July 2016

Here is my reflective log on the final week of my FutureLearn Blended Learning Essentials course.  It’s certainly been an interesting few weeks.

The final week of the course focuses on how we can use blended learning to accommodate students whose needs are a bit different – those with learning disabilities, for example, or caring responsibilities.  I must admit that this is where my experience lies: part of the course that I’ve been teaching for Liverpool Hope has been a blended learning evening class that allows mature students to return to education, and I’m really pleased to have been involved.  They listen to recordings of all the lectures, with the accompanying powerpoints, on the course Moodle, and all the readings and other documents are posted there too.  Every other week is an online session that they can take part in from home, although several of them chose to go in to the college to use their computers and for the social aspect.  

Looking back on the last few weeks, I have to be honest and say that there are several big things I’ve learned and/or been forced to think about:

1. There is a lot more technology available to do exciting things for our students than I realised.

2. Using some of this technology would make our courses more exciting, but it is nevertheless subservient to the learning outcomes that it supports.

3.  Moodle has a lot more features than I realised, so I need to learn how to use it properly – this would make the student experience better and my life easier.

4. There are ethical issues surrounding blended learning, including the possiblility of widening the gap between students who have access to technology and those who do not, and whether it is right to force students to have an online presence in order to complete our courses.

5. Technology allows us to be flexible in the provision of materials, enabling students with different needs to access education.

6.  Overhauling an entire course to facilitate blending learning would be a big undertaking.

Earlier in the year, I undertook an course on teaching foreign languages to dyslexic students with FutureLearn and the University of Lancaster.  Although I don’t teach foreign languages, of course, I do teach dyslexic students and indeed one of my children is severely  dyslexic. It gave me some really useful insights into supporting all students with their learning, not just the dyslexic ones, and many of the ideas were just as applicable to every subject.

At the moment, I am undertaking FutureLearn’s ‘Blended Learning Essentials’ course.  I thought it would be particularly helpful in supporting and extending the techniques I’ve been employing teaching on Liverpool Hope University’s ‘Foundations in History’ course at Holy Cross College, Bury.  As I come to the end of the FutureLearn course, I have to admit that it has turned out to be interesting for many, many more reasons.  I’ve been using my blog posts as a sort of reflective log for the course, and I thought I might as well share them here.  The following entries were written back at the beginning of the course [definitions in italics are taken from the FutureLearn course]

The first week was a little disappointing, as it alternated between being rather anodyne (“learners really like digital technology” and “digital technology helps learners to engage”) and assuming that you knew enough already to suggest digital teaching techniques that could be used in specific situations.  It got a lot better in week 2 though, when we started to look at pedagogy.

Constructivist pedagogy is based on learners constructing their own knowledge and meaning through experience.  My initial thought was “But how do I apply this in a history course?”  Actually, it’s not as bizarre as it sounds – it’s less about living for a day as an Elizabethan as it is about helping the students to improve their work through formative assessment.   The course suggested using  the ‘I Observe’ app – the qualifications which you want the students to achieve are embedded in the app so the students can watch their performance and see how they completed the aims of the task.

Social constructivism is a hypothesis that states that individuals learn as a result of social interaction and collaboration with others.  Learners can share ideas and knowledge in a collaborative space.  This sounds to me much like the online sessions of the course I was teaching for Liverpool Hope, but it also includes things like collaborative tools and social media.

Problem-based learning encourages active learning, use of real world scenarios, social learning and the application of knowledge to new situations.  The speaker in the video commented on the fact that the teenagers are shy about being creative, and I think it’s often the same with getting students to share their own ideas and opinions.  I’m not clear, though, on how mobile devices help other than the oft-stated belief that ‘students like them’.

The course pointed out that because students use a variety of devices,  the teaching tools need to be available across desktop, laptop, tablets and mobile devices.  Apps like Nearpod and Dreams can be used to introduce topics before traditional teaching and learning activities (a process they  call ‘flipped learning’).  It strikes me that ‘flipped learning’ isn’t all that unfamiliar to undergraduate history courses, where we often expect students to read up on subjects for tutorials before they’ve heard the lectures.

The Borders College case study was interesting because it demonstrated how they have developed Moodle to fit their blended learning needs: including more documents, videos and even online quizzes.  They also use an eLearning platform called Mahara, which allows the students to submit other types of material than word documents in order to capture evidence of their learning.  They use the interactive whiteboard a lot, which I think is fairly common these days. My only experience of trying to use the interactive whiteboard, however, was a nightmare because it wasn’t properly calibrated!  It’s interesting, too, that the college say that the students are involved in the creation of materials.

My main reservation about the first two weeks, though, is that all the case studies are based on vocational courses.  Also, the Vice-Principal of Borders College points out that blended learning has become part of the culture of the college, and I suspect that that is vital for its success.

In my final blog post on William Elderton’s A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant, I’d like to look at possible reasons why the ballad wasn’t published until well after the marchioness’s death:

Although the ballad appeared in the Stationers’ Registers of 1569, the last line of the first verse declares that the eponymous lady marquess ‘Was caught from court a great while agoe’.[1]  Elderton professes that her death ‘is no news for me to show’, perhaps meaning that his ballad was a report of her death rather than recent news. This may help to explain why the ballad was not published until 1569, four years after Elizabeth Parr’s death.  This was hardly the most topical of subjects in the relatively fast-moving market of cheap print. After all, ballads on the subject of the 1569-70 Revolt of the Northern Earls were brought to the press very swiftly. Of course, 1569 could simply be the first time that A proper new balad had been registered. Not only did ballads often circulate in manuscript both before and after publication, but also, not all ballads were registered with the Stationers’ Company. It is, therefore, conceivable that the ballad had previously been published without license. Nevertheless, Elderton’s description of the deceased as ‘caught from court a great while a goe’ lends credence to the suggestion that this was indeed the first time that the ballad had been published. Why, then, was it not published until four years after Elizabeth Parr had died?

Hyder E. Rollins speculated that the publication of the ballad in 1569 was driven by Elderton’s need for patronage during a personal financial crisis.[2] The balladeer’s final wish is certainly more worldly than godly, as he trusts that the court ladies ‘will consider my payne’, especially ‘When any good venison cometh in’. Rollins’s ‘financial crisis’ theory does not, however, entirely explain why Elderton would have chosen to restart his ballad-writing career after what appears to have been a break of several years with a eulogy of someone four years dead. Ralph Houlbrooke described how a ‘Virtuous life and good deeds are also… the surest basis of lasting fame. They give the deceased a sort of immortality, and make them worthy of imitation, a source of edification for succeeding generations’.[3] Furthermore, Patricia Phillippy demonstrated that women could gain posthumous influence through the memorialisation of their pious lives and good deaths.  These writings granted deceased women ‘surprising degrees of spiritual and cultural power, associated with the authority of the deathbed itself’.[4]

Elderton and his publisher appear to have believed that there would be enough interest in the marchioness’s exemplary life to warrant publishing an epitaph four years after her death. That A proper new balad was not published until 1569 may indicate that its themes of courtly love and feminine piety were expected to appeal to a wider audience than just those women who knew her personally. Conversely though, because broadside ballads were relatively cheap and easy to produce they were capable of reacting quickly to events in a way which was more difficult for books and pamphlets. This rapidity meant that, as Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston commented, ‘ballads and prose broadsides were the principal ways news was disseminated in print; composed by professional writers and printed in haste, they were cried on the streets by vendors hawking them for a penny’.[5] If there was an expectation that many ballads provided news, anonymising the lady marquess disguised the song’s lack of topicality.  Instead, the exemplarity of her life is emphasised. A proper new balad therefore fits into a genre of literature which had lasting appeal on account of its edifying content. By setting these themes to a lively tune, the ballad gave Parr’s memory an afterlife beyond a handful of ladies of the court.


A Young Lady aged 21, possibly a portrait of Helena von Snakenborg, c.1569

Another plausible explanation for the delay, however, lies once again in the identity of the marchioness herself. Given that ballads were multivalent, it is possible that Elderton’s song was also a veiled message to those people who knew the identity of its heroine, Elizabeth Parr. It seems that the ballad was published during William Parr’s courtship of his third wife, whom he married in 1571. Helena Snakenborg had arrived in England in 1565 in the entourage of Princess Cecilia of Sweden and caught the eye of the recently widowed marquess. Snakenborg became a close confidante of Queen Elizabeth and was appointed as a maid of honour in 1567, later being promoted to gentlewoman of the queen’s bedchamber. It is possible that the ballad was published during the courtship of Snakenborg and Parr either in order to remind the ladies of the court about the virtues of Parr’s second wife, or perhaps even in the hope that Snakenborg, too, would become his patroness, just as her predecessor seems to have been.

[1] Edward Arber, A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London,3 vols (London: privately printed, 1875) 1.384.

[2] Hyder E. Rollins, ‘William Elderton: Elizabethan Actor and Ballad-Writer’, Studies in Philology 17:2, pp. 207-8.

[3] Ralph Houlbrooke, Death, Religion, and the Family (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998) p. 353.

[4] Patricia Phillippy, Women, Death and Literature (Cambridge: CUP 2002) p. 83.

[5] Katharine Park and Lorraine J. Daston, ‘Unnatural Conceptions: The Study of Monsters in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France and England’, Past & Present 92:1981, p. 28.

William Elderton’s A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant features an apparition: Elderton says ‘Me thinkes I see her walke in blacke, / In euery corner where I goe’.  But Elderton is conflicted. Visions of the deceased marchioness appear in his mind’s eye, continuing the good works that she undertook in life, even though he knows that she is ‘dead and gone’.

The ghost of Hamlet’s father is probably the most famous literary apparition to demonstrate the confused role of the ghost in Reformation culture. The ghost claims that

I am thy father’s spirit,

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purg’d away.[1]



Ludovico Carracci: An Angel Frees Souls from Purgatory

Notwithstanding the apparition’s assertions of paternal authority (and what appears to be a confirmation of the existence of purgatory), Hamlet instead sees a spirit of ‘questionable shape’. This forces him to ask


Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d,

Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,

Be thy intents wicked or charitable.[2]


As Peter Marshall has pointed out, though, Hamlet was ‘highly unusual among Elizabethan and Jacobean plays in explicitly addressing the question of whether the apparition is really the spirit of Hamlet’s father, or a demonic illusion, and making it central to the action of the play’.[3] Ghosts continued to be used in literature throughout the early modern period to show that the dead continued to care for their loved ones from beyond the grave, or to prick the conscience of the living in order to make them lead a better life.[4] Here again, the ghost of Hamlet’s father is a case in point, walking the battlements of Elsinore at night to persuade Hamlet to carry out his filial duty: avenging the murder of the king. Elderton’s apparition does not, it must be said, fit these literary norms. Instead, its literary function reflects the changed relationship between the living and the dead, the new cultural norms of the Elizabethan world. These have been examined in some detail by Marshall, who has shown that although Protestantism eliminated the need for extended rituals of remembrance such as trental masses and year’s minds, there remained a belief that the living were obliged to provide a decent burial for the deceased and to ‘offer succour for their children, friends and kin’.[5] Furthermore, J.S.W. Helt’s work on women’s wills in Elizabethan England shows that, after the Reformation, it was the bequeathal of gifts which joined the living in a commemorative relationship with the dead. This relationship ‘served to reinforce the social hierarchy’.[6]A proper new balad performs a similar commemorative role, binding those who are left behind to the deceased.

It seems that when the marchioness died, Elderton needed to find another mistress to serve in order to maintain his income. He expressed the belief that ‘sure I am, ther liueth yet / In court a dearer frinde to mee’. Elderton stresses that his apparition continues to carry out acts of charity, ‘to looke if anie bodie do lacke / A friend to helpe them of theyr woe’. This is not, however, because of any Catholic belief that these good works would help her soul progress more quickly through Purgatory. Far from it: through her acts of charity and supplication, Elderton’s ghostly vision of the marchioness functions as a reminder the ladies of the court to be charitable to Elderton himself.   Elderton’s spectral vision fits with a reformed expectation of the role of the dead: the marchioness walks in pious black to remind the ladies of the court to provide succour and relief for Elderton himself. The ballad describes an apparition who moves among the quick not to seek respite from the pains of purgatory, but to provide help for the living. She is a walking reminder that the ladies of the court have continuing obligations to those whom Elizabeth Parr, wife of the 1st marquess of Northampton, left behind.

[1] William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 1 Scene 5, ll. 745-749.

[2] Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 4, ll. 669-671.

[3] Peter Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England (Oxford: OUP, 2002), 258.

[4] Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead, 258.

[5] Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead, 266.

[6] J.S.W. Helt, “Women, Memory and Will-making in Elizabethan England,” pp. 108-225 in Bruce Gordon and Peter Marshall, eds. The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: CUP 2000), 205.

Although ostensibly an epitaph, William Elderton’s A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant is in reality a curious mix which speaks to various audiences on several levels.  The first was a general listenership who might be edified by ideals of piety and entertained by the sensational, without needing to know exactly who the marchioness was. The second was a specific group of the ‘knowing’, who knew the name of the anonymous ‘ladie marques’ and could understand the significance of Elderton’s subtexts. Furthermore, the very first word of the ballad marks out a specifically gendered audience. From the first line of the song, ‘Ladies, I thinke you maruell that’ we can see that his ideal audience was the ladies of the royal court. This contrasts with later works of female biography, which, according to Patricia Phillippy, ‘bifurcate on gendered terms the relevance of their subjects’ lives and deaths to women and men respectively’.[1]  In addressing the women, Elderton associates himself with ‘female mourners whose grief is revised and reinvested not only with emotive and affective power but also with the possibility of consolation based on a mutual sorrow derived from lived experience’.[2] In order to appeal to these relatively cultured and wealthy women, Elderton’s ballad is styled like a courtly love song, idolising the object of his affections as ‘The fairest flower of my garland’.

There is, of course, a dichotomy between the idealised audience whom Elderton addresses in the ballad and the actual audience who might have bought the printed broadside. Black-letter broadside ballads such as A proper new balad were the epitome of cheap print, accessible to a wide audience. While the ladies of the court may well have enjoyed the ballad, it was presumably sold in the streets by hawkers too. Ballad-mongers’ performances would have made it accessible even to the lowest paid and least educated members of society. While the court elite may have been Elderton’s ideal audience, he seems to have recognised the financial advantage of making his song available to as many people as possible. The themes dealt with by his ballad were universal, as ‘grief was both a natural and cultural phenomenon’.[3] After all, another ballad reminded its listeners that ‘When time doth come, we must all hence, / Experience teacheth so’.[4] Bereavement and mourning were familiar to everyone, so A proper new balad would have had resonances throughout society from the highest to the low.

[1] Patricia Phillippy, Women, Death and Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 86.

[2] Phillippy, Women, Death and Literature, 240-41.

[3] David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 393.

[4] Thomas Newton, An epitaphe vpon the worthy and honorable lady, the Lady Knowles (London: 1569), STC2 18512.