Saturday, 21 November 2015


Challenge - to turn my photos into postcard style images.
Why? - to learn how to use free editing tools online and to make my photos more interesting and engaging
I used Paint, PowerPoint, Picture Manager,, and to manipulate the original images. I liked the challenge because of the.
  1. Results - had wanted to do this for ages, had always put if off. Doing it was enjoyable and built its own momentum
  2. Surprise - Sometimes I surprised myself with an image I couldn't have imagined beforehand. I would never have got there had I not experimented
  3. Perseverance - not every image worked, I failed half the time, but I still produced ten images I was proud of. Lesson - failing is fine, you learn from it

An Edinburgh collage of Calton Hill, Arthur's Seat, and an Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture 

Monday, 23 February 2015

Fail succeed fail succeed

Plenty of articles and books are given over to "how to succeed", but I think the real way to to learn about anything is to do it.

This blog post is about what I learned from doing a new activity, capoeira - a Brazilian dance/martial arts.

Perseverance and practice are the ones that stand out most for me, as well as not being too proud to ask for help. I'd be interested to hear what lightbulb moments you have had when learning something new.

How I'm learning capoeira. 

Capoeira is a Brazlian martial art/dance that was originally practiced by African slaves as a way of maintaining their physical and mental agility. It combine dance, acrobatics, and music. I started with it by attending classes run by the University of Edinburgh's capoeira club. Once a week me and a few other beginners were trained by the group teachers. The above picture is me and my fellow beginners after we got our first cords. A cord is like a belt. Different colours denote different levels of ability. Even though I am still a clumsy beginner, it was a great feeling of accomplishment to have got so far. Capoeria is something that is outside my comfort zone and I often questioned why I was doing it. Here are 10 things I learnt from the whole process. I think these can be applied to lots of other things in my life. What do you think?

1. Practice
Practicing every day helped build skills and maintain momentum. I learnt moves like the ginga and au from constant practice at home. Try and fail again & again. Even at work I would try a move in spare moments to see if I remembered it. So not only practice at the designated practice time - always be thinking about it. I liked this table tennis video which shows exactly that in 5 minutes.

The Mestre at the Batizado got me to practice the negativa move twenty times in a row until I got it. It was embarrassing that I kept getting it wrong, but hard practice was the only way I got it right.

2. Put things in my terms
Sometimes the tutor’s explanation did not make sense to me. I had to go through it in my own mind and find my own way of remembering it. In the "Au" move, realising that you need to point your foot forward was my way of remembering the move. Also that the standing foot must kick hard to give you the lift.
In the meia lua de frente, my left was way better than my right. I realised that this was because they were like football free kicks. When I play football I am all left footed, so my left side must be completely dominant.
This helped me create my own mental picture of what I needed to do. For another person, they might have remembered it another way.

3. Perseverance
You cannot learn things overnight. For some moves I had to literally slow a help video down to a crawling pace to understand how they did even very simple things like mirror someone, or move from left to right.
At times it felt like I would never get it. Many weeks I felt like skipping class, but my mantra became "Just do it" and I always felt better for doing so

4. Praise
Even the tiniest praise works wonders. Even if you sense it is not really justified the fact that someone says it is a massive tonic.
1. Josh helping me out each week and being positive and friendly about it
2. Andreas wishing me well before the Batizado roda
3. Lara, Geo & the whole Senzala group creating a positive, friendly environment

5. Pride
If you do not understand it you have to say. Even if you seem slow or foolish. Otherwise you will slip under the radar sneakily and not actually learn the technique properly.
Too many times I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t get very simple things for fear of appearing silly. The result was I never learnt things properly. The longer you leave it the worse it gets, so admit you don't get it early on. There's no harm! Also, it might help other people - maybe your question is not as silly as you think?

6. Play with others
Practice at home is fine, but you have to be able to apply it. Too much thinking can be a bad thing.
1..Having a go in the rodas at the Batizado forced me to play with better people
2. Seeing better players was inspiring
3. Trying new things like handstands seemed impossible but throwing myself at difficult challenges was the only way to improve

7. Perspective
Ask other people what they struggle with or how they approach learning. Somebody described to me how they watched capoeira in Brazil and learnt a huge amount from immersing themselves in it. They also described how they made connections with other art forms like Shaolin monks, and even looked at how animals move. It was pretty enlightening to hear someone who had thought so deeply about it.

8. Learn around the topic
Sometimes it can help to do your own learning. For me, it helped to understand what the English translations were of some of the moves.
Meia lua de frente means "front half moon". This helped me picture the move as a half moon. When the instructor said "do a meia lua de frente", I pictured the half moon and knew what to do straight away.

9. Make connections
It’s fine to learn one move but it’s easy to forget it as well. What if you switch to another position? Suddenly you are very rigid and it’s like you have been reset and have to start again. Learning from Mestre Parente at the Batizado was incredibly hard but it helped to see how moves work together
You could apply the same principle to learning about anything. Seeing how things fit together can help you learn individual things by seeing them as part of the broader picture.

10. Music & Culture
Think about other things around the subject to help put it in context. This was motivating. Some examples from my experience were:
1.Watching capoeira videos on YouTube
2. Learning instruments like the berimbau and pandeiro in class
3. Learning a Portuguese song about fishermen bringing their nets in for a performance the group gave at an open day. We learnt the words to the song on a whiteboard in class. It helped me see capoeira in its broader cultural setting and increased my appreciation of it
4. The social side of the class. Meeting new people and getting a sense of the culture.

What activity have you learnt, and what helped you with this learning?

Monday, 24 March 2014

#edcmchat Twitter book group

The #edcmchat Twitter book group is one year old this month. That means we've been meeting online once a month to use Tweet chats to discuss a novel or short story. The  books have been based around the themes of utopia and dystopia that came out of the eLearning & Digital Cultures MOOC that we all participated in last year. Each month's chat usually veers off in lots of directions including education, human nature, technology, religion, psychology, politics, and philosophy. That's why it's so engaging - each person brings their own perspective or interpretation.

It started off as bit of an experiment, but has now carried on for a whole 12 months. I really look forward to the chats each month. It's a nice way to bookend each month - pardon the pun - and it's been great to carry on the momentum since the EDCMOOC course finished.

It's a bit different doing it via Twitter. Sometimes it's frustrating to not be able to say more than the 140 characters allows, but it's enjoyable none the less. The fizz and rush of ideas is intoxicating as you read people's questions and answers coming in. Each week someone new moderates the Tweet chat so it's also been a good way to learn how to use Twitter a bit more. As Kirstie says, "t's really opened my eyes to how social media can be used for personal dev and real virtual communities"

During the year, whole new imaginative worlds of ideas have opened up before our eyes. We've visited the utopian lands of William Morris and Aldous Huxley, and the dystopian nearly-worlds of Cory Doctorow, Phillip K Dick, and Alastair Reynolds. Then there have been the unexpected treats - EM Forster's immaculately written short story of an imagined future in "The Machine Stops", and Daniel Keyes' eloquent and moving "Flowers for Algernon". I have watched films, read articles & essays, and listened to podcasts I would never have discovered otherwise. It's been a great outlet for ideas & new thinking.

Rob, Kirstie, Ping, Rick, Linda, Anne. Stephane, Asta et al , it's been a pleasure. To celebrate our first anniversary, I've made a collage of some of the books we've enjoyed over the year below.

Join us at #edcmchat on April 5th for the next one - Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron". If you want to have a go at moderating or would like to recommend a new book, let me know!

Our Twitter hashtag feed
Our edmooc Good Reads group

Saturday, 30 November 2013

#StoryMooc 6 - Location Based Storytelling

This week was about location based storytelling. It was another fantastic week of subject matter. We learnt about Secret City, an interactive game/story/puzzle that takes place in real places in Berlin and which you follow via your mobile device. I have heard other examples of this before, such as Penguin's "We Tell Stories" from a few years ago, or Secret History which I talk abut below. As well as the story telling possibilities, think how good it is for your fitness walking around the streets reading stories like this!

I really liked the way they filmed the material outside on the streets of Berlin too. Both things made me think a lot about the possibilities firstly in a MOOC, and also secondly in storytelling - there are some incredible opportunities with technology and interactive media. I suppose the key thing is to make them work together without the story drifting away to nothing or the audience losing interest. A course member, John Love. had posted last week about a Google app called Google Tour Builder which lets you create a tour in Google Maps. As John says there is great potential for, "using a map or geographic structure as the framework for telling a story..."

The possibilities of location based storytelling left me excited. As soon as we got our creative task I had ideas popping in my head. I jotted them down on a sketchy sheet above (the ones by fellow course member Melanie Voß are miles better!), then I took a walk up the Royal Mile, and down to the Mound where the Christmas Markets currently are. I nipped into the National Art Gallery for a browse and voila I had my idea for a story. This week I let my friend Rudi Peters write it for me:
Finally. I want to give a nod to Gauwain van Kooten Niekerk for an idea I took from his story. Gauwain used Google Street View in his story this week, and I borrowed the idea for mine. It needed something to kick it off and I thought Gauwain's idea was great. Gauwain is from Utrecht and has been an active participant in this MOOC. I've enjoyed reading his blog which you can find below. I've also included some links to some other of the story/games mentioned in this week's topic

Gauwain van Kooten Niekerk
Secret City Berlin -
Can You See Me Now?
Ingress where city statues and landmarks come to life

And finally....what if you could guide Odysseus round the world now?

"...every time you touch a book, open it, talk about it or read it you are interacting with can explore your own adventure" So says Eli Horowitz  who has written a geo-location story in New York called "The Silent History". It's a good point. What are the implications of this? Could you use location based storytelling to explore existing novels for example? To make them "infinitely expandable" as Eli puts it? Could you imagine if the story of Dracula did not end on page 283 of the book, but carried on here and now in our day? And that you yourself could unpick the story like Jonathan Harker through an app or GPS? Or what about Phileas Fogg or Odysseus? Or how about students have to go outside and search for clues to reveal a famous local historical figure?

To listen to Eli talk about his geo-location story, there is a 10 minute interview here. You can skip to the 29:12 minute mark

PS - it was inspiring to see the range of participants in the MOOC as kindly tweeted by the course leaders this week. Well done to the team in Potsdam for creating such an inspiring and engaging course!

#storymooc week 5

What if the whole world is just a game? What if we are just a puzzle set by ourselves from the future that we are now slowly trying to work out? Each century we get a bit closer to the the end of the game, we get a new piece of the puzzle, till one day we will meet ourselves and say, "we solved it!! Now let's play again!". And the same game begins again,

Games are about stories, narratives, decisions, dilemmas, action, consequence, success, failure, working puzzles out, reward, location and so many more things. Well, that is just like your life story isn't it? When we think of the future of games as involving artificial intelligence, automated stories, characters who exist outside of the game, game worlds that react to the actions of the player, Google Glass, virtual reality etc it makes me think - when's it all going to be like Tron? Will we just end up creating our own universe online and existing there?

I enjoyed this week's module as it introduced a lot of these ideas and concepts. Games seem to have unlimited possibility for the story teller and the imagination. The more I thought about them the more exciting, creative, and revolutionary they seemed. They are also inherently fun because they are puzzles, and also have that spark of curiosity within them. I also was left wondering about games and eLearning. To be able to use that feeling you get in gaming of "I have to know what happens next", or "this next level is so cool it's beyond my imagination", or "I have to defeat this end of level boss even if I'm up till 3am!!". What if you were doing the same with your learning? eg a game that poses ethical, political, social dilemmas that you have to solve. This week I wrote my notes as an illustration whilst listening to the videos and doing laundry. All at the same time. I enjoyed the process. I was inspired by the way the excellent team on the MOOC have presented their own videos using speeded up writing. They also had a podcast lecture this week which was a brilliant idea. Learning on the go.

Apart from Sonic, Tetris, GoldenEye, Pacman, FIFA Football, and Mario I have zero experience in games beyond 1996 so I didn't do this week's creative task. Instead I preferred to focus on the futuristic possibilities of gaming as they tie in directly to my other MOOC on eLearning & Digital Cultures. And imagine a time when the following advertisement exists :

Introducing "Google Life". 
Where are you going on holiday this year? How about 19th century France to see the world through the eyes of Napoleon? Ancient Greece to walk in sandals alongisde Socrates? 13th century Italy to live inside St Francis of Assissi's imagination for 2 weeks?
In Google Life we have amassed all the writings, images, paintings, photographs, diaries, stories, and science that is on the internet. We have amalgamated everything together to let you literally see the world how somebody else saw it through their eyes. 

Using the sum total of all human knowledge and the collective mind, we aim to reanimate the life of every single person who ever lived on the planet. This is part of Google's ethical drive to ensure that every single person on the planet who ever lived was valued. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

#storymooc Week 4 - Ideas & Inspiration

(Still from the film "The Illusionist" which was the director's love letter to Edinburgh)
Where do you come from? What are the stories from your home town that inspire you?

This week's creative task was very enjoyable. We watched a few videos of some of the tutors giving us their recommendations of books they find inspiring and useful, and then our task was to create our own video of some books, film, artwork etc that we find inspiring. The idea was that we would be able to share loads of amazing books and ideas between us.

For my video I chose to base my objects around the theme of "place". Place, location, landscape is so important in any story, and it can almost be a character in itself. I didn't just want to choose any random books, so I opted for ones that had a sense of place at their heart, and that had inspired me. I actually wanted to go out into Edinburgh to film it, but time has defeated so I made a boring talking head video. Hopefully the ideas still come across. I went for:

1. Poems of Ted Hughes - he wrote about West Yorkshire where I grew up, so many of the locations in his poems I can relate to. He writes about the hills, woods, and valleys, the memories of particular moments in the fields or the streets, snapshots of nature and people he observes. This is inspiring when you have a writer who has used familiar locations to inspire their own stories, images & characters. Listen to Ted Hughes read his poem "The Thought Fox" here

Q: Who are your local writers? What was it about their writing that distilled the essence of the place you grew up in?

2. Ghost stories of MR James - I chose this because a sense of place & atmosphere are essential to these stories, and James was a master.As we approach the depths of winter these stories are a brilliant accompaniment to the dark nights - sat around the fire with the wind rattling at the windows! The BBC also made several superb adaptations of the stories, many of which are available on YouTube. Look up "Whistle And I'll Come To You" for a brilliant example.

Q: What stories generate a sense of atmosphere for you? And why?

3. RL Stevenson - Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. This is a very well known story but I chose it because it sums up the city where I live, Edinburgh. Although the book is set in London, it's commonly held that Stevenson based it on Edinburgh, on the dual nature of the Old & New Town's of the city, and of real characters like Deacon Brodie - a respectable member of society by day, a thief by night. I love it because a landscape became a character and a story all of its own just through the writer's imagination. It is also a profound story about human nature which has been interpreted many times since. I love the idea of Stevenson dreaming the story up from just walking around the streets I walk down each day. Here is Alexander McCall Smith talking about literary Edinburgh 

Q: Is there a story that sums up the personality of your town or country?

4. The Edinburgh A-Z Street Atlas -
this was a bit of glib choice, but I wanted to make the point that there are stories all around us - in our cities and towns, our neighbourhoods and our streets. The most amazing stories can be right under your nose, or - like Stevenson - can be dreamt up all from a sense of place.

This MOOC has students from many towns and countries, so my challenge is to tell me about the stories and tales that have inspired you about your home town. Is there a story that sums up where you are from?

How could we share it? On a Google Map? As a Pinterest board? A Flickr group? A ThingLink graphic? A YouTube channel? Any ideas? Please share in the comments below!

Above is my video for this week's task. Please also take a look at the fantastic videos from my fellow students here on Aunt Renie's YouTube channel...

Thursday, 14 November 2013

If you want to read my #storymooc Week 3, turn to this page....

Does this book cover ring any bells?

It's one of Steve Jackson's books in the Fighting Fantasy series. They were popular children's books in the 1980's and were a mix of role playing style game contained within a story book. Page 1 of the story would give you a scenario, and at the end of the paragraph you were given 3 options on how to continue the story based on your judgement. Each option would lead to a different page in the book. For example something like, "You are at the front of the house. To knock on the door go to page 12. To climb through the broken window turn to page 74. To shout up at the lighted window turn to page 41". You would then get a new scenario, a new set of options, and hence a new story whichever option you chose. I used to think they were brilliant, and looking back they were such an interesting experiment. They came out at roughly the same time as the first computer games, but for a while they were every bit a match. Infact I used to read these books whilst waiting the 45 minutes it would take to load up our BBC Micro games!

In the spirit of the Fighting Fantasy books, I present my week 3 #storymooc review in their style

You have reached week 3 of your storytelling MOOC. To find out more, continue reading below. If you are bored, open this dusty window. If you want to sign up yourself, turn to this page

You are learning about web series this week. A woman in a green and blue shirt tells you that they can be hugely liberating, creating, and subversive. But, due to the medium they need to have more instant and memorable hooks due to people's short attention spans. If you want to see an example of a web series, open this window. To write your own, sharpen your pencil and read these tips

You have been walking around the internet for some time. You pass by a group of people from Sweden talking about a woman who has gone missing on the internet. They are trying to find her. You are amazed at the creativity of this "transmedia project" where the viewer is involved in directing the story via social media. You are also a but sad that it didn't catch on because it required too much effort on the viewer's behalf. The Swedish people rush off to find another clue. When they go you see a row of #storymooc tweets flash up on the wall. You see this one below

After reading it, do you 
- feel an epiphany that everything is actually a story, and that our whole lives are narratives that we construct in our heads? If you do enter this room here
- feel that with social media we are constantly re-inventing the medium of storytelling and pushing new boundaries. If you do, climb through this window
- cringe a little and wish that businesses and corporations would just leave us alone and stop impinging on our imagination. If you do, then react like this

You have reached the end of week three, but have encountered the end of level baddy. This comes in the form of a character you have to come up with! Aggghh!!!! What do you do?
You choose to seek advice from a person sitting next to you who has done it. Read about them here
You decide to meet a new person who is not a baddy at all. Meet them here
You take the plunge and come up with your own character. Say hello here