Remembering My Hat

22nd June 2016

Learning Design categories – a list of ideas

This is one of my posts that will probably make no sense at all to people beyond the OU, so apologies if that is you. But for those who are at the OU, and especially those who are academics involved in the production of our materials…


(cc) Rain Rabbit


I run a group within the HSC department on production for academics new(ish) to the OU. We were talking recently about working with the Learning Design categories, and decided it would be useful to try to generate a list between us of different ways in which you could design activities of each type. This isn’t exhaustive, nor definitive, and we make no promises that these are always good suggestions – some of them would have to be done very carefully to to get over the bar of ‘but why on earth would students actually bother to do this?’. But we hope it’s useful to other people scratching their heads to think of non-assimilative activities (although we did include those too).


  • Readings – academic and more everyday kinds of texts
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Poetry
  • Maps and infographics based on maps
  • Images and artwork
  • Newspaper headlines
  • Personal stories
  • Case studies
  • Diagrams, inforgrahpics and graphs


  • Filling in a grid (gives more structure than free text ‘take notes’)
  • Numerical calculations
  • Make a powerpoint or other presentation
  • Do an elevator pitch
  • Draw a spider diagram or concept map
  • Write a briefing for a named audience
  • Write a tweet or headline
  • Write a blog entry
  • List of key points
  • Use the existing sticky notes tool on the VLE
  • Diagram which you can write on or manipulate or put sticky notes on
  • Make some notes (boring!)
  • Precis activities (e.g. rewrite in your own words, not more than 200 words)
  • Take a photo
  • Caption competition or cartoon bubble filling
  • Curating a collection of images or something else
  • Highlighting parts of text (highlighter tool in Word or offline versions)

Finding and Handling information

  • USE THE LIBRARY’S EXISTING TUTORIALS ON Digital Information Literacy
  • Access databases and other data sources and then extract some information
  • Finding a journal article or book from a catalogue
  • Doing a citation search
  • Following up a reference of your choice from a set reading
  • Generate your own data (avoid anything that’s close to interviewing people because of research ethics!)
  • Finding and evaluating infographics
  • Working with graphs and other pictorial data



  • THIS ONE IS HARD TO DO and we were least happy about the definition of this one
  • Reflective activities
  • Trying out a productive output on someone you know and getting feedback on it.
  • Trying an activity on yourself e.g. relaxation techniques, you could even include a pre and post test.


  • Drag and drop where it bounces back if incorrect
  • Quizzes with feedback on incorrect answers
  • Choose between two positions on a complex (often ethical) issue, feedback says ‘that’s valid, but have you also thought about …’ and then summarises the arguments for the opposite position.
  • Games and simulations (very time consuming to develop though)


What have we missed? Please do suggest more. And of course let us know if you think we’ve got anything completely wrong.

24th April 2014

BSA 2014, Leeds (Part 2): Veganism + teaching LGBT+ in HSC

Filed under: Uncategorized — rememberingmyhat @ 19:26
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More erratic and partial notes from a conference. Part 1 here. My own thoughts in square brackets. No pretty pictures, I’m afraid, due to aforementioned technical problems.


Symposium on Veganism

Kate Stewart, Nottingham

Health benefits of eating more fruit and veg seem clear. 5-a-day and so on campaigns (now 8-a-day)

But doesn’t necessarily follow that vegans are healthier. Study of German vegans showed participants ate equivalent of 18 a day! And better health.

Analysis of four prominent health-advice websites (NHS choices, Change for Life etc.) and what they said about veganism.

Focus on health risks of plant-based diets. Don’t report benefits. Focus on adding fruit and veg to existing diet, not radically changing diet or basing dishes on vegetables.

Plant-based diets are constructed as marginal in advice literature


Richard Twine, IoE

Negotating relationships in transition to veganism

Practice Theory [looks v interesting] about not overstating the rational and intentional, looking at what people do and ways to change what people do.

Changes through recrafting practicing, substituting practices

[A really interesting paper – too tired at this stage to make proper notes except to remind myself to follow this one up]


All the presenters in this symposium had lots of experiences of very hostile responses to doing research on veganism – accusations of being partial, unobjective, unbalanced, including difficulty getting through ethics committees on these grounds [I never get any trouble with  this in relation to doing research on LGBT issues, including LGBT ageing. Is this because these days it’s perfectly respectable to research LGBT stuff, but that’s not (yet?) the case for veganism? It would be really interesting to do a sort of historical analysis of what ethics cttees reject (although they haven’t existed for that long). What is seen as risky / problematic / dangerous research  over time]


Zowie Davy, Lincoln

Freire’s pedagogy – 2 way, problem-focused, master / slave relationships (pedagogue /student). Need to co-create knowledge.

‘Limit situations’

Looking at teaching of LGBTQI issues to medial, health and social care students  in 5 universities in one are of UK

When there is teaching on LGBTQI issues, it’s not integrated into general topics, but ‘special topics’.

[I want to think about this properly in relation to K118, where we have got some bits of teaching on LGBT issues, I’m very pleased to say]



13th September 2013

BSG 2013, Oxford, Part 3

Partial and particularly incomplete notes from a conference. Part one here and part two here

Symposium: Using the Arts to humanise healthcare education about people with dementia

Sherry Dupuis, University of Waterloo, Canada

The pedagogical possibilities of research-based drama in dementia care

Project came out of desire to resist dominant popular discourses of dementia ‘shell of himself’ ‘burden of care’ ‘long goodbye’ ‘36 hour day’ ‘loss of self’ as well as bio-medical versions.

Looking at effects on audience members  – how images and actions changed for families and workers of PWD over a one year period, after seeing film called ‘I’m still here’ – research based drama – script much from transcripts of interviews, result of collaborations with PWD, workers, actors and playwrite.

(cc) Nico Macdonald

Pre and immediately post-performance focus groups (n=106 people)

Interviews 6 weeks and 12 months after viewing (no.s reduced at each stage as you’d expect to 83 at end)

Participants had vivid memories at 6 weeks – feelings of compassion and better understanding of PWD’s perspective. Talked about scenes flickering into their brains months later. Expanded perspective, deepened understanding

Some people felt they are unchanged because already knew this – affirmed their existing awareness. But often in the interview they then went on to talk about ways they had changed [this is surely about face and presenting yourself as a competent member to start with – dynamics of interview].

Some evidence of changed behaviours as a result – family members joking more, recognising humour in situations + focusing more on person, not trying to get other jobs done at the same time. Care workers talked about checking for UTIs more, having a better admission form, running support groups for families.

Cathartic experience for some family members, transformative healing process, emotional release.

DVD and teaching-learning tool available from

New study will do observational work in care homes about whether it actually changes care worker’s practices. There is some evidence of practical changes already e.g. policy changes, support group set up etc.

Dialogue with others after the performance was really important for deepening learning.


Ruth Bartlett, Univ of Southampton

Agnes & Nancy – a short film about two women with dementia

A documentary film she commissioned. Comes out of her ESRC First Grants study of PWD who are activists and campaigners for dementia (like Terry Pratchett but he didn’t take part!) – ‘No Limits: reimagining life with dementia’. 16 people took part, 11 men, 5 women.

Agnes and Nancy are real people, real names – offered pseudonym but all but 2 didn’t want that – being named and known is part of their activism. Film is available on vimeo or email Ruth and she can also send teaching resources / resource pack for facilitators to use.

Documentary film definition: about real life, but not itself real life. Term first used in 1926.

Health Equity Institute in San Francisco is leader in the field, have 35 documentary films ‘For Health and Social Justice’ made by and for students, incl ‘Old Age is not for Cissies’ about LGBT ageing.

Paper by Aagje Swinnen in The Gerontologist (2013) on dementia in documentary films – way it is always a representation of reality, not always helpful.

Common responses to film:

  • lovely film.
  • But also lots of challenges ‘do they really have dementia?’ – still living quite independently, travelling and so on.
  • It’s about friendship, not demetia
  • ‘She shdnt be allowed to chop wood (one memorable scene)
  • The PWD I support aren’t like Agnes and Nancy

Raises interesting questions about perceived authenticity – if someone doesn’t seem to be behaving like PWD, their illness identity gets challenged.

Bartlett, R (2012) ‘The emergent modes of dementia activism’ Ageing & Society

Interesting discussion among audience about both the importance of positive role models but also the pressure they create for other people who can’t be like that because of physical health, cognitive issues, social class, race etc. Ruth: someone with dementia saying ‘I thought I was doing well’ until they saw the Agnes and Nancy film [gulp!]

Ransackers Association – group for PWD – audience member.


Hannah Zeilig, UEA

Descartes: Using the arts to educate the dementia care workforce.

Still no clear regulatory framework for the dementia care workforce.

Staff in care home they worked in initially hostile to word ‘Arts’ and also to researchers, seeing them as ‘experts’ coming in to tell them how to do a job they’d been doing for 20 years.

People usually think of Arts hierarchically: Opera, poetry, classical music, sculpture at top. Pop music, tv, comics, cartoons, as lower, not really Arts even.

Tried to get staff to talk about their feelings about their work (in focus groups). 4 themes emerged:

  • Identity of staff as well as PWD
  • Awareness – how to behave sensitively, how to understand the condition
  • Language and communication. Care home staff refered to themselves as ‘bum-wipers’ and PWD as ‘nutters’ or ‘fruitcakes’. Powerful derogatory language. Invented game ‘word salad’ – magnetic words. As way of conveying that we all struggle with language sometimes
  • Practice of caring – lifting, toileting, moving, feeding.

So then researchers went away to find Arts resources addressing these themes. Everybody on staff wanted music.

[Frustratingly, at this point I had to leave, so I don’t know what happened next! I’m planning to contact the authors to find out though and I’m sure they’d welcome enquiries from anyone else who is interested]

BSG 2013, Oxford, Part 2

Partial and personal notes from some parts of this conference. Part one here

Plenary: John Beard, World Health Organisation

Global ageing and health: From talk to action

(cc) US Mission Geneva

Pace of ageing of population much quicker in e.g. Brazil, Thailand than West, so no time to get infrastructure in place.

Pop ageing was initially about more and more people surviving childhood and women childbirth. That ?led to reducing birth rate (+avail of contraception)

Dependency ratios are pretty valid in relation to proportion of children in pop (kids do need lots more care than contribute), but not so much for OP because OP aren’t necessarily, or simplistically, dependent. Changes in behaviour, attitude and policy can reduce dependency effect of ageing pops.

Fab graphs from Mathers et al 2013 on female deaths across the life course – low income countries v. middle v high income. Really clear and interesting graphics [use for K118?]

What is WHO doing about pop ageing? Now a formal priority at WHO, via:

  • Partnerships and political commitment
  • Build evidence base
  • Knowledge translation (evidence into policy and practice)
  1. Health promotion across life course – OP are not too old to change diet, behaviour etc.
  2. Early detection and screening, primary health care and long term care. EoL care.
  3. Age-friendly environments
  4. Rethinking ageing – toss out the stereotypes

Showed a video WHO produced for World Health Day 2012 about challenging stereotypes.  [Nice pictures. Might be a good resource for K118 LG13]

People get more diverse as they grow older, especially in terms of physical function (graphs to show across lifecourse. Physical function falls off with age, but range within age cohorts is much bigger). So generalising about later life even more unhelpful.

[Cd do one of those ‘see what the other students thought’ polls on ‘how old is an old person’ or similar, then follow on activity problematizing. Or one of these for awareness of own ageing (similar to K319 but not too similar?)]

Importance of getting beyond demography. Just because societies have pop ageing doesn’t tell us anything. Most healthcare costs are in the last 18 months of life, at whatever age those 18 months occur.

Need to move beyond gerontology and geriatrics as only disciplines that think about later life to include urban planners, architects, designers, technologists, people who make stuff.

Demographer in audience: working now on new ways of doing demography that are less ageist! Better measures.

[I am amused that this kind of thing always happens at academic conferences: speaker somewhat caricatures and demonises some group (in this instance Demographers) and in the questions slot, a member of the group resists and problematises this characterisation. I love academia!]

British Society of Gerontology, 42nd Annual conference, Oxford UK, Part 1

I only attended for one day this year, partly to launch these two books in the CABS/CPA methodology series. One is on Secondary Analysis and the other on working with existing older people’s groups. Both are available from the CPA for a bargainaceous £10 each.

What follows is my usual idiosyncratic note-form post from a conference. As usual, this is in no sense intended to be a complete representation of what any speaker actually said, just some things that I found interesting and managed to capture. Things I thought or things I need to follow up are in square brackets.

Symposium on Ageing and agency: Developing new theoretical perspectives for critical gerontology.

Based on book Ageing, Meaning and Social Structure [investigate for possible K118 Reader chapters]

(cc) crowt59

Amanda Grenier and Chris Phillipson
Agency in the ‘Fourth Age’ (or the problem of ‘Active Ageing’)

Gilleard & Higgs article 2010 Ageing without Agency, Jnl of Aging and Mental Health [find this]: The problem with the notion of the 4th Age is that it becomes a terminal destination, not a life stage or a cohort.

Attempts to give dignity at End of Life have failed because of perception of lack of agency in 4th Age. Assumption that agency is something you either have or don’t, but actually it’s much more complex and nuanced than that.

Grenier 2007 and 2012 discusses ways in which ‘4th Age’ has been used differently (e.g. age 80+ OR intersection of age and impairment OR objective measurement)

If 4th Age is about ‘decline and dependency’, how can you have active agency?
Impairments may make perception of having agency more difficult e.g. verbal / cognitive impairments.

Health and impairment are unhelpfully polarised anyway. 4th Age conceptualised as ageing without agency increases / sustains that.

If agency is increasingly important now that we are all supposed to have individualised post-modern lifecourses, that gets really important for ageing and the fourth age in particular.

Seeing people as having low agency increases their vulnerability to abuse and neglect.

So how can you increase /restore perceptions of agency in 4th Age?

  1. Develop new cultural narratives and frameworks for partic conditions e.g Alzheimers George and Whitehouse 2010 in Handbook – don’t let medical narratives dominate
  2. Agency may look different in later life (active ageing narratives don’t help)
  3. ‘Reduced’ or ‘diminished’ agency might be a better way of thinking about it than ‘present’ or ‘absent’. Also thinking about how it’s being constructed as reduced [that sounds really interesting to me].

Other possible things that might help:

  • Positively look for agency
  • think about inhibiting or encouraging conditions.
  • Allow for more passive and less active notions of agency (structural to personal)
  • Challenge underlying assumption of health.

Contingency rather than ‘lack of agency’ may be better description of late old age.
Settersten & Trauten chapter 2009 in Bengston Handbook of Aging

[There was an excellent moment in the middle of this paper when the presenter, Chris Phillipson, moved his hand into the light stream from the projector and the word ‘agency’ appeared appositely across his gesticulating hand].


Jan Baars, University of Humanistic Studies): Agency and Autonomy: Beyond
Links to old debates on autonomy. Interdependency is more characteristic across life course [could do Activity getting students to think about way they are interdependent with others – leading on to recognition of it being a continuum – wd also help to address worry about otherising OP]

Competency – how tested? What if someone refuses to take test? Are they then seen as incompetent? What about emotional, social, dialogic skills – they are seldom tested in the way that recall is.

Authenticity as a marker of competence – feeling someone is taking decisions that are ‘not like them’

Regarding yrself as having power and competency to make decisions [but this isn’t nec the case for younger people too. Can have life stages when have less at any point]. Ageist practices reduce this.

Suggested better definition of competency: Capacity to make adequate decisions as person sees it, which are responsive to situation and others. [But who gets to define ‘adequate’ and ‘responsive’]
Dignity as another key concept

Return to this in Discussion: is dignity separable from agency? Can you really have dignity if you have ceded control (or had it taken from you)?


Joseph Dohmen
Ethics, art of living, lifestyle (also chapter in the book)

Life politics (Beck, Giddens, Bauman) wanting to lead a life of your own
1. A promise,
2. daily struggle,
3. collective experience in Western world,
4. remnant of our communal feeling
(Beck and Beck-Gernsheim)

Martha Holstein 2010 – if autonomy is ultimate good, what does that do for OP?

Agency tends to talk about ‘life choices’ whereas structure more about ‘life chances’

Wants to moralise lifestyle. Make it about more than consumerism and health. Claims ‘lifestyle’ bridges gap b/w structure and agency [the philosopher’s stone! How many different theories are there that claim to bridge the structure / agency gap?!]

  1. Reflective distance – exploring one’s biog and social scope. Taking distance from directions about how you should grow older (e.g. Active Ageing)
  2. Expropriation – trying to relate yrself to yr own biog. Free yrself from own unhelpful influences. Future may restore the past
  3. Appropriation – autonomy as about positive freedom to make substantial choices in later life. Identifying with deepest desires.
  4. Authentic orientation – what makes life really valuable and meaningful. Strong evaluation of this.
  5. Engagement – how and why to (dis)engage. Relational autonomy
  6. Integration – coherence of life: maximal (classically), minimal (liberally or more p-mly), contextually, or not aiming for coherence but reliability in episodic life (Margaret Walker)
  7. The tragic condition – 1-6 are modes of active ageing but life is also passive ageing. The good life is the vulnerable life. Can’t escape in later life. We have to make tragic choices. There are always losses. Our passions can destroy our lives and the lives of others.

Everything in life is finite. This implies continuous dynamic b/w mourning and accepting losses and new beginnings.

Discussion: overlaps with Disability arguments e.g. ‘autonomy’ not as about independence. Also lit on Ethics of Care.

Relational autonomy changes as you age, esp into 4th Age – people don’t understand you, yr partner dies, you are mainly relating to much younger people. So you get less relational autonomy as you grow older. CP- paper by Elder on autonomy across life course. How does agency work in life course transitions? Do you reach a point when you can’t rework your agency?


8th May 2013

Third Age / Fourth Age: A collection of resources

In the Ageing block of K118 (Perspectives on Health and Social Care) one of the overarching concepts we want students to understand is the notion of the Third Age and the Fourth Age, first popularised by Peter Laslett in his book ‘A Fresh Map of Life: The Emergence of the Third Age’. We’ll then go on to critique it, but before we can do that, they need to understand what it means. Since I’m writing the first week’s work of this block, it falls to me to do that explaining. I’m collecting here some possible resources to help me do that, in case they are also of interest to other people.

Peter Laslett’s book is available on google books, which is better than nothing, although the page you really want is always the one that’s cut out. Luckily for me it’s also in the OU library, so I’m off to pick that up later today. Either the first chapter or one of the later ones looks possible for my use, probably edited down a little.

(cc) EU Social

Book reviews from journals (one of my favourite shortcuts to getting a handle on a literature):

  • Raymond Illsley (1991). Ageing and Society, 11, pp 85­86 doi:10.1017/ S0144686X00003871
  • Jacob S. Siegel Population and Development Review Vol. 16, No. 2 (Jun., 1990), pp. 363-367
  • COLEMAN, PG. BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY; FEB, 1992; 83; p153-p157 (This one is an Essay Review which also discusses related books).

Useful looking commentary:

Gilleard, C., & Higgs, P. (2002). The third age: class, cohort or generation? Ageing & Society, 22(03), 369-382:

ABSTRACT: In this paper we consider some of the ways that the third age can be thought about and studied. Taking the work of Peter Laslett as our key source, we explore his ‘aspirational’ approach toward redefining post-working life and look at some of its limitations as both definition and explanation. There is a need for a more sociologically informed approach to the third age, and we outline three potentially important structures that might better explain it – class, birth cohort, and generation. Whilst it might seem attractive to see the third age as a class-determined status, based on the material and social advantages accruing to people who have retired from well-paid positions in society, the historical period in which the third age has emerged makes this explanation less than adequate. Equally a cohort-based explanation, locating the third age in the ‘ageing’ of the birth cohort known as the baby boom generation, fails fully to capture the pervasiveness and irreversibility of the cultural change that has shaped not just one but a sequence of cohorts beginning with those born in the years just before World War II. Instead, we argue for a generational framework in understanding the third age, drawing upon Mannheim rather than Marx as the more promising guide in this area.

International Journal of Ageing and Later Life 2007 2(2): 13–30. The Third Age and the Baby Boomers: Two Approaches to the Social Structuring of Later Life BY CHRIS GILLEARD AND PAUL HIGGS

EXTRACT: Laslett confounded individual development, cohort and period, making the third age seem a phenomenon of personal achievement as much as social transformation. Each of these ingredients is problematic. First, as Thane has pointed out, delineating the various stages of life has a long history and the distinction between a “green” old age and a “frail” old age goes back at least to medieval times (Thane 2003). Secondly, Laslett’s emphasis upon demographic indicators leads him to seek to “date” the emergence of the third age at the point when the majority of a particular birth cohort can expect to reach the age of seventy (Laslett 1989). This “fact” defines the historical period that determines the emergence of a third age. Taken together, this amalgam of individual development, history and demography, though superficially seductive, fails to provide a convincing analysis of the cultural and social transformation of later life that situates it more firmly within post-war consumer culture. This failure of social and cultural analysis leads Laslett to become preoccupied with the moral imperative for older people to become “true” third agers (Laslett 1989)

(cc) Jim Linwood

This article by Peter Laslett, which looked very promising as a summary of the book, is not suitable for my purposes, being too much about demography. I note it here so I remember not to think I’ve found it again:

  • Peter Laslett (1987). The Emergence of the Third Age. Ageing and Society, 7, pp 133­160 doi:10.1017/S0144686X00012538

ERIC MIDWINTER (2005). How many people are there in the third age?. Ageing
and Society, 25, pp 9­18 doi:10.1017/S0144686X04002922

EXTRACT: There has been controversy over Peter Laslett’s designation of a Fourth Age or dependent older age. The question marks over the Fourth Age were that people tended to move in and out of the category, that is, theywere sometimes temporarily incapacitated, while ‘dependence’ is, sadly, a feature in other stages of life. It was also deemed to throw up just that kind of characterisation of older age that has for so long jaundiced public opinion on the very subject of oldness. It should be properly acknowledged that there is another gerontological dispute as to whether or not the extension of people’s lives has been procured at the expense of longer phases of decrepitude and disability. Obviously enough, the ideal is to have an extremely lengthy Third Age and an extremely short Fourth Age – achieving the aphorism of the former manager of Liverpool FC, Bill Shankly, who wished ‘to die healthy’

Probably too hard for Level 1,  and not for this week’s work anyway, but in case it is useful to a colleague:

CHRIS GILLEARD and PAUL HIGGS (1998). Old people as users and consumers of healthcare: a third age rhetoric for a fourth
age reality?. Ageing and Society, 18, pp 233­248

More to follow, probably.

7th May 2013

What I learned from working on K101: Old reflections

Just after I had finished working in production on K101, I wrote these reflections on what I had learned about writing distance teaching materials. I had a vague idea of working them up into an article, but that never happened. At the time, I didn’t keep a blog so they just sat forgotten in a folder. Now, as I’m chairing K118 (hot news! New (provisional) title: Perspectives in Health and Social Care), I’m collecting together my various musings on module production in case they are useful to the K118 team. It occurred to me that this too might be of interest. It should be read with the proviso that I wrote this in ?2007 and some terminology and practices have changed since then. But not, I think, the general principles.

(cc) ecotist

What I learned about writing distance learning material while working on K101

It’s really important to have a compelling logical arc for the academic content of a Unit. You can try to retrofit one onto a miscellaneous hodge-podge of topics which you’ve got to cover because they have to be in course and you got the short straw, but it’ll never really be satisfactory. At best, you might end up with an effect like the silver line through a banknote – “oh yes, there’s a theme, no, it’s gone again, oh no, here it is, I can see that’s a development of the other thing, oh but then again that doesn’t really seem related although maybe I can see a sort of tenuous link”. If you do manage to create such an arc, it becomes a thing of beauty and a joy to behold (well, if you have a taste for that sort of thing).

The best teaching material combines a compelling logical arc for the things you are trying to teach with a compelling narrative arc about the characters or issues you are using as the vehicle for your teaching. The Unit of mine that caused by far the least trouble and underwent the least revision was the one where I managed to hit on a way of combining those early on and it just always worked. But this is hard to get right. You can easily end up with a forced and unnatural narrative arc that just isn’t convincing.

For this level (1st year undergrad, lots of students with very little experience of formal education), really strong case material is crucial. It’s concrete and real and meaningful to students in a way that theoretical principles seldom are. Once you’ve seduced them with the case study, then you can reel them in on to the theory. They remember the case studies and, you hope, some of the theory because it’s attached to something concrete.

Show, then tell (I don’t think I agree with ‘show don’t tell’ because I think some telling is helpful, but certainly ‘telling without showing’ is all wrong). I struggled with this one because, as someone who is used to thinking abstractly, my own preference is to have a general statement first which gives me an idea of what we’re talking about, then an example which elaborates and makes it crystal clear, and then some more abstract discussion of how the example relates to others and the general principle. But the consensus seems to be that the students on this course skip or are turned off by abstract statements at the beginning of a section. Instead, it works much better to start with the example, then use that to introduce the general principle.

Real life case studies almost always work better than things you make up. You may know the area really well and think that if you write it yourself you can make it say exactly the things you want to cover, but it never reads as authentically. Yes real life material is often more complicated that what you had thought of writing yourself, but that complexity often helps you to get into really useful areas and makes you realise that you were oversimplifying the issue.

It is (almost) impossible to have too much signposting in your text. And I say this as someone who is already prone to lots of signposting.

(cc) Andrea_44

If you are aiming to have Units 15,000 words long, make your first drafts 10 – 12k. By the time 8 people have commented on 3 drafts and 30 people have commented on the middle draft you are bound to have a lot of suggestions for things you have left out and really must cover. Most people don’t suggest cuts.

Critical reader and developmental tester comments are really really useful. Of course it’s hard to have your carefully crafted masterpiece torn to shreds. And yes it’s initially frustrating and annoying when they contradict one another. And if you know some of the readers it’s tempting to dismiss comments you don’t like with ‘they would say that, they’re always going on about x’. But one of the points of having this many people critiquing your work is that you get that diversity of response and a deliberate attempt is made to have readers who are like the students who will be taking the course. If you’ve got a reader saying ‘that’s outrageous, you can’t say that’, the chances are you’ll also get students responding like that, so you need to either explain better what you meant or change what you’re saying.

And many critical readers are astonishingly ready to help you deal with the problems they have identified. I had one who said he ‘hated, hated, hated’ one particular section and I was approaching the issue from entirely the wrong angle. I contacted him to ask for advice on how to improve it (it was clear from his comments that he was a bit of an expert in the area and I certainly wasn’t) and I got a quick tutorial on the topic, a case study from his own experience and some really useful suggestions about literature.

It’s very easy to spend far too long googling for material and case studies. If you haven’t found what you’re looking for in 2 or 3 serious tries, you’re not going to find it like that. Instead try looking in the literature (qualitative studies often contain quotes you can lift and grey literature reports often contain case studies), using your contacts (I spent years looking for some suitable real life guidelines for a particular activity, coming up with various ones that were too technical or too medical or didn’t fit the particular criteria of my use for them, before at the very last minute I realised that my local Women’s Aid, of whom I am a Trustee, has a guideline that would do the job nicely. And because they know and trust me they were quite happy to let me use it) and develop a list of generalist websites that you seem to keep returning to.

When working with a producer and/or director on audio visual material, recognise that you inevitably have somewhat different agendas. Their highest priority is making something which has artistic integrity and dramatic coherence. Your highest priority is making something which conveys the theoretical points that you want to teach. These are sometimes in conflict, and recognising this difference can really help you to resolve it.

It’s tempting not to think about the pictures and cartoons until the end, because you’re not made to specify them until that point. But actually, it makes much more sense to start looking early because then they can support and even drive your text much more effectively.

(cc) brentdanley

By the time I got to the fourth and final handover draft, many of the sections which had always been problematic could simply be cut out and that improved the whole thing. I don’t think I could have cut them out earlier, partly because I wouldn’t have had the deadline-inspired courage and partly because I didn’t have such a clear sense of what I was trying to say.

It really pays to be a bit of a generalist, or at least to be prepared to turn your hand to anything. Approximately 1/8th of what I wrote was in an area where I have done any research (and that only 6 months work leading to one rejected journal article and a failed funding bid). The rest was topics about which I had a general clue, because they’re major themes in my discipline, but no research record at all. But if you enjoy literature searching (I do) and can get a handle on things fast, it can be lots of fun. I’ve got so many interesting ideas about some of these topics now. Who knows, that might turn into future research directions.

But also, don’t forget your non-academic knowledges. My material ended up having quite a lot of case material about domestic violence and new parenthood (both in combination and separately) because I have non-academic knowledge of those (although not in combination) so it was easy to use those in interesting ways.

It’s a completely different voice from research writing. You have to be much more direct, use much more everyday language and generally think (broadsheet) journalism rather than academic voice. It’s okay to lay down the law and be directive and prescriptive about what students should do pedagogically as in ‘do this Activity’, ‘think about this’, ‘turn to the Reader’. But it’s really tempting to overextend that authoritative voice into making unjustified assertions about the subject matter. This can be tricky, especially in my field where it’s easy to get into a moralistic voice. And some of the things you want to say are really difficult to do academically. One of my co-authors had written that ‘punishment is ethically unacceptable in health and social care’. I wanted to at least support this claim with some research or policy statements. But it turns out to be so widely accepted that nobody’s writing about it. I found material on the corporal punishment of children and in relation to prisoners, which are still somewhat debated, but nothing as generalised as this statement. I hadn’t got space to go into ethics and punishment properly, so I ended up rewriting it out, which was not entirely satisfactory.

ETA 2013: At that point, you will be relieved to read, I ran out of steam.

21st November 2012

Imagining students

One of the challenges of writing distance-learning material is that you are, fundamentally, imagining the students who will use it, rather than having them in front of you as you deliver it.

We know the demographic characteristics of students in my Faculty (predominantly: female; already working in the care sector; in their 30s and 40s; more likely to be disabled or BME than the general population; low rates of prior educational qualifications; on lower incomes, although all this may change under the new funding arrangements in England). There are also lots of quality-assurance mechanisms in place to try to make sure that what authors write does connect to actual students, but it doesn’t happen in real time. You start off with just you, the author, sat in a room imagining someone reading your text and doing the activities you suggest.

(cc) Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

How you have imagined the students matters particularly when you are asking them to make connections between their own experiences and what they are learning, a staple of the approach to teaching in my Faculty. If you make assumptions about their experiences and knowledge that aren’t the case, at best they can’t do the activity, at fairly-bad they feel temporarily excluded or invisible and at worst, if it happens too much, they drop out feeling the course is not meant for them.

What follows is my personal list of things that the author may assume about students that are not always the case. It is, of course, incomplete. Please do add suggestions.

Students may not…

  • be like our typical students – so they may not be female, in their 30s and 40s and so on. Because we have had such a clear demographic, which is so different from the average undergraduate, there’s a danger of overgeneralising it. Some of our students are young, white, male, able-bodied and with good ‘A’ levels. Astonishing! (I love the fact that this possibility genuinely does seem unlikely and surprising. Hooray for the OU)
  • share cultural references that authors think ‘everyone knows’ whether that is Eastenders, The Archers or X-Factor.
  • have English as their first language – idiom and ‘sayings’ can be particularly difficult.
  • know things about the care system if we haven’t taught them, even things the author thinks ‘everybody knows’.
  • have low entry qualifications – some have excellent study skills – don’t teach them to suck eggs.
  • have good computer access. They have to have computer access to study nearly all our modules, but they may not have a home computer – they may use one at work on in a library. If they do have a home computer, their connection may be too slow to watch video clips. A particular issue with our demographic is that they may have to fight their children to get access to the computer. All of these make a difference to how centrally you design the online elements of a module – you can do loads of really interesting and useful things online, but it’s no good if students can’t really access it.
  • have had a traditional/normative life course; they may not be heterosexual, they may not have a family, they may not have known their biological parents, they may not have been raised by their parents.
  • be willing to reflect on their life course (including because it may be too painful).
  • be working in care. They may be care users[1], which often gives you a very different perspective on lots of issues. They may be both a care user and a care provider. They may also be informal carers. A few, a very few but we still have to allow for them, may have no personal connection to the world of care at all. They may be studying for purely academic reasons. Astounding again!
[1] shorthand here for ‘people whose lives are majorly impacted on by care services’ – most people use care services to some extent when they go to the GP, for example.

13th July 2012

British Society of Gerontology conference 2012: Part 3 Notes

Second Plenary

Murna Downs

University of Bradford

From invisible patient to citizen and activist: Dementia comes of age

Giving a plenary as a coming of age marker for an academic lifecourse?

Don’t know as much about user-involvement in dementia care as we do about stigma.

New policy statement [missed source – something govtmental] 9 ‘I’ statements which indicate good quality care ‘I can enjoy life’ ‘I was diagnosed early’ etc. Alzheimer’s Soc now using a similar series of I statements

Usual thorny issues of user-involvement:

  • Who is involved?
  • Serving whose agenda?
  • At what pace are we working? Going too fast is a problem
  • With what resources?
  • With what adaptions and accommodations? Going to people’s homes and day centres really important. Not privileging the verbal and articulate people.
  • Real or tokenistic?

Dementia is progressive – how long through the journey do people stay with you [also the case for e.g. M.S. and old age]

If you’re a dementia activist in care, do you end up being put on anti-psychotic drugs to stop you being a nuisance?

Earlier diagnosis of dementia means that there are people in circulation with dementia who are ‘just like us’ researchers. This creates a danger where we think we are including/consulting PWD when actually it’s only the most able. Maybe Arts kinds of activities are a better way of involving people with more advanced dementia than membership of advisory groups and working groups. [Maybe arts kinds of activities are better way of involving all sorts of non-verbal, MC semi-academic people]

Chris Phillipson: danger that bids to NIHR and ESRC scheme will be a muddled mix of bio-medical model and critical perspectives (because the field is like that).

12th July 2012

British Society of Gerontology conference 2012: Part 1

Here are some more personal notes from a conference. As ever, they are in no sense a representation of everything that was said, just some of the things that struck me as interesting or connected with my own work. Things that are my thoughts rather than what other people said are in square brackets. The conference is the:

British Society of Gerontology

41st Annual Conference

University of Keele

10th-12th July 2012 

The conference got off to a great start for me when my fellow-CABS member, ex-colleague, ex-PhD supervisor and, I hope I do not presume too much to say, friend, Bill Bytheway was presented with the BSG’s Outstanding Achievement Award for his contribution to British gerontology. I’ve written more about that over here on the CABS blog. But it made a very happy start to the conference for me.

More note form from now on:

Opening Plenary

Prof Toni Calasanti

Virginia Tech, USA

Different or unequal? Considering power relations

Existing critiques of ‘successful’ ageing [Katz, Minkler and Holstein, all the stuff I wrote about in K319 LG2 final section] . What happens if you put these critiques together with gender analysis?

Sexualised vulnerable older women in Life Alert ads (call buttons)

Youth based standards of sex. Seeking to show OP have sex too or something ‘just as good’ e.g. non-PIV but still sex. This retains insidious ageism.

Why not see elders’ sex as more valuable? Link w reproduction is broken anyway. More sensual? More pleasure-seeking?

Let old people be old and that be valuable.

Chris Gilleard

Sex in later life: From sex to salvation

Non-sexual nature of later life used to be morally virtuous, because sex was sinful. So a virtuous old age was non-sexual. Inversion of nowadays.

Sexual activity as cause of ageing – using up moisture and heat. Hippocratic theory of humours. Sex is hot and wet (blood and air), ageing is dry and cold (black bile and earth). Continuing influence into the medieval period and up to 17th C

Then 17th C onwards, sex less sinful and less harmful

Harvey’s circulation of blood shows that blood is not used up but continuously circulated so impacts on ideas of sex in old age.

But old ideas continued anyway.

18th C physiology developed, awareness of glands – realisation that sexual activity can be separated from reproduction and that sexual fluids do things other than aid reproduction.

19th C increased regulation of sex. But age related decline in sexual function is noted but not mandated

Lots of interest at turn of twentieth century and early twentieth C in prolonging youth through organotherapy, rejuvenation techniques [like now anti-ageing medicine]

Audience member: presentation blind to gender – it was all about men

CG: could have talked about extract of ova for women in 20th C but before that it was all focused on men.

Ann O’Hanlon

Dundalk, Ireland

Exploring and measuring age-friendliness amongst older people.

Age friendly communities. Dundalk was one of the 35 cities and towns in the 2004 WHO study

Discussion: Ann O’Hanlon’s question: why hasn’t the older people’s movement taken off in the way that feminism did?

Me: because it’s not grass-roots.

Audience member: because of internalised ageism

[I thought: but feminism was partly about excavating internalised sexism through consciousness raising – OP could do that]

Audience member: Group of 50 older feminists, met recently to apply CR techniques to own internalised ageism. But what they are focusing on is supporting one another, not changing the world. Is this something to do with ageing [No! Not if, by that, you mean something inherent to the ageing process]

[Should the question actually be ‘why did the feminist movement succeed (in some ways though obviously not all), when black rights did less well (although don’t forget end of segregation in US), class struggle died with Thatcher / the end of communism in Europe, and other social movements never got off the ground?

What happened to the grey panthers?

There are, at least, activist groups of disabled people.

It is just because the historical moment when movements around identities could make significant impact has passed, because we’ve all (some of us) got so post-modern and fractured in our identities?]

Cassandra Phoenix

Pennisula College

Research design: Attend people’s usual exercise session, take a photo, download to iPad, immediately discuss pictures during interview.

This design proved impractical – turned into too much discussion of the quality of the photos + post exercising participants didn’t want to be interviewed – tired!

So instead researchers selected 8-10 photos and emailed them – look at photos, answer question ‘what is it like to [insert sport]’ then some more prompting questions, including  prompted them to talk about five senses. So got written data in the end.

People didn’t comment on the images very much – tended to do so at end. Whereas researchers intended it to be photo-elicitation. Did caption some photos – doesn’t seem very phenomenological. But actually quite telling, like small stories in identity construction. Captions often about the body rather than life through the body

Some people made references to the pictures in their writing.

Q ‘what it is like to’ was understood as ‘why do you like?’

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