Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. Number 2. The McArthur microscope

Monday, April 30th, 2018

 

In 1929, in need of a portable instrument for use in the jungle, Dr John McArthur conceived the idea of the light-weight microscope. He developed his concept while a prisoner-of-war and sold his first one in 1957. It had enjoyed sales of about 1,000 by the time that the OU showed an interest about a decade later. However, the OU wanted a simpler, plastic version for its Home Experiment Kits. The OU’s first Vice Chancellor felt that ‘carrying out of experiments at home by students would be a vital part of offering correspondence tuition in science and technology’, see here. The university recognised that many of its students would be unfamiliar with delicate scientific mechanisms or would find it difficult to keep their study materials safe from other family members. It did not want a delicate rack and pinion system for focusing and the objective lens had to be robust. McArthur met the deadline and about 7,000 of these tiny (5in x 3in x 1in), cheap, microscopes were to be mailed to the first students at the OU in the first HEKs. It has been called a ‘gem of a portable microscope’ and ‘legendry in its application and construction’. It has also been described as ‘an amazing little instrument… although small, lightweight and almost entirely plastic, it makes a very serviceable field instrument’.

The OU wanted its students to have the opportunity to be active learners not passive recipients, to understand that science did not require specialist laboratories or a campus. The home could become a place for university-level study. The inclusion of the microscope in Home Experiment Kits showed the OU’s commitment to putting learners at the centre and of adapting technology to ensure they were supported.

In the 1970s a large-scale project invited children to draw a picture of a scientist. Men in white coats and wild hair abounded. Instead of a university being outside the normal and day-to-day, instead of scientists being white-coated men, the OU gave scientific instruments to people, including my mum an early OU student. There was spluttering and ridicule in the press about the ineptitude of housewives but the OU persisted. The idea of a university and of who could be a student, was transformed. The OU enabled science to be more than an activity for men in white coats in labs, housewives could study in their own homes, submariners could study under the waves.

Subsequently the OU’s Virtual Microscope has been developed to allow students with internet access to explore digitized slides and thin sections in a browser window. There are several specialist microscopes. They enable OU students to gaze upon images which leading scientists and academics are also examining.

We interrupt this programme

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

A305, History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939 was taught 1975-82. Here Charlotte Lydia Riley, Owen Hatherley, and Jonathan Bignell show the material and then comment on it, with their reflections on history, architecture and media. https://www.cca.qc.ca/en/issues/25/a-history-of-references/57217/we-interrupt-this-broadcast

 

The OU in fifty objects: some suggestions made by staff and students

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Reminder of the 2018 strike by UCU members at the OU

People have proposed objects which tell a story about the distinctiveness of the OU and its approach to learning and teaching and have also suggested personal narratives. Alison sent a picture of a mug onto which had been printed a photo of University and College Union strikers from the OU in the Spring of 2018. Margaret (Mags) suggested the repurposed kitchen table or cupboard. One of the distinctive impacts of the POU has been to take higher education off the campus and put it into kitchens and onto buses and into prisons. It is often while at home that students receive both their first parcel of OU materials and, after they have completed an assignment have sat awaiting the results. Jon thought of both of those occasions when he proposed that ‘It had to be the fabled brown box that materials turned up in that caused equal fear and excitement (and latterly the frustration when I couldn’t find scissors fast enough to cut the plastic strapping!)’ He then added ‘Surely the F5 key has to get its own entry as well (as any student that has ever waited for results will tell you)’. Here is a blog from another student posted in 2011:

I always stress about test results; not so much before the test, but while I’m waiting to find out how I did. You’re alerted by the OU Student site when results are in.

<F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5><F5>

I’ve worn the letters off my F5 key.

Anyway – results are in. For TMA01, the assessment for Book 1 – Global Warming, I achieved…

*drum roll*

96 per cent!

*thud*

That was the sound of my jaw dropping. I’m absolutely delighted, to be honest.

The Open University does not just exist in people’s homes. It has also made use of university premises, for tutorials and summer schools. For his object Chris proposed ‘Residential school crates! Fanfold computer paper! Green pens! Yellow special circa folders!’. For those who have ever attended or indeed packed for, residential schools, and I have done both, this may help you recall the excitement, the enthusiasm, the learning, the discos of summer schools. Typically students would be in residence for typically one week. They would attend lecturers and seminars, work in the laboratories or go on field or gallery or museum trips. Here is Sally Ford’s recollection of her experiences of a residential school on the Nottingham University site. She studied SXR205, Exploring the molecular world:

The first day of activities was so hectic, I thought I would be left behind at times, but on voicing my worries to my fellow students I realised that everyone was in the same boat, and more importantly, we were all helping each other and working as a team instinctively. Over five- and-a-half days, I had written over 80 pages in my lab notebook. More importantly, I had put an awful lot of theory into practice, and got vital laboratory experience that I would not have been able to gain other- wise.

Looking forward to further ideas.

OU history features in exhibition at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Architecture on the air: The story of Open University’s televised classroom. A new exhibition looks at a pioneering, mixed-media college course exploring modern architecture

https://www.curbed.com/2018/1/12/16886438/modern-architecture-education-open-university-exhibit

 

Systems and students

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Often the OU is seen in terms of systems. It also needs to be understood in terms of students. (more…)

MOOC News

Friday, December 21st, 2012

There has been a lot of coverage of Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs, of late. Stories have been run about the millions invested and the numbers interested in these free online courses open to all with electronic access.

MOOCs have also gained attention because the OU has joined with 11 other UK HE institutions to form a company, FutureLearn, which will offer a range of free, open and online courses on one learning platform. The OU’s Vice-Chancellor has declared that FutureLearn’s aim is to provide the “best quality student experience of any of the MOOCs on the planet’. (more…)

Massive online lectures?

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The world of online free teaching materials, Massive Open Online Courses and Udacity has been much discussed over recent months. The OU is rarely seen as a precusor to these attempts to democratise education and other developments in this field. There is a history of MOOCs and the OU yet to be written. However, here Shirky  (who popularised the term ‘cognitive surplus’ when describing the potential uses of the web) calls makes a connection and calls the OU ‘remarkable and interesting’. See Clay Shirky, Cognitive surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age, Penguin, New York, 2010. According to this report Udacity appears to aim to upload lecture theatre talks. This is not the technique favoured by the OU which has developed ideas about online collaborative learning and has popularised student engagement. One of the OU’s lecturers in educaitonal technology discusses the implications here.

Unobservant journalism

Monday, November 12th, 2012

 Writing on 11th November journalist Carole Cadwalladr argued

When the Open University was launched in 1969, it was both radical and democratic. It came about because of improvements in technology – television – and it’s been at the forefront of educational innovation ever since. It has free content – on OpenLearn and iTunesU. But at its heart, it’s no longer radically democratic. From this year, fees are £5,000.

Her analysis of how the OU has supposedly lost its’ way is supported by personal testimony (more…)

Former OU PVC goes online

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Coursera  calls itself a ‘social entrepreneurship company’ which aims to deliver online courses. Founded by two academics from Stanford University and funded to the tune of $22m by the computer industries, it claims to offer ‘education for everyone’ by providing courses from its partner universities. These include  the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Virginia, Rice University, UC San Francisco, University of Illinois and University of Washington and also Toronto in Canada and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Coursera does not offer degrees, but students can be awarded certificates. (more…)

Open learning is a movement that isn’t going to go away

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The idea that technology can be deployed to support learners isn’t new to those who work at the OU. Suddenly, however, it is in the headlines because Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have formed a $60m (£38m) alliance to launch edX, a platform to deliver courses online – with the modest ambition of ‘revolutionising education around the world’.

(more…)