blended whether you put an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ or an ‘m’ in front of it.

My MAODE

My Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University (OU)

H807: Innovations in eLearning – Learning outcomes

H800: Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change

H808: The e-learning professional

H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students

This completes the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE)

Taken in addition as continual professional development

H809 Practice-based research in educational technology

H818: The Networked Practitioner

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In the spirit of doing something different in order to effect change I attended a ‘Get Together’ organised by Wired Sussex and took the attitude that I would be open to everything and say ‘yes’ to all. Pure H818. Over two hours I listened to, shared with and learnt from Neil, Gerry, Olly, Karla, Tristan, Simon, Michael … and ‘TV Simon’ as I will call him to differentiated from business managing Simon16 (number of employees). I only remember the people, what they said and names to faces as, shared with them, I did this thing of pegging a face to a place on a familiar journey – walking through the house. And so I found Carla at the front door designing jewellery, Gerry on the stairs coaching folk in life skills, Tristan entering my bathroom talking agile waterfalls, Kanban and SCRUM techniques while Simon was on the landing with our dog – his blonde hair and scruffy beard in keeping with our blonde Labradoodle perhaps? Olly was in the garden talking to John, while Neil moved away and subsequently left. These are only those I met. This approach was part of a lengthy conversation about ‘awesome’ positivity and name remembwring courtesy of our cousins in North America. There is now so much to follow up on: things to do, things to research, people to get back in touch with. So here’s me making some kind of public promise to do so, including having a business card by the time of the next meet up. I own the domain name ‘Mind Bursts’ which is where I plan to seed ideas and seek ways for them to flourish and bare fruit. A big part of the discussion was on kickstart, funding and start ups. The next step could be to point the technology at actors performing a script – narrative. Of most relevance to H818 was that Michael came looking for me as Tristan knew ahead of the meet up that I had an interest in museums and the First World War – this converstion, in a side bar, (a sofa where I was collecting my thoughts) and looked at funding for ‘social curation’ using a tried database management and sharing platform. These conversations will continue in the digital hub that is Brighton-to-Lewes, and the other way towards Bournemouth, which this afternoon, almost feels like midwinter in San Diego.

The value of networking face to face not just online

In the spirit of doing something different in order to effect change I attended a ‘Get Together’ organised by Wired Sussex and took the attitude that i would be open to everything and say ‘yes’ to all. Over two hours I listened to, shared with and learnt from Neil, Gerry, Olly, Karla, Tristan, Simon, Michael … and ‘TV Simon’ as I will call him to differentiated from business managing Simon16 (number of employees). I only remember the people, what they said and names to faces as, shared with them, I did this thing of pegging a face to a place on a familiar journey – walking through the house. And so I found Carla at the front door designing jewellery, Gerry on the stairs coaching folk in life skills, Tristan enteringmy bathroom talking agile eaterfalls, Kanban abd SCRUM techniques while Simon was on the landing with our dog – his blonge haird and scruffy beard in keeping with our blonde Labradoodle perhaps? Olly was in the garden talking to John, while Neil moved away and subsequently left. These are only those I met. There is no so much to follow up on: things to do, things to research, people to get back in touch with. So here’s me making some kind of public promise to do so, including having a business card by the time of the next meet up. I own the domain name ‘Mind Bursts’ which is where I plan to seed ideas and seek ways for them to flourish and bare fruit.

Much of the conversation came from my experience of the Open University’s Master of Arts on Open and Distance Education in general (graduated in 2012) and the module H818: The Networked Practitioner that ends tomorrow having submitted End of Module Assignments last week.

The Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education in images

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I’ve created, screengrabbed, mashed up and photographed my way through four years with the OU – seven modules. I should share more of them or turn it into an eBook or some such – a six hour long SlideShare? There are over 1600 images.

Learning at the speed of desire

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.

Do you know you xMOOC from your cMOOC?

The realities of MOOCs

I stumbled upon this succinct article on MOOCs by Ben Betts.

MOOCs are why I returned to the OU having completed the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) at the end of 2012. I followed H817:Openness and Innovation in eLearning, joining the Open but, and have now complete two further modules: H809: Research based practices in Educational Technology (with an eye on research) and the phenomenal H818: The Networked Practitioner (just completed) … this as the field keeps transforming I intend to stay abreast of it. Indeed, I’ll keep on eye on H817 for 2015 as this is a considerable advance on the old H807 I did in 2010 that had its content stuck somewhere between 1999 and 2005.

What is interesting in this article is that the author Ben Betts ponders as a passing thought at the end of the piece on the need to ‘learn how to learn’.

This for me is where too many practitioners go wrong – they have their eye so firmly fixed on the ‘next big thing’ that they forget or ignore the understanding we have gained about how we learn over decades. There needs to be a healthy loop that obliges us to consider the basics: learning theories and to see MOOCs in context – all learning is ‘blended’ – even the purely online learning module is conducted by someone with their feet or bum firmly on the ground or in a chair.

The other mistake that other authors make too often is to sensationalise activities or developments such as the MOOC. Every advance builds on something else, and for all their strengths they have weaknesses too, and whatever affordances they have may be exploited or ignored. Interesting times and delighted to find an expert author and practitioner to follow.

What I needed, and got from H809 was a grounding in learning theory which at last I am starting to master. If a further course is required for me it would be more on the application of learning theory, probably in the broader setting of ‘education’ rather than an e-learning context and probably informed by a role educating on the ground – so practice based and applied. Which rather suggests in business – as indeed I did for the best part of 15 years.

xMOOC or cMOOC?

The realities of MOOCs

I stumbled upon this succinct article on MOOCs by Ben Betts.

MOOCs are why I returned to the OU having completed the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) at the end of 2012. I followed H817:Openness and Innovation in eLearning, joining the Open but, and have now complete two further modules: H809: Research based practices in Educational Technology (with an eye on research) and the phenomenal H818: The Networked Practitioner (just completed) … this as the field keeps transforming I intend to stay abreast of it. Indeed, I’ll keep on eye on H817 for 2015 as this is a considerable advance on the old H807 I did in 2010 that had its content stuck somewhere between 1999 and 2005.

What is interesting in this article is that the author Ben Betts ponders as a passing thought at the end of the piece on the need to ‘learn how to learn’.

This for me is where too many practitioners go wrong – they have their eye so firmly fixed on the ‘next big thing’ that they forget or ignore the understanding we have gained about how we learn over decades. There needs to be a healthy loop that obliges us to consider the basics: learning theories and to see MOOCs in context – all learning is ‘blended’ – even the purely online learning module is conducted by someone with their feet or bum firmly on the ground or in a chair.

The other mistake that other authors make too often is to sensationalize activities or developments such as the MOOC. Every advance builds on something else, and for all their strengths they have weaknesses too, and whatever affordances they have may be exploited or ignored. Interesting times and delighted to find an expert author and practitioner to follow.

What I needed, and got from H809 was a grounding in learning theory which at last I am starting to master. If a further course is required for me it would be more on the application of learning theory, probably in the broader setting of ‘education’ rather than an e-learning context and probably informed by a role educating on the ground – so practice based and applied. Which rather suggests in business – as indeed I did for the best part of 15 years.

Dear, dear diary, let me tell you a secret …

I posted my first content to an ‘online journal’ – no one called them blogs way back then, on the 24th September 1999. I’ve been at it ever since – every day for at least the first four years then I reviewed my practice, split into a number of parts and specialised. I also took an MA in the next best thing ‘Open and Distance Education’ (MAODE). So, yes, blogging fascinates me. Twitter as a ‘microblog’ is not – it is chatting. And many so called blogs are actually something else too – corporate marketing brochures, magazines, radio shows, TV channels, photo dumps and galleries. For me, and those of us writing in ‘Diaryland’ over a decade ago a blog, like a diary, is something you kept up every day, reflected your daily life and was largely secret: you wrote amongst friends rather than to an audience. This meant that they remained authentic, deep, even ‘in confidence’. Has all of that been lost? I wonder.

As a direct result of just completing H818: The Networked Practitioner  (EMA away last night). I plan to review, refine and redirect my blogging behaviour.  Currently, here at ‘My Mind Bursts’ will go into the fledgling ‘Mind Bursts’ which will go live once I’ve got 100 of my choicest posts in there. 

The blog I stopped posting to on swimming teaching and coaching (I did for ten years as a direct consequence of taking my kids down to the pool eleven years ago) gets more views per day than any of my other blogs – go figure! It is useful. I answer direct daily questions. The biggest ‘seller’ is the 45 minute lesson plan for teaching or coaching swimming – I have all strokes, all stages and all problems addressed. That should tell me something. More at the catchily named ‘Coaching and Teaching Swimming’.

The other blog, ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchendaele’, which requires and deserves tidying up started out as the memoir of my late grandfather, a machine gunner in the First World War – the only one who survived it would appear. Actually, in 1992 there was a 75th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres) and there were four of them: one was an ammunition carrier. The other two were machine gunners, you could tell from their thumbs – like the beak of a spoonbill, squished flat from periods of anxiety pressed against the triggers of a Vicker’s MKII Machine Gun. Like the swimming thing I need to hone this down to a resource of value – just his story, his words (over three hours of interviews) and photographs with references which would do the historian in me proud.

There will be a lot of ‘ditching of babies’ – there will be a good deal of painful unknitting of layouts and extraction.

Are these blogs? Actually no. I ought to think of them as books and give them the professional focus that is required before you can go to print.

And finally, a blog on the use of Quick Response codes in education. This as a consequence of H818 Online Conference we I gave a ten minute presentations on the use of Quick Response codes to galvanise interest in people featured on war memorial rolls of honour.

My Personal Learning Environment. What’s yours?

I should look back at how this has changed over four years. Taking on more technology took a while. I remember the days of printing off. Then I migrated to an iPad and constantly looked at ways not to come offline ever. Now I mix it all up: I use a white board, I doodle in a notepad and I shift between devices as everything is done in Google Docs.

I have some favourite apps:

SimpleMinds

Studio

And load perhaps 50-100 pictures to Picasa Web Gallery every day … there are over 2000 images and screen-grabs from the MAODEs alone. And far too many pictures of the dog hiding when I take her for a walk.

My only bete noire are the ruddy cables you need to supply power to the kit; I went away for a few days armed with iPad and Macbook Air but forget the charger for the laptop. The iPad cable feels as if I am packing a coil of rope – it ways more with the plug and takes up more space.

My test over the next couple of months is when I set off for a month to Belgium, France and the Alps. Will I hanker after a robust broadband signal all the time?