Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 49. FutureLearn

Monday, April 15th, 2019


In 2013 FutureLearn,  a private company wholly owned by The Open University, launched its first courses. This Massive Open Online Course social learning platform connects the OU to many universities in the UK and elsewhere and to institutions including the British Council, the British Library, the British Museum, and the National Film and Television School. FutureLearn also works with professional bodies including the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and Marks & Spencer. Learners can study and earn credits towards a degree from a UK university.

 

Starting with the University of East Anglia’s ‘The secret power of brands’ FutureLearn has offered courses in science, history, programming and dentistry and hundreds of other topics. It has recently started to deliver digital skills programmes as part of the Institute of Coding, a consortium of universities, employers and outreach organisations seeking to build digital talent at degree level and above. It includes ‘The IoC guide to kick-starting your career with 21C skills’ from the University of Leeds.


The first OU postgraduate qualification to be offered on FutureLearn, the PG Certificate in Open and Distance Education went live in February 2019. Students can study a free fortnight-long taster and then click through to further programs which can lead to a Certificate, a Diploma or a Masters qualification. The module H880, provides hands-on experience of a range of learning technologies. Students can explore the processes of designing, implementing and critiquing elearning and the ideas that underpin these processes.


This company does not subscribe to the OU’s statement of being open to people, places methods and ideas. Rather, ‘FutureLearn’s purpose is to transform access to education’. The company promises to ‘strive to transform education and change our learners’ lives, our partners’ businesses and the world in the process’. While the OU offers degrees, FutureLearn offers to ‘make online learning enjoyable for our learners and our partners alike’.


In addition to co-ordinating the activities of universities, specialist institutions and centres of excellence the OU is central to the FutureLearn Academic Network  a network of universities and other partners. FLAN members share their research into the design, analysis and evaluation of massive open online courses. .Activities include analysis of learning to inform design of courses, design of innovative approaches to informal open learning, different approaches to evaluation of learning effectiveness at scale and the publication of research. FLAN also holds conferences and supports new researchers.

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 32. Video recordings.

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

The OU achieved national, indeed international, fame through its use of television for teaching purposes. However, it was teaching so much that the time allocated to OU broadcasts soon became inadequate. The BBC wanted to broadcast a range of materials. As noted under Object No 31, the number of television transmission slots available to the OU did not grow at the same rate as the number of OU broadcasts. By 1978  about 20 per cent of OU television broadcasts had only one transmission. The percentage of students watching the broadcasts fell and the OU’s Video-Cassette Loan Service was introduced in 1982. As only about 8 per cent of OU students had a VHS player at home, machines were distributed to the regions. OU study centres began to be stocked with collections of videos and replay machines. In 1981 students could attend centres in order to use Europe’s first ‘interactive videodisc’.

Soon the technology spread. By 1986 60 per cent of OU undergraduates had a video player in their homes. Britain had the highest ownership of video-cassette recorders in Europe, and OU students’ access to such technology was ‘well above the national rate’. A survey found that only 14 per cent of OU under- graduates could not arrange access to a machine. In 1992, 90 per cent of OU students surveyed had a VCR and 80 per cent of them recorded OU programmes. From 1993, instead of mailing video-cassettes to students, the OU arranged for the night-time broadcast of programmes for students to record.  Video-cassettes liberated students from a fixed viewing schedule. OU Professor John Sparkes argued that ‘it was a mistake to try to teach conceptually difficult material by broadcast TV. It goes too fast and cannot be slowed down to allow for thinking time.’ Using video, students could skim, pause, rewind, fast forward and search. They could integrate reflection on of other teaching media. By contrast, a third of students who watched television material focused on the details and failed to draw out the general principles.  For courses with fewer than 650 students each year it was cheaper for the OU to distribute returnable video-cassettes than to broadcast the material. he OU had its own purpose-built television studio complex at Walton Hall. This enabled it to produce a video which generated three-dimensional images of the brain for the Biology: brain and behaviour course. The OU began to produce course-specific, non-broadcast materials (for group viewing at residential schools, for example).

OU videos, unlike broadcasts, were designed for students not general viewers and could be and replayed by the students. The OU considered how best to use the equipment. Research was carried out at the OU into the effectiveness of teaching by non-academic organisations, such as British Telecom (which used interactive video to train managers dispersed throughout the UK) and Price Waterhouse (which used a videodisc-based training programme to acquaint employees with potential computer security risks). An ‘Alternatives to print for visually impaired students: feasibility project report’ was produced for The Mercers’ Company and Clothworkers’ Foundation. A team from IET worked with Rank Xerox EuroPARC in order to design effective computer-based support for collaborative learning where people were located at different physical sites and connected via various forms of technology.

The OU made a number of videos as part of its Continuing Education activities. A video for Talking with young people, P525, included forty- three sequences. Students were invited to watch in groups and consider their reactions. The constraints inherent in a 23-minute broadcast slot did not apply to a video-cassette with a number of independent sections of varying lengths. For Social psychology, D307 (1985–95), students were invited to analyse a drama by referring to letters in the corner of the screen and a grid provided in the video notes. The presenter explained:

watch the excerpt straight through first time, even if you can’t get it all down in your notes, you’ll have a chance to replay this section of the tape later on. Doing this analysis in real time will be good practice for when you do your own observation.39

Similarly, the, video associated with Matter in the universe, S256 (1985–92), included the instruction that viewers should watch it more than once and that they should address questions related to the numbers in the corner of the screen. For Engineering mechanics: Solids and fluids, T331, 1985–2004, students were expected to measure the time period of an oscillating pendulum, and then stop the tape and apply the data to an equation. The impersonal broadcast to an infinite crowd had been adapted to enable personal use by members of the OU’s student body.

By the 1990s for Studying family and community history: 19th and 20th centuries, DA301 (1994–2001), students were encouraged to develop their transferable skills by making audio and video recordings.

50 objects for 50 years. No 26. The Computers and Learning Research Group.

Monday, October 15th, 2018

This week’s object is a Group which is marking its 4oth birthday this week.

A key activity within The Open University, as in other universities, is the generation of knowledge through research. The OU’s specialist areas include, of course, learning at a distance and open learning.

Teaching and learning are central to both these subjects. They’re supported by the use of technology – from television and radio to the Internet and virtual reality. The OU is therefore ideally placed to investigate what new technologies have to offer learners other than novelty value.

For the past forty years, the Computers and Learning research group (CALRG), based in the Institute of Educational Technology, has been linking this research and development work across the University, communicating ideas, and bringing people together. This collective effort has been linked by the group’s visions of a future when:

  • Learning is accessible for everyone.
  • Teaching is adapted to meet learners’ needs.
  • Teams can successfully teach any number of students at a distance
  • Learners engage enthusiastically with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) learning.

The OU Archives contain hundreds of resources generated by the group: abstracts from the annual conferences it has run since its foundation, videos of keynote speeches, research reviews, and research reports.

The group currently meets on a Thursday four times a month. First Thursdays are research seminars with a mixture of internal and external speakers. On second Thursdays, the group discusses how best to communicate research – not only to an academic audience but also the wider world through broadcast and social media. The third meeting of the month is an opportunity to share research with each other, and the final meeting offers a chance for general discussion over coffee and cake.

CALRG provides an opportunity to make and strengthen connections. Connections between senior and junior staff  and research students, connections between departments, and connections between academic and non-academic staff. Where possible, meetings and conferences are recorded or live-streamed, so they can be accessed by regional staff, associate lecturers, and part-time EdD students.

This week, there’s a chance to join CALRG in celebrating 40 years of research. The event on campus in the Berrill lecture theatre is already fully booked. Here, you can sign up to join online on Friday 19 October 9am-5pm. Speakers include CALRG founders Regius Professor Eileen Scanlon and Sir Tim O’Shea, Cambridge emeritus professor Neil Mercer and UCL professor Diana Laurillard, as well as some of the group’s leading current researchers.

This posting was contributed by Rebecca Ferguson. If you would like to contribute, get in touch.

50 objects for 50 years. No 25. The Family and Community Historical Research Society

Monday, October 8th, 2018

This week’s object is a society, the Family and Community Historical Research Society, FACHRS. Founded by OU staff and students in 1998 it has carried out collective research projects and provided members with newsletters, conferences, an internet shop, seminars, workshops, publications and CDs and a bi, later tri-annual, award-winning Journal. Its membership, largely consists of independent, that is not affiliated to universities, graduates. FACHRS’ approach has been significantly influenced by approaches to teaching and learning, particularly of history, developed at the Open University. The university’s role has been as both a producer of knowledge and as a node within a network of cultural production. Rather than assuming that the flow of knowledge was only from the institution and positioning alumni as an income stream devoid of creativity there have been mutual benefits created through the development of a network of knowledge transfer. FACHRS has been built on the ideas and activities of individuals informed by a specific module at the Open University, DA301, Studying family and community history19th and 20th centuries.

DA301 played a significant role in fostering the notion of a collective construction of knowledge. This was done by helping FACHRS members to build a sense of confidence, by foregrounding the relationship between learning and social connections and by offering realistic objectives and opportunities to share ideas and learn new skills. Two of the DA301 authors and a later DA301 team member founded and edited an associated journal, Family and Community History. One of them, Michael Drake, maintained close links to FACHRS. He had previously argued that the Cambridge Group employed a generation of enthusiastic ‘intellectual hod carriers’ but that the Project was, nevertheless, a useful model for FACHRS. Having worked with the Project and himself studied half-a-million baptism, marriage and burial records from Morley Wapentake, Yorkshire, he was able to offer his experiences of how to deal with large amounts of data. The data was stored on parish registers most of them still in churches. Access to each had to be negotiated with a different vicar. He devised a system for dealing with all this data which included persuading his wife, sister and parents to help out. This experience of a division of labour and collective, but not always equal, engagement, informed the making of DA301 and the Society. Drake, then Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, had also been central to the collation of a series of readings for D301. He made clear in his that these were ‘explorations of the past undertaken for the explicit purpose of advancing social scientific enquiry’. The module concentrated on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, periods for which there was a large amount of data, such as census material, to manipulate using social scientific methods. He wanted to focus on the lives of ordinary people but to also be clearly structured and consistent.

The longevity of FACHRS is related to its ability to act as a catalyst for learning and cognitive change. It has been where learners could teach and learn with one another and control their own learning. Just as apprentices begin learning by engaging in simple tasks and then progress towards more demanding tasks, so these communities offer opportunities to learning as part of their learning. Membership did not require people to amass transferrable knowledge. They could, as learners, ask questions, listen to the answers given to others and teach others. Members’ narratives demonstrate that they understood their formal experiences could be the basis for the creation of their own spaces for further learning.

FACHRS has also been influenced by the Open University’s methods and ideas and by wider intellectual and social developments which enabled graduates without formal post-graduate training in research skills to research, share skills and develop their own agenda. When the Society was created initially it had regional groups based on the areas of the UK covered by the 13 OU regions and nations. The East Midlands organised a conference on ‘Hosiery Past and Present’ and followed up with one on oral history. In the South-East Network Simon Fowler established a collaborative research project ‘Changes in public houses during the centuries’ which linked to the 2001 conference theme, ‘Beer and Skittles’. There was also a talk on CLUTCH, a Millennium Award scheme run in conjunction with the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University. About 315 people worked in 60 local groups to gain computing skills via history projects. However, most of the regions were too large for meetings to be easily arranged and soon the society changed its strategy and focused on particular themes, rather than particular areas.

In 2000 Peter Wardley, of the University of the West of England, gave a paper to the FACHRS annual conference about his efforts to trace the spontaneous replacement of Roman numerals by Hindu-Arabic ones on probate inventories between about 1540 and 1700. He had devised an eight-point taxonomy for the collation of this data and sought help from people in a variety of locations so that the spread could be mapped. A collaborative project was launched by FACHRS. The Society’s subsequent reports on probate inventories and relevant contemporary documents demonstrated that geographically dispersed independent researchers could co-operate and that technology could be used for the educational dissemination and collation. Wardley’s hypothesis, regarding the spontaneous use of a different way of calculating and recording monetary values, was bolstered. FACHRS Chair Clive Leivers described the project as ‘a great success in its intrinsic content and demonstration of what the society should be about’.

The first FACHRS project to result in a book under the banner of FACHRS Publications was Swing Unmasked: the agricultural riots of I830 to I832 and their wider implications. In 2000 Essex local history tutor Michael Holland initiated the project with FACHRS member Jacqueline Cooper and later Stella Evans as the co-ordinators. This was a project not run by a university-based academic but there was academic involvement. Forty FACHRS members provided data and in Shropshire a local history tutor got his certificate students working on it as a class project. The Society also produced a CD with the database of known incidents. This attempt to record the extent of the unrest on a national basis found over 3,000 incidents, 53% more than Hobsbawm and Rude’s 1969 list. Moreover, FACHRS found incidents in 43 English counties and in Wales and Scotland. The Society called into question the original geographical spread and time frame of the events. The original study, by historians Eric Hobsbawm and George Rude, claimed this was a labourers’ movement. FACHRS repositioned the events as a series of localised struggles.

Many of the Swing rioters who were caught and put on trial were transported and 17 FACHRS members worked on a project about nineteen-century pauper emigrants. This was run by Stella Evans as Project Co-ordinator and although there was an Academic Advisor, Simon Fowler who then worked at The National Archives. He was on tap, not on top. Those involved in this project received a reading list, websites and other information. For a project on allotments, contributors met academic advisor Jeremy Burchardt of the University of Reading. This resulted in Jeremy Burchardt and Jacqueline Cooper (eds.) Breaking new ground. Nineteenth century allotments from local sources, Family & Community Historical Research Society, 2010. A companion to the book was a CD containing a database of over 3,000 allotment sites and nearly 1,000 allotment tenants. Clive Leivers, the first Chair of FACHRS, was clear that FACHRS was in charge of the ‘academic adviser’. He added, ‘we have managed to provide a way in which we can encourage and advise people in research’. The possibility of a correlation between Swing riots and allotment provision was one of the topics covered in Breaking New Ground: Nineteenth Century Allotments through Local Sources, edited by Burchardt and FACHRS member Jacqueline Cooper. Funded by two grants, one for research and another for the publication it relied heavily on members’ research. Material was considered which it would have taken an individual researcher, decades to locate and assess.

Since then there have been numerous projects and mini-projects, collecting, collating interpreting historical data. FACHRS is not the only society formed by former OU students who want to develop that which they leant on a specific module. It is one of several examples of how the boundary between knowledge accumulated for summative assessment and informal learning is porous, how higher education has much to learn from its alumni and how the OU’s impact has reached far beyond formal education and the awards ceremony.

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 24. The Ed Techie blog.

Monday, October 1st, 2018

This week’s object is, like many of the OU’s objects, online. It reminds us that the OU does not only teach students, it also engages in research and encourages dialogue about learning and teaching.

Professor Martin Weller started to record his ideas using a blog http://blog.edtechie.net/ back in 2006 and since that time the Ed Techie has been amusing and informing his readers with ideas, reviews and personal information. The Ed Techie sees himself as having been ‘a sensitive teenager in the Thatcher years’ and being ‘stupidly loyal to the OU’. He chaired the first major elearning course at the Open University, with around 15,000 students annually and has contributed a series of postings about a quarter of a century of educational technology http://blog.edtechie.net/category/25yearsedtech/

The issues that the blog addresses are about how best to support part-time, adult learners, so that they can become critical thinkers, can develop skills in groupwork, communication, reflection and, to use one of the latest buzzwords, can improve their employability.

The blog unites readers around discussions that are central to the OU. Many of the OU’s academic staff are physically separated from one another. There are OU offices in the capital cities of the four nations of the UK and some academics are designated a homeworkers. There are many others whose designated workplace is Milton Keynes but whose homes are many miles away. As the OU’s Foundation Chancellor noted, when accepting the Royal Charter in 1969, ‘Milton Keynes ‘is only where the tip of our toe touches ground; the rest of the University will be disembodied and airborne. From the start it will flow all over the United Kingdom.’ The blog captures that sense of a university which flows. It is here that what is understood by Openness at the Open University is assessed, the idea that education is broken is debunked, the notion that education is a system designed for the industrial age and unfit for the post-industrial society, is considered.

Perhaps because he offers a mix of the personal, the crowdsourced, the erudite and the witty, that Weller’s online profile is so high. This blog feels like the first place to go to find links to data about whether students who form social bonds are more likely to complete their studies that the socially isolated. Is retention lower for online-only modules than on more traditionally-delivered modules? In a world of abundant content and networked learners what are the merits of constructivism, problem-based learning, resource-based learning? How can we learn from ideas about rhizomatic learning? What have been the best ways to motivate oneself to get out and do some running?

There are other blogs available which might have been used to illustrate how the OU is open 24/7 and that engagement is not restricted to those employed at the institution. This blog indicates how, in both form and content, the online dialogue, the linking a range of ideas regarding support for learning, reflects upon and is determined by, the shifting community of scholars who form part of the body of the Open University.

 

 

50 objects for 50 years: No 12. Beagle 2 – looking for life, saving lives

Monday, July 9th, 2018

BBC image of there dustbin-lid-sized Beagle 2

The OU’s Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, PSSRI, is the largest planetary sciences group in the UK. A founder member was Colin Pillinger, CBE FRS FRAS FRGS (1943-2014) who joined the OU in 1984. The Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute was where the Gas Analysis Package was developed. The package was a miniaturized version of the instruments used in the laboratory to analyse meteorites. It was designed to determine whether conditions were ever conducive to life on Mars.

In 2003 Professor Pillinger led a project, in collaboration with the University of Leicester, to build a craft, Beagle 2 which could be transported by the European Space Agency’s Mars Expressmission and then launched towards the surface of Mars. In the television series ‘Life on Mars’(first broadcast 2006–07) the time-travelling central character’s understanding of his situation was significantly improved through a late- night OU-style television programme which offered highly relevant knowledge. This rather tenuous connection of the OU to Mars was eclipsed by Pillinger’s efforts to work with the media. Pillinger ‘captured the imagination of the British public’ as Tim Radford noted. Beagle helped to popularise exploration by involving artists. Blur wrote a song to be used as a call sign and Damien Hurst provided a spot painting to be used to calibrate the craft’s camera. ‘Want more children to study science? Look to Colin Pillinger for inspiration’ as one headline put it. Pillinger himself appeared on a number of popular television programmes and in the press to explain his work.

Beagle 2 got to Mars but then suffered a failure which meant that it could not send data to earth. However, within a few months of the demise of Beagle 2, Pillinger was arguing for a Beagle 3. Pillinger also played a role in the Philae lander which, after his death in 2014, was used to conduct gas chromotograph mass spectrometer experiments on Comet 67P Churyumov/Gerasimenko.

During a period when cases of TB were rising to about two million fatal cases a year, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, diagnosis relied mainly on the use of smear microscopy of sputum samples, a very labour-intensive process with low sensitivity. This was expensive and slow. Working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and funded by the Wellcome Trust, the OU developed that the OU’s gas chromatograph–mass spectrometer, based on the research carried out for Mars, so that it could accurately detect TB bacteria in a lung. Tuberculosis requires rapid diagnosis to prevent further transmission and allow prompt administration of treatment. The use of  gas chromatography- electron impact mass spectrometry provided an alternative solution.

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 1. The Royal Charter

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Today 23 April 2018, is the anniversary of the granting of a Royal Charter to the Open University. A year hence it will be the 50thanniversary of the Open University. To mark that half century, we will be writing about 50 objects which have made the OU. You are invited to make proposals for your favourites. Maybe it was the first parcel you received with OU materials or the gown you wore to your OU graduation. Perhaps it was the coffee that your partner brought you at midnight as you struggled to complete a TMA.

 

This week the object is the Royal Charter. Written by the OU’s Planning Committee it provided the OU with a bulwark of respectability against its detractors andunified the OU into a single legal entity. It unites learners and staff, indicates that this is an institution of quality and it frames how we address, construct and bolster communities. It reminds us of how the OU has united strangers and supported co-operation between learners.

 

Higher Education institutions do not require Charters in order to confer degrees or to operate. Many have not got Charters and some were only granted Charters after they opened. The University of Essex admitted its first students in 1964 and was granted a Royal Charter in 1965. The University of Keele was founded in 1949 and only received its Charter in 1962. The BBC has a Charter, but it has to be renewed every decade. The incorporation by a Royal Charter (alterable onlyby the agreement of The Queen in Council) gave considerable status to the OU when it was an institution without any students, which was to be based in many sites, which was of unproven popularity with the electorate and which was distained by many MPs. The OU’S Royal Charter proclaims respectability, community, outreach.

 

Although it was not clear in 1963, when Harold Wilson called for a university of the air, that there would be a new university with its own charter, the idea gained ground as Wilson’s rough notes were expanded and the OU was planned. One reason for a Charter might have been to prevent the Open University’s enemies closing it down when the Labour government lost power, as it did a few months after the Charter was granted. William van Straubenzee, the Conservative junior minister for higher education in the 1970–74 government, was reported as saying of the OU ‘I would have slit its throat if I could’. He blamed the outgoing Labour education minister Ted Short for some ‘nifty, last-moment work with the charter that made the OU unkillable’.

 

On 23 April 1969, two days after a human first walked on the moon, the Royal Charter of The Open University was granted. The Charter stated that ‘the objects of the University shall be the advancement and dissemination of learning and knowledge by teaching and research by a diversity of means such as broadcasting and technological devices appropriate to higher education, by correspondence, tuition, residential courses and seminars and in other relevant ways’.

 

The OU’s Charter was based on that of Warwick University, opened in 1965. In its emphasis on openness, the OU echoed the motto of another new university, Lancaster (opened 1964): Patet omnibus veritas (Truth lies open to all). The first stated objective about the need to advance and disseminate learning and knowledge, was similar to statements in the charters of other universities of the 1960s. York’s focus was on enabling ‘students to obtain the advantages of University education’; Lancaster wanted to use the ‘influence of its corporate life’; and the University of Warwick has almost identical wording to these two.

 

The OU’s Charter contained an additional objective: ‘to promote the educational well-being of the community generally’. It was this obligation to the wider community that led to the development in the 1970s of the ‘Continuing Education’ programme with courses such as P911 ‘The first years of life’ and P912 ‘the pre-school child’.It is this same obligation within the charter that informs continued University collaboration with the BBC on current popular programmes such as Child of our time, Coast and Civilisations.

 

The Charter set out the regulation of the university. There would be a Council, ‘the executive governing body of the university’, a Senate and a non-executive general assembly, ‘the organ through which the feeling of a corporate institution would be generated’. The university also had its own regional organisation. At first it was It was intended that the General Assembly, representative of both students and staff, would elect representatives to the Council and Senate through regional assemblies. Changes to the Charter have been suggested. These are difficult to make and have led to lively debates.

 

The Charter did not grant the OU autonomy, the university’s finances were subject of close government scrutiny from the beginning. It was forbidden to carry over income from one year to another unless the expenditure was for the development of teaching materials. The OU could not accumulate reserves, nor own property against which it could borrow money and it was subject to annual review.

 

The Charter obliged the university ‘to make provision for research’. However, when the OU sought to make provision for postgraduates it was derided by Rhodes Boyson, a head teacher who was to become a Conservative MP in 1974. He argued that the OU only wanted to do this ‘because it expects that no one will accept its degrees as worthy of postgraduate extension’. Despite the difficulties and scepticism, research played an important role at the OU from the beginning. Steven Rose, the OU’s first professor of biology, established the Brain Research Group which was importance in the development of the new field of neuroscience. He recalled that, when offered a post at the OU ‘made it very clear at the start that I wouldn’t go unless there were research facilities … this was going to be a university like any other university’. He received funding from the Medical Research Council, ‘so from the very beginning … we’d actually got research going’. The OU awarded its first PhD in 1972.

 

Since the first Charter the OU has launched its own Student Charter.

 

What have we learnt?: Scholarship of engagement

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

One of the outcomes of the What Have We Learnt? Event is that we have decided to build stronger links between researchers interested in how universities create and maintain communities. This interest connects to the interests of others at the OU and across the UK.

Paul Manners is the director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement. The Centre was set up in 2008 in recognition of a looming crisis in public trust and understanding of higher education. The THES of 24th November 2011 quotes Paul as saying that it is

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Society for Research into Higher Education

Monday, October 10th, 2011

 The Society for Research into Higher Education is a UK-based international learned society concerned to advance understanding of higher education, especially through the insights, perspectives and knowledge offered by systematic research and scholarship. The Society aims to be the leading international society in the field, as to both the support and the dissemination of research. 

Higher Education Close-Up  is a virtual network for in-depth research into higher education. It aims to provide a forum for discussion about, and the enhancement of, this kind of research through a JISCMAIL discussion list. You can find this list at:
http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/HIGHER-EDUCATION-CLOSE-UP.html

http://www.srhe.ac.uk/networks.hecn.asp

A307 drama: from the complexities of Oedipus to Balcony baloney

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

That a drama can reflect and illuminate the period in which it is produced and the pedagogy of the OU can be seen through an examination of the 1977 BBC/OU production of Oedipus the King for A307.

The seventies were a time when nostalgia became marketed with large sales of Small is Beautiful (1973) and The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (1977). In The heritage industry: Britain in a climate of decline (Methuen, London, 1987) Hewison claimed that half of Britain’s museums had been founded since 1971. It was also a period when, to some, it appeared as if the state and society were under threat. In 1976 the government was forced to request a$3.9 billion loan (the largest ever made by that institution) from the IMF. The titles of some of the books published in the period reflect a sense of disruption: Is Britain Dying?, Britain against itself (two American studies), Britain’s Economic Problem, The Breakup of Britain, Policing the Crisis, The End of Britain. There was another perceived threat as well. Men’s status appeared to be undermined by equal opportunities legislation (notably the Equal Pay Act 1970) and more women were attending universities. Perhaps this is why the theme of the inevitability of male entrapment was a source of humour within popular situation comedies of the period including The Likely Lads and Rising Damp. In another tale of men fated to struggle, Steptoe and Son (a sixties TV series revived between 1970 and 1974) although Albert had a far larger role that Laius and there was no Jocasta in Oil Drum Lane and Harold Steptoe did not actually kill his father Albert, he did threaten him in many episodes. On the stages of the UK there was a rise in radical theatre. Both Gay Sweatshop  and Monstrous Regiment were formed in 1975. Perhaps more directly related to the original tale, challenging interpretations of classic plays were being promoted, such as Dennis Potter’s critique of suburban life Schmoedipus which was broadcast as a ‘Play for Today’ in 1974 and repeated by the BBC in 1975. (more…)