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Reading, Writing, Designing, Crafting, Blogging
And other interesting projects
I'm Amanda
I'm a freelance writer, designer,
and content curator.
I am a lifelong learner
(Because education doesn't stop
at the classroom).
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Features work for a vared client base,
including technology, craft, food and non-profit.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Studying the Classics with OpenLearn - A Free Introductory Programme

Ancient history is a fascinating subject. So much of ancient culture stimulates thought and ideas which remain relevant in our modern society. I'm particularly interested in classical studies because of the development across so many areas of learning: history, literature, philosophy, art...

I have not had the benefit of any formal or directed study in the classics for many years, not since being at school. Since I hope to include a qualification in Ancient Civilisations in my forthcoming year-long study project, I looked to the extensive library on OpenLearn to introduce me to the subject.

From the wonderful selection of materials available on OpenLearn, I've developed for myself a short programme of study, which I intend to complete over the summer months. This programme consists of 10 courses ranging in difficulty from Introductory to Advanced, with length of between 3 and 20 hours study to completion. Much of the content of these courses are derived from degree modules from The Open University, which suggests they are an ideal springboard to encourage further study.

Classical Studies Programme with OpenLearn

I've listed the Classical Studies free courses from OpenLearn below, organised by level and roughly by how I think one module will flow smoothly into the next. I would highly recommend creating your own free account with OpenLearn which will enable you to keep track of your progress and download certificates upon completion of each course.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Of course, there's no need to study in this particular order, or even to complete one course fully before moving on to another. Virtually all of these courses comprise of sections and modules, allowing us to dip in and out as time and interest dictate.

Free Printables

If you would like to keep track of your progress, I've also designed free printables which you can use to tick off the courses and modules you've completed. These are A4 size, in PDF format which you may freely use and distribute as you wish:

I've chosen to print the enhanced list in "two up" format, so that both pages are printed on a single side of A4, so that I can slip it into my A5 academic diary for easy reference. 

Content to enrich and enhance

In addition to these certificate courses, OpenLearn has a vast range of articles, videos and activities to enhance and enrich the learning experience. Although I haven't included these specifically in my introductory programme, I'll be sure to use these materials over the next few months. Here are some of my favourites:

Learn with me?

Please let me know if you're interested in following along with this programme of study, either by leaving a comment below or via my contact page! I'll post updates of my progress on Twitter in addition to monthly round-ups on this site.

If you know of any other useful Classical Studies resources, I'd love to know about them, so please feel free to share.

Featured photo credit: Nick Kenrick, via Flickr

Thursday, 13 June 2019

What are the 50 greatest films I need to see?

As part of my upcoming year of self-directed learning, I intend to watch 50 critically acclaimed movies to enhance my knowledge through the medium of film.

I made the choice to include this because film is not simply a form of entertainment. Film can expose us to different perspectives on culture, politics and ideas. It can inspire us to seek out knowledge in areas we hadn't previously considered, and is a social medium,  as expressed so clearly by Nathan Rohe, writing for The Odyssey:
Films encourage ideas and social commentary within communities. They have the power to express a culture's ideals and shape them. Art, especially film, is important because it gives us the ability to form lasting human connections through by letting us share our experiences with each other.
This element of my learning programme needs to pay consideration to the principles of SMART targets, in addition to directing me to watch films I may otherwise have missed. For this reason, I've spent some time trying to find a curated list of 50 films to watch methodically. The problem is deciding which to choose!

From directors to professional film critics and your average moviegoer, everyone has their own subjective definition of what makes a film "great". A simple Google search for the term "50 greatest films" yields around 1,040,000,000 results!

Since I am based in the UK, the BFI's decennial 50 Greatest Films of All Time list tops the search results. This list boasts a high level of integrity as the list was aggregated by submissions from critics, programmers, academics and distributors, and is highly regarded as the "definitive" list of the greatest film of all time. Unfortunately, I feel the list is skewed towards films which are older (very few inclusions were produced before the year 2000) which makes them difficult to source in addition to being less appealing. This causes difficulties meeting the Realistic and Achievable elements of my SMART targets.

Similar principles apply to the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Movies" list, with the obvious addition that all of these movies are American - and I would really prefer a list which includes world cinema (although I do admit that the list is appealing)!

Last year, Empire published a list of The 100 Greatest Movies after asking readers of their prestigious magazine to place their votes. Having seen 95% of the movies included, I wholly agree that all of these inclusions are brilliant. I'll probably work my way through the remaining 5 I have not yet seen in the months to come, simply for the sense of "completion", though cannot consider using Empire's list or any other audience polls (such as IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes rankings) since they're unlikely to expose me to film I would not otherwise have chosen.

The BBC's list of The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films is very appealing. Published in 2016, this list aggregates submissions from 117 film critics to include a wide variety of genres and diversity. Having scanned through the top 50, I can see only a handful I've previously had the pleasure of viewing, which makes this particular list a top contender.

Another consideration is the BFI's list of 50 films to watch before the age of 14. Yes, I know I'm in my forties now, but my consideration here is that these films were chosen for their educational value in addition to their suitability for a younger audience. Film is an important part of my family life, so choosing this list would enable me to share this part of my learning programme with my children.

Classically Educated has a wonderful long-term project to watch each of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (from the book by Steven Jay Schneider) in chronological order. Although I have no idea how I could choose 50 from this huge list, it is certainly worth a considering a look if I can borrow a copy from the library.


I'm not yet decided which list to adopt. Over the next week or so, I'll do more research and mull over my choices as well as discuss with my family whether or not they would like to be involved.

I'd be more than happy to consider any other film lists you as readers of my site would like to suggest, and encourage you to post them in the comments section below.

Header image credit: Ginnie, via Flickr

Monday, 10 June 2019

Have you discovered Mathigon?

Knowing of my interest in learning resources, a kind friend sent me a link to the most recent Monday Puzzles article on The Guardian which presents a set of mathematical puzzles sourced from Mathigon.

Aimed at school-aged and college students, Mathigon is described as "an interactive textbook". I love the look and feel of the site, which encourages learners to explore, develop their skills and properly interact with different mathematical concepts. Registration is optional, free, and enables you to track your learning.

The site is still in development: many areas are not yet available, though personally I think it's already well-rounded and very interesting. My favourite sections are those which encourage us to think of how math interacts with real-life rather than simply as a theoretical construct:

Everything in our world follows mathematical laws: from the motion of stars and galaxies to the transmission of phone signals, bus timetables, weather prediction and online banking. Mathematics lets us describe and explain all of these examples, and can reveal profound truths about their underlying patterns.

In this way, it reminds me a lot of Jo Boaler's "How to Learn Math" course, which remains one of my favourite resources as it helps students begin to understand the great beauty and power of mathematics in our experiences of the world.

Mathigon is a dream learning resource for students (and teachers) of maths, which was conceived, coded, written and designed by Philipp Legner, aged 26 - a truly impressive feat for one single person to accomplish!

The Guardian article explains more:

Legner studied maths at Cambridge university. He got the idea for Mathigon when volunteering for a maths outreach project with local schools. “I always meet kids (and adults) who “hate” mathematics, so I wanted to develop a platform where every student can enjoy learning mathematics – just like I did. Rather than simply memorising equations and procedures, I want students to be able to explore, discover and be creative.”

Needless to say, I've already created my own account to enable me to play around with the site. Please head over to Mathigon to see for yourself, and share with anyone you think could benefit from this rich and fascinating free resource.

Image credit: Screenshot of the website provided by Mathigon within the media kit.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Elena Cornaro Piscopia - The first woman to earn a PhD

Today's Google Doodle introduced me to Elena Piscopia, the first woman ever to be awarded a PhD, who was born on this day 373 years ago. Shamefully, I had not previously heard of this amazing female, who I now hold in my mind alongside the esteemed Leonardo da Vinci and Lewis Carroll as a polymath of exceptional talent.

As a young girl, Lady Elena (though born of unmarried parents) was seen as a child prodigy. She was born in the Palazzo Loredan, at Venice on 5 June 1646 during a time in history where it was frowned upon for women to receive an education. Luckily for Elena, her family took on board the advice of their priest friend, Giovanni Fabris, to be imparted a classical education.

Through her early years, she studied Greek and Latin under distinguished instructors, also learning French and Spanish by the age of seven. Once having mastered Hebrew and Arabic, she was given the title Oraculum Septilingue ("Seven-language Oracle"), and later expanded her studies to include mathematics, philosophy and theology.

In addition to these scholarly applications, Elena was an accomplished musician, demonstrated by her mastery of the harpsichord, the clavichord, the harp and the violin and her musical compositions. Through her late teens and early twenties she began to study physics, astronomy and linguistics, though it appears Elena's interest in philosophy and theology had become her most potent interest.

In 1669, Elena translated the Colloquy of Christ by Carthusian monk Lanspergius from Spanish into Italian, a volume which was issued in five editions in the Republic from 1669 to 1672 and earned her notoriety as a scholar of interest. Despite her accomplishments, Elena was denied a laurea (Italy's main post-secondary academic degree) in theology from the University of Padua on the grounds that she was a woman by Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo, the bishop of Padua. However, Barbarigo did allow her to study for a degree in philosophy.

Elena's examination for the Doctors in Philosophy degree should have been held in the University Hall of the University of Padua, but due to the multitude of spectators it was transferred to the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin. She awed and amazed her audience throughout a whole hour of speaking in Classical Latin, and completed to great plaudits, and received received the Doctor's Ring, the Teacher's Ermine cape, and the Poet's Laurel Crown.

Elena's graduation, memorialised at Vassar College in the Thompson Memorial Library

Following her graduation, it has been suggested that Elena took up teaching mathematics at the University of Padua, though she later took up the habit of a Benedictine Oblate (without formally becoming a nun). Sadly, this great lady suffered an untimely death at the hands of tuberculosis in 1684 at the age of 38.

Bennedetto Baccini published Elena's collected works in both Italian and Latin posthumously in 1688, which you can read free on Google Books.

I rather enjoyed reading and learning about Elena Cornaro, particularly as I've recently been searching for examples of female polymaths as inspiration for future posts. Please do let me know of any other notable women you feel I should research (and potentially write posts about) in the comments below.

Monday, 4 June 2018

My Favourite Free Online Learning Resources

It's a fabulous time to be a lifelong learner. In this digital age, we have a wealth of information right at our fingertips. We can learn anything, from how to tie our shoelaces to biblical Aramaic wherever in the world we may be.

As a lifelong learner, I yearn for resources beyond the epistemological. Specifically, my favourite resources have three requirements:

  1. A means to document learning, so I'm able to realise if I've mastered a subject or course
  2. Be freely available (or at least, be available within my tiny budget)
  3. Cover a range of subjects, to ensure I can branch out into other areas as impulse requirement dictate.
A few years ago, when I first began formal learning online, most of the MOOCs I encountered were free, and frequently certified. I was able to fill many gaps in my formal learning, from calculus to basic psychology and the fundamentals of physics, complete with a PDF certificate to satisfy my sense of pride. 

The rise in popularity of Massive Open Online Courses has attracted interest from some of the world's best educators and universities, though this also means, more often than not, that certification (and the recognition of having completed a course of learning) now comes with a cost. So rather than simply provide a list of online learning resources, I'm limiting this guide to only the ones I find most useful, and which meet my three requirements explained above.

iDEA (Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award)

Though relatively new, the iDEA website is among the best free learning resources I have encountered! Founded by The Duke of York, the Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award is a programme designed to help you develop digital, enterprise and employability skills. 

Badges are earned by completing challenges in five different areas: Citizen, Maker, Worker, Entrepreneur and Gamer. Once you've earned enough badges in each category, you'll be able to earn an award and certificate to demonstrate your competency.

Currently, only the Bronze (beginner level) award is available, though the Silver is scheduled to be released later this year followed by Gold in 2019.

Update: Currently both Bronze and Silver levels are available, Gold will become active later this year.

At any point, iDEA learners are able to download, print and share their achievements to date by means of the integrated Record of Achievement which can be verified by potential employers or learning institutions.

I really enjoy the variety of subjects available. Though all are loosely connected by the theme of "digital enterprise", learners can earn badges in such varied subjects as "Brain hacking", Farm Technology, Animation, Advertising and Game Design. Learners can receive recognition for subjects in which they have become independently competent, or choose to learn new skills to fill the gaps in their knowledge.

iDEA aspires to be the digital and enterprise equivalent of The Duke of Edinburgh Award. Judging by the quality and breadth of content available so far, I'm sure this venture will soon become as prestigious an award as it's "offline", character building brother-award.

Big History Project

Founded by entrepreneur and businessman Bill Gates, Big History Project is a "supercharged social studies curriculum". Covering 13.8 billion years of life on earth, the BHP curriculum takes students on a journey from the big bang, through early human civilisation and major societal changes, covering physics, geology, history, sociology and even elements of literature, language and psychology along the way.

There are several ways to access and benefit from BHP. The most basic level is a six-hour long curriculum, which could be completed in as little as one day. The chapters at this level include:

  • Threshold 1: The Big Bang   
    Beginning at the beginning. As far as we know.
  • Threshold 2: Stars light up   
    How stars are born
  • Threshold 3: New chemical elements   
    How stars forge elements in the universe
  • Threshold 4: The solar system   
    How tasty morsels of gas and rock created our home
  • Threshold 5: Life on earth   
    How life evolves, adapts and thrives
  • Threshold 6: Collective learning   
    How humans are different
  • Threshold 7: Agriculture   
    How farming sows the seeds of civilisation
  • Threshbold 8: The modern revolution   
    Why change accelerates faster and faster

Each chapter presents videos, reading material and activities to test your learning and earn badges. Students in the U.S. and Australia can receive a sticker upon completion of this curriculum.

For those seeking a more comprehensive curriculum, take a look at the BHP School Site for a year long plan. Educators across the world choose to deliver the BHP in schools and learning institutions; comprehensive resources are available for teachers as well as students, and all material provided by the site is completely free of charge.

I completed the basic curriculum some time ago and found it a highly interesting primer. Currently I'm working my way through the year long curriculum, using the resources found on the BHP website and complemented by my reading and resources elsewhere. 

Visit the Big History Project website to find out more.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a fascinating resource: a non-profit, international organisation which offers a comprehensive mathematics curriculum alongside learning modules in Computing, Science and Engineering, Arts and Humanities, Economics and Finance. A comprehensive World History curriculum is also available through the site.

Khan Academy is the brain-child of a single man: Salman Khan, a former hedge-fund analyst who began tutoring his cousins in mathematics back in 2008. As demand for his tutorials rose, he published videos on YouTube which gathered an international following. In 2009, Khan quit his job to focus on publishing his tutorials full time. Though a risky move, his dedication paid off: Khan Academy now employs over 150 educators and content creators to reach millions of students across the globe.

Learners on Khan Academy can track their progress across curriculum and adopts a badge system to monitor understanding, mastery and dedication to learning. In addition to independent learning, students can access material related to formal curriculum to assist with exam revision. Parents, mentors and educators can set up individual or class profiles for students to deliver personalised programs and track progress. It's a truly valuable and highly useful resource.

Visit the Khan Academy Website to learn more.

OpenLearn from The Open University

OpenLearn is a subsidiary of The Open University, which has enabled distance learners to study at degree level (and beyond) for over 50 years. This free education portal provides a massive selection of learning material across virtually all subjects. Students can find articles, videos, quizzes and - most importantly - free courses, which can earn a certificate of participation on completion.

Some longer courses allow students to earn a digital badge, which can be displayed on LinkedIn to demonstrate learning and competence in particular subjects.

There are three levels of courses, depending on how much prior learning is expected. Level 1 is for those new to a subject, Level 2 is "intermediate", delivered with the expectation of some prior knowledge. Level 3 courses are advanced, and can assist learners who may wish to progress to degree level learning.

Additionally, OpenLearn provides printed and digital materials which complement educational TV programmes, such as Blue Planet, Civilisations and Rome.

Although many of the Level 1 courses are quite basic, the huge variety enables us to dip in and explore subjects with no requirement of prior reading or experience. It is a valuable resource for lifelong learners who have interests in a range of subjects, and also offers opportunities for professional development.

Free Courses, Paid Certificates

The following resources are free online learning platforms, though most courses can only be fully accessed or certified by payment. I've accessed various courses from all of these sites, and have found them to offer good quality learning across a wide range of subjects:


Basic skill courses, specializations and online degrees are offered by Coursera. Most of the basic courses are offered for free, though to earn a certificate and have the ability to take tests, you will need to purchase the full course, which can range from $29-$99 USD.


Provides a huge range of short courses, programs and degrees in many different subjects, with partners from top universities (including Harvard, Berkerly and MIT).

Short course content is provided for free, though verified certificates are available for a fee. I particularly enjoyed the literature, philosophy and world history courses offered by EdX.


A MOOC platform owned and operated by The Open University, Future Learn is based in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, and offers university-level short courses and specialisations; while most are offered for free, a selection of "premium" courses require payment to access. Course certificates and premium content can be purchased from £39 GBP.

Bonus: University of the People

Although I have included UoP in this list, I do not have any prior experience of this platform. However, I feel very strongly that this amazing resource should be promoted to as many people as possible who may benefit from it.

The University of the People is the first higher education establishment to offer tuition-free learning. Learners the world over are able to study completely online towards a fully-accredited undergraduate degree, while paying the lowest rate possible to ensure accreditation ($60 USD for the application fee, $100 per course for undergraduate and $200 for masters degrees).

Fees are payable at the end of the course to allow students time to budget and save, while generous scholarship programs are available to ensure as wide a range of people possible are able to achieve their potential.

Find out more (or even enrol) by visiting the University of the People website.

What are your favourite free online learning resources?

Do you enjoy studying through a learning resource not listed here? Please feel free to share your favourite websites or apps by leaving a comment below.

Header image credit: Marco Verch, via Flickr.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

How I find and use free images for my blogs

Blogging is a form of media, in which great writing is enhanced by visual stimulation. Most bloggers use at least one image to draw attention to their post: the first glance at an article should convey a sense of what the writing presents, or at least a visual hook to draw the reader in.

But where can we source these images from? As content creators, we understand the value of our work and can empathise with others' need for income and validation. Established bloggers with a steady income stream find a plethora of images available at a cost from such worthy sources of quality as Getty Images and Adobe Stock. Those of us with less cash to splash must therefore find more creative means to illustrate our compositions while honouring our fellow creators by giving credit where it's due.

I have several reliable sources for aesthetically pleasing images which can be used at zero cost, and choose which to search first depending on the theme of my post or the design of a website. In this post, I'll highlight my favourite resources, along with some description of the needs to which they are best suited. is the resource I use when I need something "specific", for example, a dish to highlight a recipe post on Glamumous (since I'm really not to good at photography!) or a stock photo for a client's business website.

As the title suggests, this resource does indeed publish "free" images, which are usually available to use commercially. Many images do not require any credit or acknowledgement to the photographer, though it is very important to check the image license on the page of the photograph you want to download: some artists require notification about their image being used, or require credit.

The image above, for example, is by the artist Alin Nan,who requires no credit or notification of his photographs being used, though I have done so anyway in order to acknowledge the beautiful composition he's shared.

I believe most of the artists whose work is offered for free on share their photography in order to build their portfolio and status. The website does also showcase paid stock images from the partner site iStockPhoto to generate revenue.

Flickr Creative Commons 

Image credit: Osamu Kaneko, via Flickr
Flickr's Creative Commons pool is my resource choice for images which evoke a "mood" as opposed to photographs for a specific illustration. I frequently use Flickr CC images to illustrate articles on Glamumous (a parenting/lifestyle blog) or to complement longer articles on my book blogging site.

The method I use has been tried and tested by bloggers all over the world:
  1. Go to the Flickr homepage and type a relevant word or two into the search bar.
  2. Limit the results to photographs in the "Creative Commons" pool
  3. Select "Interesting" as a means of ordering the results
  4. Scroll through to find the image which is a perfect fit for your blog post or design.
All Creative Commons images on Flickr require that you credit the artist. (Unless you want to get technical and throw Public Domain Dedication (CC0) into the mix, but even when this is offered, crediting the artist is still a kind gesture of thanks for the use of their work). 

I prefer to do this by naming the artist, along with a link to their Flickr profile or the photo page. Often this is in the form of a caption, as in the image above, though when the photo is used to headline my articles, I provide credit at the end of the article so as not to interfere with summaries in feeds, search results and social media previews (see below for an example). 

Be aware of licence limitations! Particularly if you benefit financially from your use of the image. Even publishing ads on the blog where an image is used can count as "commercial use". You should also take care if you intend to edit the image in any way, which would fall foul of the Creative Commons No Derivatives restriction. Pay careful attention to the licence descriptions outlined on this page, and if in doubt, leave it out!

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons is my favoured resource for very particular images, usually of historical value or for a particular educational concept. Virtually all of the images used for daily posts on Harvard Classics 365 (and the accompanying eBook) were sourced from Wikimedia.

Most images on Wikimedia are in the public domain, usually since their copyright has expired (though generous artists and content creators frequently upload content for their educational or illustrative value).

While it's possible to search for images directly from the Wikimedia Commons website, I personally find it a little clunky to navigate. More often, I search Wikipedia for an appropriate page and scan through the images to see which (if any) are hosted by Wikimedia using a licence I can work with.

As when using Flickr to source images, it's important to take note of the licence under which the image you need is available. Not all content is Public Domain: some are published under Creative Commons licenses, and a select few are fully copyrighted, so be sure to check the details on the dedicated image page before reusing.

For your information, the map above is a Celestial map from 1670, by the Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit, available in the public domain. You can download a high resolution version from this page if you admire it as much as I do.


Rijksstudio publishes digital images and photographs of works of art contained in Holland's Rijksmuseum. It's a treasure trove of dutch art, all provided for free re-use under the public domain. Better still, online tools allow you to make selections of images to save in a personalised collection, download or order prints.

Rijksstudio is one of several museums and galleries around the world to provide digitised images of their art. Others include The National Gallery, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Tate Modern.

Mostly I use these public domain works as design elements, such as within the slides on the home page of my site, though it's entirely possible I'll find use for some beautiful piece or other to illustrate the content of an interesting blog post...

What are your favourite free image resources?

I'd love to learn of other useful resource sites for images to use on my sites. Please feel free to share your favourite resources in the comments section below.

Credit: Header image by Chiara Cremaschi, via Flickr.

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