A new Apple Watch – after 4 years

I’ve had my Apple watch since 2015. I posted first when I bought it:

The all-new Apple Watch

Then a couple of months down the line I posted again to update how I was using it:

Apple Watch 2 months down the line

It is now over 4 years later. After my original watch, Apple released the series 1, series 2 series 3 and series 4. My original watch would not display some of the neat new watch faces, and some of the apps weren’t available on it. The latest watch offering, a series 5, has an ECG and you can also put a sim in it and use it as a phone without needing to have your mobile with you.

Over the past 4 years, my use of the Apple watch has settled into a fairly standard pattern. I have become more and more fascinated by the health app – recording my walks and exercise and achieving awards that look like attractive shields on the phone. The most activity in one week, closing your exercise ‘rings’ for 7 days on the trot. I have found this acts as a real incentive.  I can also use the watch to control some of the automation I’ve set up in the house, which is rather good. I still don’t use it to receive calls – but I find it really handy for quietly glancing down when it vibrates to notify me of an incoming call and, when I decide I don’t want to answer, I can reject the call by simply covering the watch face with my other hand.

However, I was getting a bit fed up with not having access to all the latest features, so I took the plunge and bought myself an Apple Watch series 5. This time I opted for the next model up, the stainless steel one. They have increased the size of both watches – the 42mm watch has increased to a 44mm, and the 38mm is now 40mm. I found that the new 44mm watch was just too big for my wrist, so I have invested in the smaller watch. Irritatingly this means that all the lovely watch straps I bought will have to head off to eBay, but I’ve got a very nice milanese loop strap in gold as well as a neat sports strap for when I go to the gym.

Yes – I’ve joined the gym. I now have more time and it is rather fun. There is a swimming pool and this was part of the incentive to buy a new watch – they are also waterproof. I so enjoy tracking my exercise, that I wanted to also be able to track my swimming. The gym has a little USB that logs your exercise on most of the machines, but I think the Apple Watch fitness support is rather more accurate. The watch face in the photo below is my favourite. It is a utility face, not one of the cool animated ones, but it is so handy. One touch shows me how I’m doing towards my fitness goals (rings). I can record excercise using the little green man – and while I’m doing the activity, the little green man is animated to be running. Really cute. I can take an ECG whenever the mood takes me. I just did, and my heart rate was 67 with a good sinus rhythm (even heartbeat) and immediately my phone sprang to life to say that I could view this on my phone.

I look forward to many enjoyable years with this new and improved watch. Meanwhile, anybody want an old pre series 1 40mm watch with four straps? Ebay it is then 🙂

Apple Watch Series 5

Apple Watch Series 5


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End of an Era

Well, the time is nearly here. The OU offered what was called ELVS – Employee Led Voluntary Severance last year and all were invited to apply. Not everyone who applied was successful, but I was. The last possible date for leaving was July 31st 2019, and here we are 0 only 2 days to go.

It is quite an exciting time. I will retain an association with the OU via their Honorary Associate status so I can continue writing papers with friends and colleagues. However I have new things in mind. It’s been a great 13 years.

Here is a photo of Rebecca and me from 2008 when we were both finishing off our PhDs, prior to joining the OU staff. It is over 10 years old, but I don’t think we’ve changed all that much. 🙂

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Reflections on FutureLearn, OpenLearn and the changing role of the OU

The OU has been through many ups and downs this year. There were 14 days of country-wide strike action related to the USS pension dispute. Then there was the ‘Students First Transformation’ (SFT) – a key focus of the then vice chancellor, Peter Horrocks. There was a developing growing disjoint between the executive (VCE) and the people who worked at the OU – the life-blood so to speak. This culminated ultimately in the resignation of the Vice Chancellor – well, he left before the end of his term to pursue other interests (with a ÂŁ242,000 golden handshake to augment his ÂŁ321,000 salary). Confidence in management was at an all time low, and I do not know of anyone who was anything other than pleased that Mr Horrocks had gone. The SFT has become so tarnished that although much good work had gone into it, the name was dropped. I think it may be now called Curriculum redesign, but I am not 100% sure. For a long time, I have lost track of the rapidly changing acronyms – what I used to know as FELS became known as WELS and now I think it is called FASS – I’ve no clue what these initials stand for any more. I have always been in IET (Institute of Educational Technology), but at some point I think I became part of LTI (academic). Somehow all these shifts and changes are supposed to help the OU do what it does best, deliver cutting edge distance learning, but I do wonder.

This brings me onto the main reason for this post. What is the future for the OU with regard to those learners who want to learn but don’t have huge amounts of money? Our traditional student-base. We traditionally provided access to higher education on a part-time, distance basis for people who had missed out. These days, there are far fewer people who miss out on education. This is great. We are still attracting students in great numbers – I think they are from a range of backgrounds, including increasing numbers of 18 – 24 year olds who want to pay lower fees, but they are all paying more than they used to.

Fees is a bone of contention for many at the OU. The OU’s fees are lower than those of other universities, but they are still much higher than most in the OU would like. And with the introduction of the ELQ restriction, where you get no govt. subsidy if you study for a qualification that is equal or lower to one you already have, the leisure learner market is badly hit. Retirees who want to learn something new, people with a first degree who have ended up on work they realise is not for them and would like to get a different degree as a pathway out. But then we have FutureLearn and OpenLearn.

The OU has put a great deal of investment into FutureLearn – which is not without its critics from within the OU. In a period of cut-backs, people find it difficult to understand why money is poured into FutureLearn which is not bringing profit back to the OU, and not into the OU’s own courses. However FutureLearn’s MOOCs seem to be very popular. OpenLearn too is full of exciting content. I’ve just signed up for an OpenLearn course “From Brexit to the Break-up of Britain” which offers a fascinating insight into how people voted in different parts of the UK, and what this means for politics. Doing this free course has prompted me to reflect a little on the changing nature of the OU.

If there are people who have missed out first time round, or if you have retired and you fancy learning something new, there is a wealth of free content out there through FutureLearn and OpenLearn. So maybe things aren’t so bad. In a funny, roundabout way, maybe the OU is adhering to its original mission and ethos. I do hope so. It is a wonderful institutions with, as was demonstrated during the recent strikes and the reaction to the Vice Chancellor’s attacks on the OU academics, it still has a special place in the nation’s heart and in the minds of the many, many alumni. If the OU can continue to change people’s lives for the better, then all is not lost.


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Free Tricky Topics course

As a teacher, educator or trainer, do you often think “I just don’t understand why they don’t understand”?

Well, here is help identifying the barriers in students’ understanding from our new badged FREE course ‘Teaching and Learning Tricky Topics’.


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Winning the Guardian WISE awards 2017

Fantastic news which I just had to blog immediately! Anne Adams was in London this evening attending the Guardian Wise Awards for which we had been shortlisted (one of three) and we won! See Anne at the left of the winners.

This is real recognition for all the effort Anne puts in to set up and support her teams! Anne put together the application and encouraged us all to contribute to the video which illustrates our work on Evidence Cafés, game-based learning, teaching tricky topics and working with teachers. We were each tasked with producing no more than 10seconds of video to keep it snappy and to the point. Here are the two 1 minute videos we out together to support the application.

Anne did the second video in a single take! Well, it would have been a single take except that I hadn’t switched my phone on to record the video so I had to get her to do it again, which she did as perfectly as she did the first time. Congratulations Anne!

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Evidence Cafes

I’ve been running Evidence Cafes with the police and other public services since 2016. Each Evidence CafĂ© aims to bridge the gap between research and practice, enabling participants to explore how research might inform their practice, and giving academics access to practice-based insights on the research from practitioners. The exact format of each evidence cafe varies depending on what the research topic is and, to some extent, on the makeup of the attendees. An Evidence Cafe attended by senior officers and staff will run quite differently from one attended by the frontline. We have run Evidence Cafes on a wide range of topics with organisations such as the police, the MS Trust, Migration services in Africa, Floodplains management:

  • Addressing issues around migration in africa
  • Barriers and enablers to managing you MS
  • Floodplains management
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Collecting first accounts from vulnerable child witnesses
  • Demand management
  • Translating vast amounts of data into information and then knowledge using the Evidence Typology
  • Digital forensics
  • Social media in policing
  • Ethical policing
  • Public leadership and political astuteness

If you are interested in using Evidence Cafes please get in touch with Ann.adams@open.ac.uk, and take a look at the Evidence Cafe How-to Guide (link below)

IET Evidence Cafe HowTo Guide A5 V3 small

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Writing Week – Escape to the Cotswolds

This week, 6 of us have headed off to a Rural Retreats cottage in the cotswolds for a writing retreat. It looks and sounds pretty decadent, but in reality it is seriously productive. Not everyone has been able to stay in the 5 bedroom place for the entire week, but 5 of us have been here continuously since Tuesday and we are storming through the work.

The great thing about coming away is that you are away from all work distractions. No meetings, only email (and you can switch that off), and you have the key colleagues that you want to write with on hand.

working in the conservatory

Working in the conservatory

We are in a huge 5-bedroom house with 2 conservatories, a snug, an office, a dining room and an enormous living room. Each of us can go to a different room to work, or two or more of us can get together to work collaboratively. On Monday there three people who worked here intensively and stayed overnight. Tuesday one it dropped to two, and they were very productive. Tuesday night three of us arrived (and the monday colleague returned) and the two who had been working on Tuesday left. One of the Tuesday colleagues joined us again on Wednesday morning and we have been five working together since then.

On Wednesday two of our team had a very useful meeting with 4 collaborators from Oxford University who spend from 9:30 to 12:30 giving inpact on the work from Monday/Tuesday which has informed our ongoing course material writing. One of the two conservatories has an enormous dining table, so this meeting went on there and no noise spilled out to disturb the rest of us.

Since then we have been working, noses to the grindstone.

Keys to success

So why does this work, and quite importantly, why is this more successful than a recent writing week we held in a local conference centre? The cost of the house is around ÂŁ1800 for the week, plus food and travel. The cost of the rooms in the conference centre was about the same.

Identify outputs

It is important to have a clear set of outputs in mind before you start. We each have papers that we want to write with each other, each of us leading on a different paper, and we are each working on producing materials for a different week of an 8 week badged open course that is one of the deliverables from the project that has provided the funding for this week. We all came to the week with a clear idea of what we aimed to do and put this in a shared spreadsheet.

The right people

You need the right set of people who need to collaborate with each other. The good thing about getting away from the office is that it allows you to focus on just one thing with no distractions. In the office, you may be writing or working on a course, and you need to have a discussion with a colleague. However they may be fully booked so you have to wait. You get interruptions, they get interruptions. And email is an ever-present time sapper. On a writing retreat, you can produce material very quickly because you can work together fast and effectively. We all check email, but only a couple of times a day – not continuously. Everybody needs to be committed to producing the outputs as well. One disruptive person could, I suspect, ruin things.


Fast broadband is essential. The broadband here is running at about 13Mbps which is good enough for our purposes. We need to use internet resources and work on collaborative shared documents. The internet goes down periodically, but it is easy to reboot it. You do need at least one person who is comfortable with technology to deal with the inevitable issues. We have had some issues with the software we are using to work collaboratively, and to be honest that is the only thing that has slowed progress.

A big house

It is essential to have a large enough venue that everyone can have some private space in which to work if they need to write alone, or collaborate without disturbing others. The nice thing about a house rather than a hotel or conference venue is the fact that it is quite isolated. We are surrounded by countryside, birds, wildlife, gardens. Relaxing and very conducive to concentration, yet we each have our own room in which to relax.

brainstorming in the garden

Brainstorming in the garden

24 hours available

Because we are away, we can just keep writing. The village is tiny and there are just 2 pubs. We have bought salad and food for light lunches and snacks and we book a table at one of the local pubs, 20 meters away, for dinner each night. We are all happy to eat snack lunches – nobody is wasting writing time preparing big meals. I am waking up really early and can come down and start writing by 7am. Yesterday, we were all working until 7pm – but it was relaxing and fun.

A writing retreat in the cotswolds sounds very decadent. But in fact it is both cost effective and productive. I would definitely recommend it.


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‘Me Time’ at the OU H818 ‘The Networked Practitioner’ Online Conference 2017

As an MAODE alumni, I received an email invitation to attend this online conference. I was just about to delete it as I went through my regular morning email triage, but it looked interesting so I followed the link to Cloudworks. I used to use Cloudworks extensively in 2009/2010 but have fallen out of the habit.
H818 Online Conference in Cloudworks
What an interesting conference this looks to be. As an alumni and as an IET staff member, I am entitled to attend so I have registered. Browsing the presentations in Cloudworks, some look really fascinating. I found myself starting to wonder how I could integrate cloudworks and some of the cutting-edge material there into my current role orchestrating Knowledge Exchange through Evidence Cafes for police officers, partners and staff on behalf of the Centre for Policing Research and Learning. There is also an interesting looking presentation by Andy Brooks entitled How can a social network be used to increase dissemination of research. I’ve made a note to be sure to attend that one.

This only took about 15 minutes, but made me realise that of late, I have been far too deeply focused on work and only the work. I’ve stopped serendipitous browsing. I’ve stopped following up links to interesting websites sent by colleagues. I’m spending little time looking outwards and too much time focusing inwards, on getting the job done. Browsing around some of the presentations on Cloudworks did not take very long. It was intellectually stimulating and this will feed back into my current role, so I’m going to make a point of doing this again. In the current climate of cut-backs and excessive workload, it is all too easy to forget that spending some ‘me time’ following your interests. This not only helps keep you up-to-date, but can also really benefit your work by helping you think outside the box, and bring in fresh new ideas.



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Open Access to our Publications

I get requests for various publications that people have found on ORO (Open Access Database) but sometimes cannot download. In particular, our book, Augmented Education: Sheehy, Ferguson & Clough (2014). I therefore put together a version of the pre-print draft (no index etc) created a website and uploaded it. At least now if somebody asks me for an electronic copy of this or of my PhD, I can just point them to my website from where they can download it.

by Gill

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Apple Watch 2 months down the line

I’ve been using my apple watch for about two and half months so its about time I reflected on what I find it useful for. Like most Apple products, lets face it, like most technology products, each person will find different aspects useful. I know three other people with Apple Watches, one finds the ability to control music on his watch to be invaluable – yet I’ve never used that feature, I think it tried it out once, but it just isn’t useful to me.

I received the watch on Friday and flew out to Spain on Saturday. Just enough time to get a few apps working on the phone. I was quite excited to try out the easy jet app to scan my boarding pass. I tried this at the departure gate, but unfortunately the scanner was designed to slide the boarding card in a kind of slot a few cm deep. My hand and watch wouldn’t fit in this so no luck there, but the staff were very interested in it.

My GPSX app which allow you to record tracks, drop waypoints and all manner of other GPS related things was great fun. It is important to remember that all these apps are actually running on your iPhone, and therefore using up battery. It didn’t cause me any problems, but much has been said about battery life.

On the subject of battery life, I find I’ve generally got 60% or more battery left at the end of the day. I don’t generally talk on the watch for long – though it can be useful to answer a call on the watch instead of missing it whilst scrabbling around at the bottom of my handbag. This does not negate the need to scrabble around at the bottom of my handbag, I just look like even more of a geek as I talk to my wrist whilst doing it.

To be honest, it will take me a while to get used to talking to a caller on my wrist. For starters, everyone can hear the conversation so there’s no privacy. It feels a bit ‘Star Trek’ esque but it is handy to be able to answer a call when you can’t immediately put your hands on your iPhone.

I tried out the apple map directions. It was just awful. Maybe because the phone was in my bag, but the GPS didn’t update quickly enough and the directions were often just plain wrong. The best thing to do was to use the map on the wrist as a map and ignore the directions. They were mad!

The texting functionality is just lovely. You can send cute emoticons and little drawings to your friends. Of course your friends also need to own apple watches. You can also reply to texts quickly on the watch by either tapping on a pre-defined answer (you can define these) or by speaking your message. Siri is becoming so good, there are virtually no mistakes.

By far the most useful feature, for me, are the haptic notifications. I get a discrete little tap whenever a text message or email comes in (on the email addresses I enable for the watch). I can glance at the first line and know immediately if this needs dealing with now, or if it can wait till later. That doesn’t feel like being ‘always online’. It feels like a very useful tool to keep on top of the deluge of electronic communications we are all faced with these days.

So far, I’m a fan.

Oh and of course I bought a spare watch strap. It takes seconds to swap them over and now I can have a watch to match my handbag…….so long as my handbag is salmon pink or lime green 🙂


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