Study systems

I completed 5 years studying towards my master of arts at the OU. Here are some of my systems and study hacks I used to complete my studies.

The OU gives every learner on the module a one month head start to orient around the VLE and become accustomed to the learning materials. Take this opportunity to read and understand the content. As this will be valuable nearer the time should you encounter lost time due to external factors.

Print off your study planner as this will be useful to know when your tutor marked assessment deadlines are and when to submit your end of module assessment. So do highlight the dates, write the dates in your diary or calendar either written or digitally.

Note taking tools, there are lots to choose from. You may wish to choose one that works on your smartphone and syncs with your PC. Or you may prefer to choose a Microsoft tool – OneNote or OneDrive. Either way there is different levels of functionality that will depend on your specific preference or needs. So do explore the different tools and be flexible, so that if one doesn’t work well you can choose an alternative tool instead.

In my earlier start on my masters I chose Diigo to bookmark the pdfs and hyperlinks. But over time in to my final module H819 I started to use Mendeley reference management tool. This was particularly useful when I needed to save research papers to citate in my assignments.

Forums may not be everyones preference but be prepared to answer any questions that might challenge your comfort zone. Do try to engage even if you struggle and do remember that no one will judge you so you won’t need to post long posts but do try to stay on track. It can be disengaging if no one responds to your comment – like talking into ether. So if you feel that no one is responding I’d suggest you raise this with your tutor. Or try to engage and respond to another learners comments as this will help you to build friendships in your tutor group. From my studies I’ve still kept in contact with fellow learners today as you have a shared learning experience plus you will be part of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998).

Invest in good quality stationary. You will need highlighters, comfortable pen to write with, notepad in a handy size A5 to A4 depending upon your preferred size and on practicalities, postit notes as labels and to highlight ideas, and multicoloured pens. Don’t go overboard you won’t need to purchase expensive branded stationary but do shop around and choose to fit your own budgetary needs.

Be organised, you might have lots of time or you may be time scarce. Either way you’ll need to plan ahead and find spare slots of time to study. You might be commuting to work so you could refer to your learning content during your daily commute. Or you might be studying around younger family members. Maybe whilst they are having an afternoon nap or during their play activities at the local leisure centre you can be studying. Utilise your lunch breaks to have half an hour reading and responding to forum discussions. Or make notes towards your assessment. Time can fly when you begin studying, so do try to stay focused and stick to a plan. But do make the plan flexible as you won’t want to be overly harsh on yourself if you go off track. Don’t forget to reward yourself after studying or giving yourself a treat at the end of the week. As we all need to keep engaged in our study.

Get tech savvy, means get to know your tech early as this could help save you time later on. It could be knowing to keep all digital files in Dropbox and your digital notes in an online note taking tool. Having an organised system will help but not having this worked out earlier could become difficult to figure out as you progress through your studies.

Invest in an ereader if you prefer less paper or find smartphones too bright affecting your eyes. Or adjust the light level settings by changing the blue level settings.

Your learning environment is imperitive if you need to be focused. So have a dedicated space that enables you to be in the zone and that you associate with your study time. This could be a quiet room or a desk, bureau or your dining table. Good lighting levels and space to read, write and to type up your notes will be beneficial to your enjoyment towards your study.

Flavours of learning

Coming back to work at the OU, I’ve been meaning to blog about the types of learning platforms that the OU uses. So here goes…

Moodle VLE – open source platform, all module produced courses are hosted on the moodle platform which at the OU is referred to as VLE. This is the most versatile option to host learning content which different formats of learning content from videos, podcasts, text based content to interactive HTML5 assets for more fun ways of engaged learning. All assets are coded in XML markup language and renders into various formats. Advantages are there are lots of scope and opportunity to create engaging content here. Disadvantage is that it requires a very large team to administrate this with both faculty and publishing team. When something trips it really does trip up. So be aware of technical glitches and ongoing updates. The OU are the biggest supporter of the moodle platform in the world.

OpenLearn – free learning. All module material will also release free content under creative commons licence. There are no collaborative tasks and learners can gain a free certificate on completion. Most learning is individually based on the learner to do, tasks range from reflecting to answering questions from reading the learning content. There is a wide range of subjects to choose from so there is a course for every interest.

FutureLearn – this one needs a bit more explanation. But a brief description would be that it was started by the OU in 2012. Fifty percent owned between the OU and SEEK. The pedagogy behind the platform is conversational, collaboratively, social learning and about celebrating success with a strong focus on storytelling. Currently you can now study towards a degree from a range of university partners. There’s more that I’d like to add but I’ll post a note about this later on separately.

In the flow – focus

How do you find your flow?

For me I prepare at the very start of the day to ensure I know whats coming up. I’ll spend about 5 to 10 minutes ensuring that I’ve planned sufficiently and understand how the daily tasks fit into my day.

If I have tasks that need deep focus I’ll always tend to ensure that they are completed on the days that my youngest is at school. For me I tend to be able to be more productive and more focused on those specific days.

I’ve started using the pomodora method and admit I’m still trying to stick to the 25 minutes of focus with 3 minutes of doing a fun task as a form of a reward. To me it could be go outside to get 5 minutes fresh air or grab a cup of tea. Working from home has proved to me that I can work from home.

But there are times when you have to plan for the unexpected. For me it’s been about being on call for a family member or being a good listener to the younger ones. Or ensuring close colleagues are okay in the day to day tasks that they do. Being your best is key, but as I’ve learned more recently bringing your very best is more good for not just yourself but for your team.

Positive thinking – the secret – law of attraction, its about ensuring I keep up with my love for learning. As lifelong learning probably has more long term benefits than short term. Hey, I’m allowed to make a statement but I’m sure many would also agree.

Why do I suggest this?

A few years ago I was part of a multi level marketing company as a direct sales person offering utility services. The role was great. But the best part was the personal development that I was encouraged to participate with. Not only did I carry this through but I realised that I was learning a vast amount from a diverse amount of areas. It reminded me of what Bill Gates said that ‘… reading is good for the brain. It opens you up to lots of knowledge and possibilities’. According to ‘Inside Bill Gates Brain’ documentary on Netflix.

Going back to finding focus – I’ll also check and double check which information colleagues need from me and that they receive this from me within a timely manner.

This to me is really important as this can be key when we all work remotely. But more so recently as this can save stress and anxiety on both sides. Breaking tasks in to smaller achievable chunks can make the bigger task much more easier to complete. This does seem onerous to do but it feels as though progress is being made once the smaller sub tasks are complete.

Being in the zone helps you to be focused to do the task effectively. Naturally issues can occur but as long as you are aware of the context and that you know their context it helps calm any potential misunderstandings.

Having a supportive team and line manager helps immensely. I’m very fortunate that I have had this positive relationship. Being taught to be customer focused has helped me to be more caring to team members. But also to be more empathetic, humble and helpful in my approach and be less subjective. Being kind to others is what makes my role rewarding.

How do you find your focus and how do you maintain this?

Earth calling

During Covid-19 I’ve reflected deeply and realised that the way we treat this planet needs to change.

Here are some of the five things I’ve learnt about how I’d like to do more to help.

Recycle more – sounds really simple and really obvious but I somehow don’t think that I recycle as much as I ought to. Simple change to dividing waste into clean and dirty waste could be a way forward. It could also lessen the amount of waste ending up in landfill sites. The quickest solution could be to have a dividing section in a bin to allow space for recycling bin and for non recycled waste.

Nurture your connections – again seems obvious to realise but your connections either existing or new are important to us all. So don’t forget to call a relative or a friend as its that phonecall that might make a big difference.

Be one with nature – forces of nature will always conquer the human race. But preparing and being aware of this and not taking advantage of this is important too. Be aware that one needs to accept the ‘hukum’ or gods will. Whatever our future is, we must accept this with ‘chardi kala’ or positive mindset.

Look after yourself – in order for me to look after my family, friends and relatives I need to be in good stead. So always make sure you look after your sleep, eat moderately and exercise well. Also look after your appearance ie godliness is cleanliness. I think we have all learnt that in some way with all the handwashing and sanitiser that we’ve all used.

Pace the way you work – admittedly I have only just started to do this. So I’m fairly new to this way of working. But thinking slowly to work out a response could be better than asking unnecessarily. Planing your actions could help you with better outcomes. So by having foresight will enable you to prepare better.

I thing the key takeaway is that your wellbeing should be at the core of what I or you can do to help.

What’s my freshest thinking?

This question comes directly from the thinking environment by Nancy Klein.

My latest thoughts are that Covid-19 has changed my long term thoughts as a positive. As I now no longer think short term I think about the why in my role and my actions. Pausing for thought or walking away from your computer will help you to let the news settle in and for you to think more clearly.

I now don’t rush from course to course (previously 9) not that I’m proud of this, I’m certainly not if at all I’m embarresed.

Now I think with calm and clarity I’m not rushing I’m doing my role with care and diligence, which was missing in my previous role.

Going forward I’d like to explore what defines my new role. How do I fit back into my teams mission and what values can I bring to meet the needs of my team and organisation? I know that I have found my true vocation but learning from my online editing qualification enables me to understand my role better and this gives me the confidence to believe that I’m an editor of colour. It’s very easy to be judged for not being intelligent when on the outside I look Indian, hence my reason to gain my masters to me this was my passport my proof of where I could go. In light of #BLM being brown and being British Asian Indian meant that I had to put double the effort to prove I could do what I do.

Now I’m glad I have a focus point in my life and working for an open institution gives me conviction and a truly good reason to wake up in the morning.

Storytelling in teaching – really?

I remember growing up with my fondest memories of being a pupil learning at school.

One aspect that I believe is still true today is the need to tell a truly gripping story. Why is that? We all are able to be gripped or hooked if someone is telling us a story that can help teach us something in our learning. Even without reading the story from a book. An anecdotal story can help set up the lesson and bring the class or group to the same point and then to begin the real lesson part.

These on the ground stories or life lessons learnt help build a bridge between the learners and the teachers which enables them to be in the common ground. Having that connection helps bring people closer so never assume that classes or online learning should be all rote and repeat or just assimilated but be more engaging by increased discussion or conversation and dialogue.

The story in your online Learning could be a running thread that brings the content together. It’s a linking up connection. Learners are able to grasp concepts much better if they are given a story or a how this theory applies in the real world. This helps solidify learning and bring the learning more alive and be more engaging.

So don’t forget that story in your online teaching or creating this in your resources as this could be the missing piece of your jigsaw that could disengage your learners and leave you with an incomplete teaching or learning experience.

Reflections on presenting at the Inclusive Learning Design presentation

About a month ago I presented at the Ravensbourne University on my presentation on Inclusive Learning Design around online learning and student workloads. I enjoyed the planning and presenting but I struggled to plan talking for just 5 minutes. My reason being that I didn’t want to sound like a sales rep with a script. So I decided to try a simple tactic. I spoke calmly and with thoughtfulness and with clarity. This would allow the global audience to hear me speak clearly and be able to understand my thinking.

The only aspect that I had slipped on unintentionally was the reference to the researchers that I mentioned. For the purpose of my thoughts I’ll add them here. Firstly I mentioned that learning design has been classified many times historically. Grannie Conole and Diane Laurilard both created their own versions of a definition of defining learning activity types. Full citations to follow shortly.

I enjoyed participating, I also recorded a mock practice podcast to ensure I was able to review my spoken word prior to presenting. As a result of this I realised that this would make a good learning activity for learners to gain confidence in presenting their ideas. The benefit of this approach is to increase self esteem and self confidence so that me or the learner knows how to present to people around them.

To round up I would add that I’ll be adding a link to the hosted presentation with transcripts later. Thanks and gratitude to the organisers for approaching and choosing myself to present it was a humbling experience.

Social leadership session – my reflections

Recently I ran a session on social leadership tackling day 74 on knowledge bias.

There was a good turnout and I had planned to have lots of discussion but realised that I was navigating with tech in teams which doesnt always work.

Best feedback was that I had discussion and interaction and I tried to ensure that everyone including any quieter members were able to contribute.

Naturally felt nervous but glad I had the opportunity to present. I might do another one in the future but more within the team I work within. I’d like to cover an aspect that could help enhance the way we work. However, I’m not sure what this would be as yet

I’ve placed my idea to publish a paper on the back burner as I’m currently enjoying studying a course to be a fully fledged editor. Gaining the formal certification will help me immensely so that I’m knowledgable and confident in the everyday aspects of my role.

#H818conf16 – Badged open courses

Back in 2016 during H818 I presented my project on how Badged Open Courses could bridge the widening participation gap amongst the wider community (BAME group).

I will be looking at ways to engage the wider community into completing badged open courses to improve wellbeing, employability and further development. Discuss ways to bridge the digital divide gap amongst the nation, with digital literacy and digital wellbeing. Are we too connected to the digital world and do we need time to reflect as much online as offline? The uptake of EPUB and tablet devices are now on the decrease. The world of student learning in classrooms are changing fast from reading textbooks and completing exercises to more engaging online interactive resources in learning. We must ensure that we cater for all learning styles, abilities and make the content as accessible as possible. Other nations around the world have already embraced badged open courses. Could this be the answer to how the UK improves the skills shortage. Recognition could be gained not just from within the class but from voluntary work to sports skills to interests in connection with extracurricular interests. The article will review ways that we can engage with communities that may not be able to connect with education as well as other parts of the cultural community. Looking at the success behind the Princes Trust Mosaic Mentoring programme to help ensure that the ethnic minorities have role models for inspiration. The paper will also look into how BOCs could be used to gamify learning in school, university and the workplace. I have also tried to refer or draw upon the following website on understanding some of the issues relating to the subject; widening participation:

Open badges lend itself to ensuring that they are inclusive to all learners regardless of background. My presentation will tackle ways we can implement BOCs into our everyday lives as both formal and informal ways of learning. MOOCs have utilised many forms of OER and creative commons content for learning content. The question arises from this on how this will affect the paying pupils and the pupils receiving the material free user expectations. In terms of what, both groups will expect from their learning journey. Will the paying students feel more motivated by the learning content as opposed to students signing up to free courses and feeling disengaged after beginning a MOOC. Figure description of diagram: I will try to tackle ways that this can be addressed by creating an illustration that fits best to explain this. With the user in the middle and all the barriers to learning listed around the user in a circle. By beginning a basic assessment in the form of a needs analysis. A practitioner would be able to understand the learners strengths and weaknesses of subject knowledge and be able to tailor make the content to fit best with the learner. Learning analytics would be greatly beneficial plus the understanding of pupils learning styles. Another question that I will conclude on is how successful will BOCs be in the long run and is there any future possibilities with how we engage more users?

Select the following link to view the Prezi multimedia poster: Multimedia Prezi poster presentation link

Preparing my presentation for Inclusive Learning Design Monday 1st June 2020

How? I completed my Masters of Arts in Online Distance Education learning, my focus was on student/learner workloads, finding the goldilocks zone of learning – are we giving learners too much or too little learning? Is the learning too difficult or too easy, etc.

Creating personas puts you into the learners shoes. How much time do the learners have to learn? Is there enough time? Plus its beneficial that we ‘understand how the use of a profile helps to create a balanced student experience.’ (OpenLearn, 2020)

The following from the HEA framework for retention, gives guidance on how to support student success.

At the OU in the Learning Design team they have the Iceberg model (Jitse et al., 2016) and the #A4Analytics on Twitter.

What? – ensure that the learning content you give to learners is achievable – not too much of just acquisition knowledge i.e. don’t give lots of readings, watching videos and listening, the variety of learning types ensures engagement – consider two areas of learners learning,

– 1 independent learning or self directed, i.e. reflecting, quiz, researching, and searching online or in a library.

– 2 collaborative learning with others, will also need to consider caring pedagogy and learners wellbeing.

– Nurture learners to learn from each other scaffolded learning and netiquette ie be respectful and mindful of others.

– Create a sense of community, don’t let learners talk in forums without a dialogue. As some learners find this challenging. Don’t leave them in forum space isolated as then that could disengage them.

– As a tutor lecturer be aware of conversations in the digital space and create boundaries/expectations and space for interaction. Beware of the silent learners who may be feeling shy or introverted. Learners can learn a huge amount from each other.

The why? Risk that as lots of HEI go online the quality of learning could be missed or overlooked.

Where next? What’s the solution? Give more measured amounts of learning and not assume that learning online is about presenting published books or research papers online.

No one size fits all approach can be applied here. Subjects of different genres will have have different learning designs mapped out. Different approaches will be used in choosing the best pedagogical option which will ensure learners gain the knowledge as effectively as possible.

Provide a more measured and well considered approach before authoring the content. Include the reading materials and the learners activity too. Ensure that both aspects of the learning activity balance without overwhelming the learner. Include some learning elements that are no more than 2 types of learning per section i.e. Read and respond in the discussions. and so on. If you have more than 2 types of learning then this can overwhelm the learner and disengage them.