Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 38. The annual Innovating Pedagogy reports.

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Naomi Sargant (later Lady McIntosh) studied sociology, worked within market research and was an associate of Michael Young on the National Consumer Council. She joined the OU in 1970, becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Affairs; 1974–78) and a Professor of Applied Social Research. Through sample surveys and interview she brought the disciplines of marketing to education before anybody else did. Since that period the Institute of Educational Technology, which she helped to establish in 1970, has become a leading European research institute in the field of innovative education. It operates alongside teaching and strategic work at the OU and provides support for doctoral students as well as running a Masters in Online and Distance Education.

The impact of IET’s research has been far-reaching, leading to improvements in practice and policy. Its research on using mobile technology to enhance education, resulted in institutional and national policymakers signing formal declarations committing to the development of mobile learning across Europe. Its research also lies behind the OpenLearn website – now accessed by over 22 million visitors. It also works in the fields of Learning Design and Learning Analytics and its contributions for almost 50 years have led to worldwide recognition and considerable funding from a wide range of sources

Since 2012 colleagues within IET have produced annual reports outlining recent relevant educational developments. The 7th annual Innovating Pedgogy, the 2019 edition, echoes its predecessors in providing information about newforms of teaching, learning and assessment. The report proposes ten innovations that are already in currency and have the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice. These are

Playful learning

Learning with robots

Decolonising learning

Drone-based learning

Learning through wonder

Action learning

Virtual studios

Place-based learning

Making thinking visible

Roots of empathy

Social and emotional learning

 

 

This guide to teachers and policy makers interested in making the most of interactivity reflects the values of the Open University.

1. There is collaboration. The OU worked with the Centre for the Science of Learning & Technology (SLATE), University of Bergen, Norway.

2. There is co-operation. The authors include

Innovative pedagogy in the Legacy Garden, Walton Hall campus

Rebecca Ferguson,

Tim Coughlan,

Kjetil Egelandsdal,

Mark Gaved,

Christothea Herodotou,

Garron Hillaire,

Derek Jones,

Iestyn Jowers,

Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Patrick McAndrew,

Kamila Misiejuk, Ingunn Johanna Ness,

Bart Rienties, Eileen Scanlon,

Mike Sharples, Barbara Wasson,

Martin Weller, Denise Whitelock

 

3. There is openness. The material is openly available on the web. Permission is granted under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this report freely, provided that attribution is made.

 

4. There are international links. There are versions in Chinese, Hebrew and Korean.

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 37. Conferencing software.

Monday, December 31st, 2018

 

The use of technology to promote co-operative and collaborative learning goes back to the earliest days of the OU. Despite initial complaints from the GPO, which ran the UK telephone system at the time, since 1973 telephones were used to support the physically isolated, the itinerant, the housebound and the shiftworkers who were often unable to attend tutorials. Expert strategies were developed and a pack produced. Advice was offered to tutors about encouraging students to gather around a loudspeaker telephone for self-help activity ‘with the added bonus of you taking part from a distance – like an academic Cheshire cat’. Soon audio conferencing, which could involve up to eight people on telephones in different locations, was  employed as were faxes, personalised audio-cassette messages and video-conferencing.

In 1988 the OU introduced courses which required students to have access to a desktop computer. It presented Information technology: Social and technological issues, DT200, (1988–94). This used computer conferencing. By 1990 about 2,000 students were using CoSy to communicate with tutors and with other students. Programming and programming languages, M353 (1986–99) required a home computing facility, while Matter in the universe, S256 (1985–92) provided computer assisted learning for home computers and employed interactive videotape. Students were given opportunities to buy or rent computers. In 1995 twenty courses, with a total of almost 21,000 students, required undergraduates to have access to an MS-DOS machine. Conferencing enabled students to select a time which was convenient to them to respond. This did not offer the immediacy of quick-fire debate but it did provide opportunities for reflective dialogue. The large-scale use of this facility on Information technology, DT200, helped to shift the focus within the OU away from the individual learner towards consideration of how best to support social interaction. Individual students were encouraged to construct personal meaning and to contribute to their own learning and that of others through online discussion.


Information technology: Social & technological issues, DT200 (1988–94) introduced many students to computer conferencing with this electronic map of a virtual campus.

 

A new text-based conferencing system was developed. In 1994 FirstClass was provided for undergraduate courses following successful trials of the collaborative learning activities that it supported. It was considered to be much more intuitive a system than CoSy and within a year 5,000 students were conferencing. By 1996 there were 13,000 and soon 50,000. Initially the conferencing facility was used for interactions previously carried out by phone or letter. Tutors offered advice and responded to requests via FirstClass. The house-bound and those overseas began to exchange ideas with other students, particularly if conferencing was structured and linked to assessment. The university began to devise guidance for tutors on conference moderation and ideas about conferencing were further developed for an online course You, your computer and the net, T171 (1999–2005), which enrolled around 10,000 students in its first year and had 12,500 students by 2000. In addition to access to an extensive website students received a CD-ROM of software and set texts.

As new ways of providing interactive and individualised support for learners became possible so the importance of maintaining face-to-face contact declined. The OU study centre had begun life as ‘a “Listening and Viewing Centre” with the express purpose of providing access to VHF radio and BBC2’. Used for counselling and other purposes, many initially cost little to rent. The increased use of home video players and desktop computing cast some doubt on the value of study centres.


Typical FirstClass screen, 1996

On Discovering science, S103, computer-mediated communication was optional for students but a requirement for ALs. They used FirstClass to access a national conference at least once a week and they could also exchange messages using conferences designed for the localities in which they were based. ALs were provided with guidance as to how to teach in the interactive seminars and offered practical advice which reflected the ethos of OU teaching practices. It was suggested, for example, that they ‘adopt an informal, friendly tone. Start a message with a greeting such as “Hello” … avoid the more formal “Dear Chris”.’ In addition, they were told that ‘CMC is a medium devoid of warmth and you need to compensate for this’.

Learning was integrated with practice and students were required to submit their work electronically. They communicated not only with the central computing facility but also with one another and their tutors. Groups of about fifteen worked collaboratively on projects in their own tutor-moderated conferences. Reflection was integral to the assessment. Students were required to provide evidence of participation in online discussions. The intention was to use the new delivery modes to ensure that the OU’s environment remained congenial and supportive of the creation of knowledge by learners.

Online conferencing enabled data to be recorded for later analysis of how students learn and which were the most effective teaching strategies. Illustrations from Morris, R.M., Mitchell, N. & Bell, M. Student Use of Computer Mediated Communication in an Open University Level 1 Course: Academic or Social? Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 99, 2, 1999.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students studying ‘Environmental practice: Negotiating policy in a global society’, D833, used conferencing software Lyceum to represent different specific countries attending a virtual United Nations. They were given the problem of constructing a shared agreement through virtual UN negotiations. Negotiation was presented as an interactive dynamic, social activity and mutual learning process. Students were encouraged to understand both negotiation and how practi- tioners deploy theory through engaging in reflection on the simulation. They were also invited to keep non-assessed negotiation journals. An evaluation of the first presentation suggested that they appreciated the sense of community engendered and the support for reflection. Some of them said that they used the negotiation skills they had acquired in other situations and that they felt empowered by the course. While this module simulated a workplace, the United Nations General Assembly, other courses written for practitioners overtly tied their practical workplace activities to their studies. See David Humphreys, ‘The pedagogy and practice of role-play: Using a negotiation simulation to teach social science theory’, Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE) ‘Learning Communities on the Internet: Pedagogy in Implementation’ (Auckland, New Zealand, 3–6 December 2002).

 

 

 

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 31. Teaching materials on the box.

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

Between 1971 and 2006 the OU used television to deliver some of its teaching materials. Initially these were not treated seriously by the OU’s critics. During the period of its creation, 1963-69, they had argued that it was not a community of scholars, that it did not serve those best served by adult education provision, that it was party political and that television could transmit trivia, but could do little else. Concerns about using television were numerous. They included

Concern that control would lie in the hands of the BBC, not the academic institution. The BBC sought to support the education of citizens and the national interest. The OU had different concerns. Sometimes there were clashes over scheduling and content.

Concern that broadcast material should not be assessed as some people were out of broadcast range (because they lived in remote areas or in prison) and some people would not be able to see the programmes (due to shift work or competition from family members, or because they could not access a television).

Concern that costs were high. For most courses (modules the OU could afford one programme of 24 minutes which included film and a second programme filmed in a studio, often consisting largely of talking heads.

Concern about the content. As it was assumed that students would see each broadcast only once. The number of television transmission slots available to the OU did not grow at the same rate as the number of OU broadcasts and, by 1978 about 20 per cent of OU television broadcasts had only one transmission. There was quite a lot of repetition in broadcasts. Moreover, as the programmes were aimed at general viewers as well as students, the material was not always focused on the module.

Concern that few academics were good at using television to aid communication and support learning.

Concern that academic critics would see the ingenious models and well-made films and conclude that the OU was an academic lightweight. Some OU programmes appear to be almost deliberately dour, perhaps to give the impression that learning is a serious matter.

Concern that as modules ran for around a decade, topicality was hard to arrange. For example the first, generic, level 1 arts module, A100 ran 1971-78. It was succeeded by A101 1978, A102, 1987 and A103, 1998.

Concern that the technology would form a barrier between learners and tutors when tutorials were used to play recordings of television broadcasts.

Although the OU did not take a linear journey from passive learning to support for active learning there was a general move away from the idea that knowledge could be transmitted to students towards the idea that through dialogue, knowledge was built by learners. While some early films featured authoritative men employing alienating language with little regard for participative learning there were exceptions. These included David Boswell’s sociology film, made in a hostel for ‘the mentally subnormal’ according to the parlance of the time, showed the group relationships through use of a hidden camera. There was little editing as the aim was that students could form their own opinions and use it as a starting point for discussion. The BBC producer explained that the programme ‘represented slowed down reality upon which the student can wreak his sociology’.

Assessing the teaching of history at the OU Arthur Marwick noted that ‘the emphasis throughout is not upon the teacher offering some kind of performance … but on encouraging the student to do the discussing, to develop the skills … We attempt not to purvey facts and opinions but to encourage the student to argue over and discuss various ideas.’ Marwick’s aim was ‘to leave each piece of film to speak for itself without being overlaid by an intrusive commentary’.

Sometimes it was difficult to strike an appropriate balance between academic and presentational ambitions. In the Science Foundation Course programme a presenter called fluorine ‘the Tyrannosaurus Rex of gases’ and thus triggered an animated cartoon form of a roaring dinosaur in a crown while a colleague employed the phrase ‘going down the scale’ and then played a recorder on screen.

Measuring the time spent by talking heads, how far the transmissions encouraged collaborative learning, if enthusiastic experts were introduced, if there was a variety of approaches and if the viewer was assigned the role of intelligent adult, curious and eager to learn, it is clear that as the size and weight to cameras fell and staff became more experienced the teaching improved.

50 objects for 50 years. No 30. The Open University in Wales.

Monday, November 12th, 2018

This is an image of some successful OU students in Wales. They are the first cohort of students to gain the Certificate of Higher Education in Social Care Practice (Wales). See here.

Wales was not always treated as such a distinctive entity.In common with many other post-war projects the OU developed out of the centralised wartime state as a unitary institution to serve the whole nation. This reflected attitudes in the 1960s when there was little interest in nationalism in Scotland and Wales. In 1971 the editor of the Times Educational Supplement, referred to ‘England’s Open University’.

The first advertisement for a Regional Director for Wales made no reference to the need to speak Welsh. A new advertisement was written. Harford Williams was appointed. He held numerous television interviews and lectures and has been credited with the rise of over 10 per cent in applications within the country. Today the OU operates on the principle that in the conduct of public business in Wales, the English and Welsh languages are of equal status. The Open University offers Welsh medium assessment, (including written assignments, examinations, projects and theses in all subject areas) to its students and provides assessment in accordance with the student’s linguistic preference.  Wales was also where telephone tutorials were developed. Heddwyn Richards established a system in Wales whereby students used free-standing loudspeaker telephones. After press reports of this, the GPO which ran the phone system, complained but later a concession was granted. It was in recognition of the importance of all the nations that the Vice-Chancellor John Daniel paid tribute to his Welsh roots and chose to be installed in Cardiff in 1990. In 2018 OU student research on Welsh History became available online. This research was conducted by students studying the Open University module, ‘The Making of Welsh History’. Today the OU operates from Cardiff and across the country as the leading provider of part-time undergraduate higher education and supported distance learning. There are 7000 students and 300 Associate Lecturers.

In the Betty Boothroyd Library on the Walton Hall campus there is a nod towards the importance of the Welsh language on the window. See image and video discussion.

50 objects for 50 years. No 29. The wheelchair

Monday, November 5th, 2018

This week’s object is the wheelchair, the International Symbol of Access, because as, the former OU Vice Chancellor Martin Bean once noted ‘We’re home to more students with disabilities than any other university’. Writing in 2001 about the OU, Jagannath Mohanty concluded with perhaps some exaggeration, that, ‘As there is no basic qualification for entry to the OU and most of its students are deprived or handicapped in some way or other, this University is the most socialistic in nature and spirit’. In 1972, long before legislation encouraged other universities to accept students with disabilities, the OU appointed a Senior Counsellor with special responsibility for this field. In 1973 there were 554 students with disabilities identified in the rest of full-time higher education; by comparison the OU had about 1,200. In 1975 the OU specifically undertook to ‘continue to take all possible practical steps to enable full participation by disabled students in all aspects of University life’. A study concluded that students with disabilities had higher success rates than achieved by their non-disabled counterparts, and a drop-out rate markedly lower than for the general student population. Maggy Jones reported that she had to leave another university because of lack of wheelchair access, adding that ‘for the severely handicapped the Open University is proving to be their first real educational opportunity’. Leslie Hayward lost his hearing at the age of nine, had little schooling and counted bottles at a factory for a living. He received his OU degree in 1975 because he could read materials, rather than having to listen to lectures. One student said her choice had been made because ‘due to ill health I couldn’t take up the unconditional offers I had received from traditional universities’ and that her studies dovetailed with her work as ‘a full time Mum’. A further reason for the relatively high number of students with disabilities might be because, on average, OU students were ten to fifteen years older than conventional, full-time, students. John Cowan concluded that the students felt that within the OU they ‘had a community experience in which they cared for students with disabilities’. He recalled one summer school when, at about one o’clock in the morning, on seeing a severely disabled student arriving in a vehicle adapted to take his wheelchair, he asked the student, ‘How is it going for you?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘I’ve just been to a party, and I’ve never been to a party in my life. And it was absolutely wonderful.’ Students with multiple disabilities continued to be attracted to the OU because, even though legislative changes improved access to other institutions, the OU continued to offer support across a range of disabilities. These included audio recordings and 3D diagrams for the visually impaired, large-print texts and visual descriptions for screen readers

In the early days the attraction for the housebound or those with restricted access to university campuses was the possibility of study without having to negotiate buildings which were not designed for those with a range of disabilities. After 1990 there were reforms, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act 2001 and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. In compliance with legislation, universities across the UK began to treat staff and students in similar ways.  However, the OU maintained its interest in being open to people. In 2001 it provided Disabled Student Allowances to 2,200 students with disabilities. In 2003 the Institutional Disabled Students Strategy and Action Plan was launched, having been developed in the context of both Quality Assessment Authority guidelines and the Disability Discrimination Act. Although data collated about students refers only to those who have self-declared as having disabilities, by 2013 there were over 17,000 UK-based students with disabilities, health conditions, mental health disabilities or specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia) studying at the OU.

OU Students Association trip to Rome, 1978. There is an account of the trip in the book, Disabled students on a study tour of Rome, Have wheels: Will travel (Reading: Educational Explorers, 1976).

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 28. Educating Rita.

Monday, October 29th, 2018

In the 1980 play (and 1983 film) Educating Rita the OU was portrayed as a force not only for education, but for profound personal transformation of the eponymous student, who in turn changes the lives of those around her, including that of her tutor. Following a student from the time she overcomes the difficulty of entry to higher education – she is literally impeded, as she cannot open the door at the start of the play – to her final entrance and scene when she is calm and confident about her ability to succeed within the conventional academy, the emphasis was on personal liberation through learning. It positioned the OU as part of a long tradition of motivating forces within tales of women who through their own transformations transform others. Russell’s conventionally structured play echoes the tale (recounted by Ovid in the eighth century CE) of the sculptor Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue he had carved. It also may have been inspired by the 1912 play by G. B. Shaw and a film, My Fair Lady, 1964. Russell did some of his research for the play at the OU and in the film course materials appear and are discussed.  OU academic Gill Kirkup noted that while the play ‘purports to show the change in a mature women student who takes an Open University course’ it revealed (if it was ‘indicative of common beliefs’ about the OU) that the OU’s teaching system ‘seems to be widely misunderstood’.  The OU’s pedagogy appeared to mimic that of the one-to-one Oxford college tutorial. Rita gains cultural capital through her trips to the theatre, does not mention watching the OU’s BBC broadcasts and is dismissive of the possibilities of learning through television. Nevertheless, the text was used to illuminate and support the OU’s mission. According to OU staff tutor Paula James, when students studied Pygmalion on the level one Arts Foundation course, A103 (which was presented 1998 to 2008), an Educating Liza sketch was presented for the arts event evening during the residential school week. ‘So Rita in one version or another has long been part of the OU fabric and culture!’

To celebrate forty years of the OU, in 2009, real-life Tutor David Heley and OU student Lisa Hubbard played Rita and Frank in a production of Educating Rita presented by the Open University in the South East with Pitchy Breath Theatre. This was part of the celebrations of The Open University’s fortieth birthday. The production toured the UK, playing in theatres, schools, community centres and prisons. In the written programme to accompany it there was information about the OU and links to the website. The Regional Director explained that although ‘Willy Russell’s play is not a very accurate presentation of Open University tutorials it does capture the excitement of learning with the Open University and the life changing experience which our courses can bring.’ Director and Actor David Heley said of a performance in HMP Swaleside that the audience there was ‘totally engaged’ and that ‘many of the prisoners said how they recognised themselves within the play’s action and meaning’.

In 1983 the play was deployed for marketing by the OU, which produced a flyer to accompany a professional performance.

Part of an advertisement in the Educating Rita programme, Derby Playhouse, 7 September – 8 October 1983

EDUCATING RITA. YOU COULD BE A RITA TOO!

As you watch Rita’s intellect developing throughout the play you might be tempted to ask ‘Could this really happen in everyday life?’ The answer is ‘Most definitely yes’ as thousands of adults have proved during the last thirteen years of The Open University. So far more than 57,000 have graduated with a BA degree and very many more have taken single one-year courses. There are no educational qualifications for The Open University, admission is on a rst-come, rst- served basis, and study mainly involves working at home. Of 5,945 students who graduated last year 17 per cent are housewives, 8 per cent are clerical and office staff and 8 per cent are technicians. 9 per cent had left school at 15. Nearly half of the graduates were women.

In Educating Rita, as the play’s title implies, Rita is both being educated and educating others. Throughout the play there is a debate about the nature of learning and knowledge and the extent to which she is transformed by her own efforts compared to the influence of her tutor, Frank. Initially Rita feels that her mind is ‘full of junk’ and that a ‘good clearing out’ is required and that what she learns from Frank ‘feeds me inside’. She admits that she nearly wrote ‘Frank knows all the answers’ across her exam paper. In addition, she dismisses as ‘crap’ Howards End, a novel which involves co-operative learning between practical people and intellectuals. She expresses scepticism of the approach favoured by theorist Jean Piaget. She describes how at school the pupils would be having ‘a great time talkin’ about somethin’ and the next thing [the teachers] wanna do is to turn it into a lesson’.

As noted here perhaps one reason she changes is to fit into the academic world. She alters her accent from Scouse to that which the stage directions call a ‘peculiar voice’ but is then dismayed that she has become, in her words, a ‘freak’ and a ‘half-caste’. Echoing this, Frank refers to himself as Mary Shelley, author of a novel about the creation of a man-made person, Frankenstein. Having assessed the notion of learning as transmission, she then takes control of her own learning and makes only the changes that she requires. In addition, she is able to teach her tutor as well. Just as he asks questions, so does she. Asked why she did not attend a conventional university following her compulsory education she answers with a question: ‘What? After goin’ to the school I went to?’ Once Frank has suggested to her that ‘you’ll have a much better understanding of something if you discover it in your own terms’, she claims to have ‘begun to find me’ and she reverts to her previous name. She changes, but not into a typical student, at Frank’s ‘Victorian-built university’.

For her last appearance she does not, as she did before, unpack her notebook and pen. Instead she picks up some scissors and draws on her own skills, which she employs within the learning environment. She starts to cut hair. Neither Delilah nor Sweeney Todd, when Rita returns to hairdressing she wields the scissors in a more knowing fashion than at the beginning. This framing device indicates Rita’s circular route, her return to her roots, offering reassurance that, while learning changes people, the effects are likely to be positive. Rita, by taking flight from the humdrum, paradoxically took the university from where Geoffrey Crowther had placed it in his speech at its foundation, as ‘disembodied and airborne’, and brought it down to earth. In summarising its activities as ‘degrees for dishwashers’ Russell’s character domesticated the OU and placed it, reassuringly, if counter-intuitively, in front of the kitchen sink.

 

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 10. OU Collected texts

Monday, June 25th, 2018

 

From the start many OU students found access to an academic library difficult. In recognition of this collections of important articles and chapters were collated, bound and posted out to students. Some were co-published, with the OU logo on the cover.

This week’s object has been proposed by Alan Shipman. A former business journalist now teaching and researching at the OU Alan has taught (among other topics) personal finance and his research interests include Chinese multinational business and the foundations of the market economy.

In the below five bullet points Alan Shipman reflects on why Decisions, Organizations and Society: Selected Readings, edited by FG Castles, DJ Murray and DC Potter; Penguin Books in association with the Open University Press, deserves to be an OU symbol 50 years on:

  • It’s one of the ‘selected readings’ collections that gave students a whirlwind tour through the classic ideas and authors in a subject area, explained and contextualised by short introductory notes by the editors. These were widely used by other universities, and had a general nonstudent readership, thanks to co-publishing and the availability of cheap paperback editions. Authors featured in the readings include some who were rising to prominence then, and are still influential 50 years on: eg Herbert Simon (management sciences, organisational psychology, economics); Mancur Olson, Robert Dahl, Ralph Miliband (political science), Tom Bottomore (sociology).
  • It’s one of the earliest, published in 1971, and is edited by 3 prominent academics who’d already joined the OU (David Murray was Professor of Government, David Potter a Senior Lecturer and Francis Castles a Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences).
  • It shows how the OU was, from the start, instrumental in promoting social sciences and breaking through their disciplinary boundaries – the readings focus on topics that transcend these (power, decisionmaking, organisation, hierarchy) and so they mix politics, economics, sociology, cognitive psychology, social psychology and management studies).
  • It shows how the OU’s wide audience facilitated partnerships with leading mass-market publishers, including Penguin.
  • The editors’ writing style also contains some heroic early attempts to escape the institutionalised sexism of the times. From their introductory definitions: “Two ladies meet in a dark street, whereupon one lady deliberately stops, produces a pistol and demands money from the second lady. There is decision (the first lady could have chosen to walk on down the street), and there is power (the second lady’s behaviour is controlled as a result of her relation with the first lady)…

The three editors.

As well as contributing to Decisions, Organizations and Society: Selected Readings Frank Castles also offered a critique of the organization of the OU itself. Having taught face-to-face in universities in York and Australia he had, on arriving at the OU, to adapt to the system he termed ‘Divide and teach: the new division of labour’, in Jeremy Tunstall, The Open University Opens, 1974. Castles found that the OU’s division of labour, with central academics, local tutors, educational technologists, the BBC, a variety of outside expert advisors, counsellors and specialist summer school teaching staff, led to ‘tensions… suspicion and conflict … bitter disputes … enormously increased work-load’. However, he concluded that it was such role specialization which ‘makes the Open University possible at all’.

David Potter, a Berkeley graduate BA 1954, MA, 1959, gained a PhD from the LSE (1962). He worked at Oakland University in Michigan and published on British imperialism in Asia and post-independence consequences. His first book was Government in Rural India, 1964. He then went to Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada where he earned tenure in 1969. Shortly afterwards, in the same year, 11 members of the 16-strong Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology Department were not granted tenure, which, in effect, meant that they were fired. Potter supported their protest strike and was himself fired. He came to the Open University. He was appointed as a Professor of Political Science in 1989 and had 15 of his books published by 2002, when he was designated a Honorary graduate of the university. On retirement he was made a professor emeritus.

David Murray joined the OU in September 1969 as Professor of Government. He chaired and was a member of several main OU committees before being seconded to the University of the South Pacific between 1975 and 1978. In 1980 he was made Chair of the Examinations and Assessment Committee. Between 1983 and 1988 he was a Pro-Vice-Chancellor. He then helped to set up The Open University of Hong Kong before becoming a Pro-Vice-Chancellor again in 1990–91. He subsequently worked with the Higher Education Quality Council (which became The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) and retired in 1999.