Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Open to people, places, methods and ideas? Developing the pedagogy of the Open University

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

D Weinbren, Keynote at the Technological University, Dublin, January 2022


Available to students from January 1971, the UK-based Open University (OU), by being open to part-time adult learners regardless of their prior qualifications or disabilities, challenged the pre-Second World War status quo. This was when a very small minority of the population in Western societies, often men from the social elite, attended universities. The OU modelled how a central state could seek to direct technological, educational, cultural and economic developments and, through the use of short-term, teaching–only contracts and student fees, normalise a quasi-market within the university sector. At the same time its social democratic ethos, embodied in its Royal Charter objective, ‘to promote the educational well-being of the community generally’, informed its development of learner-centred collaborative engagement. This enabled it to support learners in Britain, in Ireland, including in the H Blocks and in many other countries. Its pedagogies will be illuminated through an assessment of its precedents, personalities and politics.

50 objects for 50 years. No 45. Drake Court

Monday, February 25th, 2019

The court, to be found around the back of the Gardiner Building, is named after Michael Drake, the first Dean of Social Sciences. He is also why Social Sciences courses are prefixed ‘D’. He recalled how in late 1968 or early 1969 the VC’s Committee of the OU (now the VCE) met.

An item on the agenda was to give a letter to each of the proposed Foundation courses and all courses thereafter.  Some letters were easy; ‘S’ for Science, ‘E’ for Education, ‘A’ for Arts etc.  But what about Social Sciences?  SS seemed inappropriate and anyway two letters would double inputting time.  I piped up – ‘Isn’t it obvious?  ‘O.K, D it is’ and Joe Clinch then Assistant Secretary, minuted it.

Now an Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Michael Drake contributed to numerous modules both in print and on the television and radio. He has encouraged communication between staff, been active in the local history society and his recollections have appeared in the local press. A longer recording has been made for the OU Archives. Much of his research and teaching focused on the population studies (he studied half-a-million baptism, marriage and burial records from Morley Wapentake, Yorkshire as part of an early project). He wanted to bring elements from the social sciences together with elments from the traditions associated with historians.

Building on his interest in the integration of a popular interest in family history with the disciplines of history and the social sciences Michael Drake and colleagues developed a series of OU modules. Historical Sources and the Social Scientist, D301, which was presented 1974-1988, enabled students to engage in ‘explorations of the past undertaken for the explicit purpose of advancing social scientific enquiry’. Students’ history dissertations, on topics of their choice, employed social scientific methods to complete history dissertations. Between 1994 and 2001 Family and Community History: 19th and 20th centuries, DA301 was presented. Framed by the wider OU commitment to recognizing and valuing the students’ knowledge and experience it too emphasised the need to employ the scientific methods of clearly identifying aims, hypothesizing and using theoretical models against which the findings of local research might be set. Using a problem-based learning approach, students were taught the skills required for small-scale research. On one occasion, with financial support from the Wellcome Trust, he helped over 30 students to explore the history of infant mortality in the years 1871-1910 with a focus on individuals. The studdents submitted their work for a BPhil, an MPhil or a DPhil. He sought to collapse the dichotomy of ‘inside-out and outside-in’, that is to merge the separate, parallel, streets leading either to universities from independent scholarship or vice versa. This was realised in his work for Object Number 25, FACHRS.

Publics, Research and The Open University

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Since it was opened to students in 1971 The Open University’s structures and pedagogies have shifted the notion of public research. A ‘public’, Michael Warner argued, is formed when texts (in the broadest sense) circulate among strangers and enable those people, through those texts, to organize together and to have experiences in common. The OU’s dispatch of centrally-produced teaching materials to students –  texts such as home experiment kits, correspondence materials, television broadcasts, and, latterly, web pages looks like top-down information dispersal. However, the OU has sought to support collaborative learning, the creation of ‘publics’. In the 1970s the OU’s first Professor of History, 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, in our correspondence texts, not to purvey facts and opinions but to encourage the student to argue over and discuss various ideas’. The OU’s locally-based, part-time, Tutors, who support the OU’s learners, have long been urged not to concentrate only on imparting the canon of accepted knowledge. Rather they have motivated students to question the assumption that there was an accepted body of theoretical knowledge about which they need to learn. (more…)

An inaugural fanfare for the common man

Friday, June 14th, 2013

In June 2013 it will be have been 40 years since The Open University hosted its first graduation ceremony. While the political and social landscape has undergone many changes since then, the sense of excitement and pride remains today. Openminds looked back on 1973 in this article:

In its 44-year history, the OU has hosted more than 700 graduation ceremonies in locations from Shetland to Singapore. But the very first, in 1973, proved to be an operation requiring organisational precision in what was to be the OU’s only nationwide ceremony.

Due to the volume of people wishing to attend, the Milton Keynes venue Walton Hall was traded in for the grand Alexandra Palace in London, which could accommodate 6,000 people. This allowed the 867 graduates to invite their families.

‘Alexandra Palace had better facilities than Milton Keynes,’ says Ben Palmer, Director of Assessment, Credit and Qualifications, who takes on the role of Graduate Presenter in some ceremonies. ‘And there were people travelling from all over the UK to attend. There was one story of a woman who came from Australia to see her son collect his degree.’

A report by Les Holloway in this magazine’s predecessor, Sesame, describes the momentous day: ‘The crowds plod up the steep slopes from their cars and buses. Most are serious faced, some nervously cheerful, some deep in abstraction. Inside the faded Victorian splendour of Ally Pally there is a disciplined bustle. Most of the graduates have elected to wear gowns. Some who had rejected the formality of academic dress find their resolution weakening.’

The first honorary Doctors of the University were also commended at Alexandra Palace; 10 men and women, including Lord Gardiner (Chancellor-elect), Jane Drew (first woman President of the Architectural Association), Paulo Freire (Brazilian educational pioneer, then in exile) and Michael Young, noted in reports of the time as ‘probably the first person to propose an open university in Britain’.

Addressing the graduates, Vice-Chancellor Walter Perry said that for him the day marked the culmination of five years in the most exciting job in education: ‘You, the graduates, were the goal that we dimly discerned through the mists of doubt and uncertainty.’

Speaking of the innovative distance learning formula, Perry continued: ‘Those who succeed have exhibited not only the necessary intellectual capacity, but also qualities of staying power and determination that will, I predict, come to be regarded and expected as the particular hallmark of holders of the BA of The Open University.’ The procession then left the Great Hall, accompanied by Copland’s 1942 Fanfare for the Common Man.

The OU now hosts on average 20 degree ceremonies a year in venues around the world. ‘The excitement at our ceremonies can often overcome some people,’ Ben says. ‘At the Vice-Chancellor’s first degree ceremony in Belfast, the first person to come across the stage did a somersault, stood up and shook his hand. The look on the face of the person who was second in line was something to wonder at.’

49 years since Harold Wilson announced the OU

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Today I want to outline new proposals on which we are working, a dynamic programme providing facilities for home study to university and higher technical standards, on the basis of a University of the Air and of nationally organised correspondence college courses. These will be intended to cater for a wide variety of potential students. There are technicians and technologists who perhaps left school at sixteen or seventeen and who, after two or three years in industry, feel that they could qualify as graduate scientists or technologists. There are many others, perhaps in clerical occupations, who would like to acquire new skills and new qualifications. There are many in all levels of industry who would desire to become qualified in their own or other fields, including those who had no facilities for taking GEC at 0 or A level, or other required qualifications; or housewives who might like to secure qualifications in English Literature, Geography or History. What we envisage is the creation of a new educational trust, representative of the universities and other educational organisations, associations of teachers, the broadcasting authorities.

Glasgow, 8 September 1963

Intense education

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Perhaps owing something to ideas often associated with The Open University the Occupy movement has invited academics to Tent City University, a marquee in London, and also to the Bank of Ideas which meets in a disused office block owed by UBS bank. One newspaper report explained that under the motto ‘Anyone can teach, everyone can learn’, there have been discussions led by academics on a variety of topics including international banking, philosophy, theology, the Arab spring and central Africa’s pygmy hunter-gatherers. Evictions seem likely to occur in the near future.

Were you pally down at the Ally?

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

OU television programmes were made at Alexandra Palace, North London, between 1971 and 1981 and then were made at a brand new production centre built at Walton Hall. Although Ally Pally was where the first public television transmissions were made, by the time the OU came along it had only used for news broadcasts for many years and once BBC TV News moved to the TV Centre in 1969 it faced closure. The OU helped preserve its use but, from 1977, when worked started on the new studios in Milton Keynes, the relationship was destined to end. (more…)

Educational broadcasting

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012


Joe Trenaman’s Investigation of BBC Listeners’ Understanding of Science

This is the title of the forthcoming Society and Information Research Group seminar. It will be held on Wednesday 25 January @ 2 pm in the David Gorham Library. All welcome. It will be led by Allan Jones. (more…)