Remembering My Hat

27th January 2011

Weaving an OU module

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Isn’t that beautiful?! Thank you very much indeed, saoriweaver, for the creative commons licence allowing me to post it here.

As well as being beautiful, it’s a pretty good metaphor for something I’ve been mulling over about producing distance learning materials.

As academics, we tend to obsess over the content of the module. What is the disciplinary knowledge that we want students to end up knowing?  In this image, that might be the thick dark pink ribbon about half way up. But actually in order to make a course/module/learning opportunity that really works for students-at-a-distance, you have to weave in lots of other threads.

The threads that go left to right (weft?) can be imagined to be the aspects of the module which are cumulative – those that develop and build up over the course of the student’s study. So as well as the academic content, those include:

  • the narrative arc or logic of the move from one topic to another
  • the information literacy skills we want to teach
  • the other study skills
  • the assessment (continuous and building up to the final assessment)
  • the difficulty level (getting more challenging as the module progresses)
  • and perhaps the degree of independent learning we expect.

The threads that go up and down the fabric (the warp?) can be imagined to be the aspects of the course which don’t need to build on what has gone before so carefully but are things that need to be kept going throughout the course. So, depending somewhat on the course, but often:

  • a balance of examples drawn from social care and from health, from all the nations and regions of the UK, and of different types of people.
  • addressing, and making reasonably-clear-without-labouring, the Learning Outcomes
  • the rhythm of the students’ journey through the materials – e.g. helping them have a sense of their progress through the Unit and the module, being aware of how often we are sending them ‘away’ from the core text to any Reader or articles through the OU library, perhaps having a reasonably predictable pattern such as the OU classic ‘sensitising case study, then theory, then activity applying theory to a case study’
  • audio-visual material
  • online activities, increading collaborative ones with other students
  • keeping thinking about accessibility issues (not just for disabled students, but also for the technophobic or those with limited access to computers, including students who are prisoners).

This weaving needs to go on at several levels. At unit (a.k.a Learning Guide, a.k.a ‘about 1 week of study’s worth’) level but also at Block level (usually 4-5 weeks worth of study) and across the whole module or whatever it is.

I’m sure there are more strands I’ve forgotten – suggestions very welcome.

No wonder producing a module feels so insanely complex. But also so creative.


12th January 2011

Old year and new year themes

2010 was the year when I kept thinking about what it was like to imagine yourself growing older.

At the beginning of the year I organised a seminar in the CABS/CPA methodology series on ‘Imagining Futures’. This looked at the methodological, theoretical and ethical implications of asking people to imagine later life and ageing. Later in the year I did some research at BiCon 2010 when I asked bi-identified people to imagine their own ageing and later life (article coming out in the Journal of Bisexuality later this year. Also a chapter that I haven’t written yet for a friend’s book). For K319, I wrote a section of a unit about imagining growing old and just before Christmas I wrote an accompanying chapter for the K319 Reader.

It feels as if this focus came from me being extremely strategic and pragmatic about getting the most bang for my limited-working-hours buck. I thought ‘I need a new piece of research that I can do without getting major funding. What I’d really like to do is talk to older people who have some relationship to the identity ‘bisexual’. But I’d need funding to recruit them because I don’t know many older bi people, and I’d probably want to do interviews and that means lots of money to get them transcribed. But I do know lots of young and middle-aged bi people and I could ask them how they imagine their own old age. Why don’t I do focus groups at BiCon?’  From that, the CABS and K319 work felt like opportunistic piggy-backing on that idea.

But the other day I noticed this picture which I always have up on my office wall:

It’s by Simon Mooney and is called ‘Mah Jong Singers’ and I think it belongs to the Bradford Industrial Museum.

I was sent it in about 1994 and I immediately saw it as a reassuing vision of my own later life. I imagine they are singing in three-part harmony and I liked the idea that I could still go on singing properly, even in the likely absence of  men to sing tenor and bass, given women’s relative longevity. I like the female sociality it seems to suggest, including their friend sitting in the corner looking interested, even though she isn’t singing. I imagine that when they have had enough singing they are going to sit down to a nice cup of tea and some cake, and laugh and gossip. I like the laundry hanging about their heads, integrating the essential domesticities of life with more frivolous pleasures. I love the roomscape which, I am quite sure, is the back room of a northern English terrace, window to back yard and kitchen off to the left, hall and front room off to right.

I like the way that academic themes and foci develop without me entirely planning them. I like the way that some of them turn out to have long roots that I had forgotten.

I’ve a feeling that the focus for 2011 might be life courses, which was there as a secondary and intertwined theme in 2010, but feels as if I still have a lot of work to do. But it might not be. Maybe 2011 will be the year I start thinking academically about singing in later life!  (The hard thinking about domesticity is already being done for me by Rachel Scicluna’s fascinating work about older lesbians and kitchens).

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