Reminiscences of Professor Robin Mason
From Institute of Educational Technology Public Wiki
Professor Robin Mason died peacefully on 15th June 2009 as a result of secondary complications from her recent illness.
This page has been set up to capture reminiscences of Robin Mason to share with her family and to contribute to an on-line obituary. Please add your own memories of working with or knowing Robin here by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Rather than having separate places to record these memories, the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), in which Robin played an important part, is encouraging its members to add contributions which will be published here.
Briefer condolences from OU staff, ALT members, international colleagues, current and past MA Online and Distance Students and Tutors (taken from the MA ODE alumni list) are shared here.
Blog and press coverage
Selected press and blog covereage of Robin's death ...
I first encountered Robin in 1995 when I took the Insitute of Education course tutored by Robin and Tony Kaye (yes, before even H802 began). I then continued my acquaintance as a student on the first presentation of H802 in 1998. The whole experience of online education, as influenced by Robin, was a revelation. I was in awe of her at that stage and I really did not 'get' her as a person, although I was already drawing heavily on her work in my own practice at Warwick and ramming it down the throats of all who would listen.
I ended up working closely with Robin for the first time in 2002 when I joined her and Martin Weller as the OU side of the course team for the UKEU pilot 'Learning in the Connected Economy'. Robin was certainly connected. She knew everybody and just about everything. I would find an obscure - I thought - project to refer to in my PhD and it would turn out that she was there at the start influencing that. She became a mentor and friend as well as a close colleague. Anything that I was unsure about in my work or my PhD (she was my supervisor), would be run past Robin. She would always have something interesting or illuminating to add. She often saw things so clearly that it took your breath away. She could be blunt and critical, but she was always right and endlessly supportive. A truely positive person and a great influence.
To realise that others will not now benefit directly from knowing her, and be inspired by talking with her, is devastating. The comfort is that Robin shared herself generously, not only in person but in her writings and projects. Her influence will live on and Robin will be remembered.
Robin was my H802 tutor in 1998. H802 was a pioneering course, and Robin was a great person to lead a group into this new and exciting field. She was serious and committed about it but not at all earnest, and that blend really worked well and inspired me and I am sure many others. Robin encouraged me to apply for a post in IET and, when I first joined, we shared an office. She became my informal mentor, friendly and encouraging - and generous with ideas and projects. Much of what I learned from her over the years came from her own work in the field and her wide knowledge. But some of it came simply from her style and approach - that ability to pick out and focus on the most important aspect of an argument or discussion, and to deliver the crystallizing response in a way that was respectful to others while she deftly cut through the irrelevancies. Her timing in meetings was impeccable: she would wait and listen to various views, and then - sometimes with humour and always with courtesy - would deliver her suggestion in a way that was natural for the meeting to support. She managed to combine - in a way I've never encountered so definitely in anyone else - being both very private and a lot of fun. And perhaps because of her innate courtesy and social skill, she could get away with a certain (non-malevolent) irreverence about aspects of university life.
For me this is a sad time but also a time of gratitude for her enormous contribution, particularly to the MAODE and the many alumni who benefited directly and indirectly from her work.
Here in IET today we are all talking about and remembering Robin. She packed so much into a career that it seems extraordinary to remember was little more than 20 years long, looking back to the first large scale use of computer conferencing with DT200 in 1989. It was a great pleasure to work with Robin as a member of the management team in IET during the time I was its director, 1995 to 2003. She was at the height of her career and one of those people who managed to combine an enormous workload of research and teaching, with delivering on the administrative chores that always come with running a large organisation. As those who know Robin can attest, she had no time for such aspects but she did what was required, summing up her approach in one of those phrases that I will always remember – ‘once over lightly’. Robin often highlighted the humorous sides of this, and reduced Management Committee to helpless laughter on many occasions. Another of her timeless phrases was the one she reserved for those who tended to increase one’s management role – ‘high maintenance’ summed it up for her, and I will always hear that phrase now in my head, in Robin’s voice. Short, sharp, says it all, witty but without malice. A great colleague. And a colleague who chose well when she decided in the late eighties to complete a doctorate on computer mediated conferencing, working closely with Tony Kaye, at that time a leading innovator in our field from whom Robin learned a great deal. And, in particular through her ground breaking work on the Masters in Online and Distance Education, she changed the careers and lives of hundreds of others around the world. As I write, my inbox is filling up with members of our MAODE Alumni list who write in to speak of their shock and to say how much Robin has impacted on them personally – through her research, her writing and in some cases, as their tutor. Her experience and her leadership in our field will be so sadly missed but also so warmly remembered. She would have been very pleased by that and in that way she will continue to be a presence in our lives and in our projects as educational technologists. Mary
Robin was a warm and inspiring person, and I am enormously grateful for all the excellent advice I received from her over the years. In my first experiences of online tutoring and writing OU course materials (circa 1997-9), it was such a pleasure to watch Robin in action and to learn from her amazingly effective working practices. Just as importantly, her enthusiasms for online education and for distance learning were infectious. She practised what she preached and her innovative use of technology was always 'just right' - I will never forget her inaugural lecture where she 'invited in' many friends and colleagues from across the globe, by enabling them to be virtually present. The MAODE virtual graduation was a key moment and so visionary. I also remember going to Robin with various mundane problems and always coming out with a smile on my face and a perfect solution that worked for me. She was someone you could always rely on to do what she had promised to do, and to do it very quickly. Later, her unstinting support and totally positive attitude were invaluable. I wish we could have enjoyed Robin’s company for many more years.
Here in IET, we knew how ill Robin was and this makes the news of her death no surprise but very sad none the less. Her illness made itself apparent some years ago, and when I talked to Robin she was fully aware of what the outcome might be, but she did not let it stop her engaging with all the work activities she loved so much.
Although Robin was not the originator of the MAODE, she changed it into the kind of programme that made its reputation. I think H802 and the MAODE was one of the things she was most proud of in her work. For those of us who took over from her it could have been a hard act to follow, but instead she made it easy. When I became MAODE Director I felt that I was on the right track when Robin called in my office to tell me I was doing just the sort of things she thought needed to be done. I relaxed a bit from then.
One of my personal memories of Robin was of her swimming across a very chilly Norwegian lake during a break in an international conference programme. A colleague and I sat in our jackets on the shore looking after her clothes and watched anxiously when she disappeared into the distance until she swam back into view. I think we thought hypothermia would get her and we'd never see her again. It was a great relief for us when she emerged dripping and smiling, and not in the least frozen solid.
I suppose when I think of Robin now I think of her as swimming away from me. This time she won't come back - she will always be swimming. But wherever she is swimming to she's perfectly safe, and smiling.
It was awful to hear that Robin was unwell, and soon after that she had died. She was an inspiration to us at the University of Cambridge Programme for Industry in the early part of this decade when we began experimenting with the web as a means of supporting workplace learning. Robin was of course far ahead of us, but she was interested in what we were doing, and open to the possibilities of e-learning in organisations. We ran a joint programme for e-learning providers and platform makers called ‘Principles of Online Learning’ which looked at the theoretical underpinnings of an increasingly hyped industry, and from that emerged two publications sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (Martyn Sloman), on how people learn and, later, how organisations learn. They were very popular among HR and training professionals, and Robin’s personal credibility and influence helped enormously. Our ambitions got the better of us at that point in the form of a proposed “Open-Cambridge” partnership – the strengths of both universities coming together online. Whilst we didn’t manage to pull that off, the discussion it sparked was sincere and furthered thinking in both universities on how to respond to the oppotrunity of online learning. More practically, Robin’s careful advice at the early stages of CPI’s own e-learning programme, Chronos, was more valuable than I can say.
Though we went our separate ways in 2005, I’ve felt her influence routinely – her quiet intelligence, sense of humour, care, and passion for what she loved best. Above all her instinct to put a complex, evolving area like e-learning onto a solid theoretical footing so that people everywhere are empowered to distinguish between approaches, and demand better from their providers.