Archive for the ‘Residential schools’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 13. The residential school

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Poster 2009, Sussex Residential School
OU summer schools, coinciding with the ‘silly season’ for the national press, and being run on university campuses largely empty of full-time students, have been a gift to newspaper journalists eager for salacious copy. The Times reported the case of Carol Park, who left her husband and children to live with David Brearley after the pair had met at summer school.  Tutor John Kirkaldy remembers that a journalist he escorted around a Bath summer school was disgusted when he found ‘No nookie and no pot!’ The Times headlined an account of the ‘University where a lecture begins with a beer’, while the BBC ran a story about ‘bizarre games and hap- penings’ including OU students who ‘made bare bottom prints … dragged rubbish through the streets [and] appeared to be aimlessly kicking a giant rugby ball about’. Professor Stuart Hall recalled that ‘I’ve never been anywhere else in the academic world where a husband turned up and said, “My wife’s going home … She’s coming home with me. I’m not leaving her in any longer.”’ The OU’s monthly magazine for students and staff, Sesame, fanned the flames. The September 1974 edition, for example, carried a number of post- summer-school messages. One read, ‘A. I will never forget York. The spark of affinity still glows bright. H.’ Another declared, ‘I loved you for a week, a week to t uncrowded in an hour of normal life. Now I know there are no separate compartments in the mind because I cannot lock you out. And you refuse to go.’

OU Field trip. Students attending residential schools also went to museums, art galleries and spent time in labs and libraries.

At residential schools student experimentation sometimes involved other students. Those attending Biology brain and behaviour, SD206, summer school at University of York in the mid-1990s (the module was presented 1992–2001) had the opportunity to measure nerve conduction velocity – how fast information travels along a nerve cell. A volunteer wore shorts to the class and allowed other students to administer a small electric shock to a nerve in his leg and record how long it took to reach a point further down his leg. Other practicals on SD206 involved teaching a rat to press a lever, counting the number of cheeps a day-old chick makes and investigating wood lice in a maze.

From the first presentations students at the Open University were offered residential schools. The OU hired parts of a number of university campuses during the summer. Students would be in residence for typically one week. Once there, they would attend lecturers and seminars, work in the laboratories or go on trips. The residential schools were staffed by regional and central staff and often tutors and guest lecturers.

The idea of using university facilities during the ‘long vac’ in this way dates back to at least the early twentieth century. It was reinvigorated in the 1960s when Michael Young piloted a ‘dual Cambridge’ plan to establish a ‘Battersea University in King’s Parade’. He used part of Churchill College for fifty students to attend a one-week residential course, which was extended by the use of radio, television and correspondence courses. This prefigured Harold Wilson’s Glasgow speech of September 1963 in which the Labour leader outlined his ideas for a university of the air. The BBC had broadcast educational material from the start in the 1920s and by the 1960s television companies also made such broadcasts. By 1963 ITV was broadcasting more adult education than the BBC, providing some associated written material and residential courses. Associated Television and the University of Nottingham produced a thirteen-week course, which 1,250 people completed. It included programmes, written notes, two tutorials and a residential weekend attended by 200 people.

The OU residential schools provided opportunities for clarification and consolidation of knowledge and specialised tuition.Summer schools were said to provide an opportunity to receive peer reassurance at a time when students were part way through an individual course and many were ‘floundering’, as Professor Michael Drake put it. He added that ‘a lot of students thought they were the only ones who were not coping and everyone else knew more than they did’. Tutor Sean Cubitt argued that the Popular culture, U206, summer schools provided ‘spaces where students can air their problems with the course and pursue their learning in new directions’. Students could access academic libraries and art galleries. Student Maggie Donaldson recalled that a Summer School trip around the National Gallery led by Charles Harrison ‘was such an exciting experience, and made me feel like I was a “real” student for a while, being taught by an inspirational expert on the subject. He was a class act in every way.’When surveyed in 1972, students ranked residential schools as the most helpful teaching component – ahead of correspondence tuition, television, tutorials, counselling and radio. Subsequent studies also found them to be seen as educationally beneficial.

In 1975 Christine Saxton wrote in Sesame: ‘Until summer school, never was so much adrenalin manufactured in 1 week. Never did so few hours sleep suffice over such intense activity. Never had a profusion of profound thoughts been mulled over and revelled in. Never did I realize what the old brain was capable of.’174 Her conclusions are echoed in Cheryl Markosky’s recollections, written in 1997: ‘I’ve taken in a lot of information and spent too many late nights staying up and talking. Bob Wilkinson’s sage parting advice to all is: “When you get home, and you’re looking completely exhausted, remember to have a good story.” My story is that I’ve had a good time.’ Tilly Bud’s account, written six years later, also echoes the memories of those who attended many years before her. She was so nervous of attending summer school that she planned an exit strategy ‘if it was all too much for me. It wasn’t. I had a fabulous time … a week of being a “real” student … it’s in my Top Ten List of Best Experiences Ever.’ Mark Youngman, who attended summer school in 2000, recalled both the intensity and the differences from his home life:

During the week we were kept very busy from 9 am often to 8 or 9 pm with only an hour for lunch and dinner … I couldn’t believe how quickly the week had gone by … The most satisfying thing of all was that I had been able to talk about my course with like-minded people, people who knew what I was talking about and had the same problems, fears and assignment deadlines as myself. I could never have talked to my wife or anyone else in the same way.

Although drama had been taught at the University of Bristol since the late 1940s the idea that meaning of a play had been fixed by the playwright remained a popular one.By contrast, A307 Drama, encouraged students to perform dramas for themselves while at residential summer schools. Students who studied Pygmalion on the level one Arts Foundation course, A103 (1998–2008), were treated to a staff production of an Educating Liza sketch for the arts event evening during residential school week. Martin Broadhurst, a construction worker from Derby, recalled his experiences of the residential element of an OU module, which was held at the University of Bath. He describes it as the closest I was ever likely to get to living the traditional student life – minus the instant noodles, lie-ins and cheap overdraft … The study

sessions began at 9 a.m. and ran through until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. with occasional breaks to prevent our minds from overheating … my tutors were incredibly personable and patient and gave valuable constructive feedback … Just having peers there to discuss our difficulties with was a real bene t … I was put in a study group with a great bunch of people meaning the long days were filled with a mix of insightful debate, serious hard work and full-on belly laughs … The principle bene t of attending the residential school, for me at least, was the realisation that other students were having the same difficulties that I was having. I no longer felt alone in the world of long-distance study.

The teaching staff also recalled the intensity of residential schools. Sir John Daniel, later the Vice-Chancellor, recalled his first Summer School:

that summer of 1972 in the UK was a conversion experience. I saw the future of higher education and wanted to be part of it. Everything was hugely impressive and stimulating. First there was the scale: the Open University already had 40,000 students in its second year of operation. Second came the idealism: here were people who walked the talk on access and student-centred pedagogy. Third, there was palpable love of learning: the students were unbelievably motivated by the opportunity presented to them. I went to one of the residential summer schools where students spent a full day in labs, seminars and field trips and then most of the night in the bar; continuing the academic discourse. Fourth, I was captivated by the media and technology: my key task was to help develop computer-marked assignments that tested advanced cognitive skills, but I spent every spare moment viewing the brilliant BBC television programmes. This exposure to the future of higher education infected me with the virus of open and distance learning.

From the outset the OU subjected every part of its teaching to continuing scrutiny, up to and including the summer schools which were so salient a part of its offering. While those who attended them attested to the intel- lectual engagement and motivation of students and saw a positive correlation between attendance and recruitment, retention and results, their value for money was questioned from the early 1970s. Although an early Senate resolution made attendance at residential schools compulsory, that decision was questioned by the Faculty of Technology soon after it was created. In 1974 Hilary Perraton noted ‘euphoria’ gained ‘within the social situation in which students can learn together’ but then asked ‘whether it’s as valuable as the amount of money you spend on it’. In 1975 a paper addressed the question as to which OU students were deterred by the prospect of summer school of the OU before concluding that ‘probably nobody would argue against foundation course summer schools remain- ing compulsory’. During the 1990s the Mathematics Faculty decided to rewrite its foundation course without a residential school. Studies sought to quantify the gain of OU residential schools. One considered the records of 1,500 students and concluded that ‘the value of traditional teaching components of courses taken by thousands of students each year was shown to be overestimated’.

Evidence accumulated that the residential element had little bearing on the measured achievement of students. Residential schools were expensive for students. In 1994 21,000 students paid over £4 million to attend the week-long events. The Guardian reported that ‘online tutorial groups are replacing the legendary summer schools. They’re simply cheaper’. General shifts in lifestyles made it dif cult for many students to attend. Some students felt that their families were resentful of this use of annual leave and found being away stressful. Writing in 2001, one student noted that attendance could ‘be a problem for some people who have to take time off work or nd someone to look after the kids’. Alternative learning experiences had to be created. These aimed to deliver the same core learning outcomes through a variety of methods. These have included a written assignment, an online project and computer conferencing. While these may not have delivered the breadth of learning opportunities offered by residency, they undermined the distinctiveness of the pedagogic bene ts of the residential schools. Different means of supporting learners such as the virtual microscope and other forms of online communications became accessible to students. These online activities sought to recreate aspects of the residential experience and offer an alternative to the intensive experience of face-to-face teaching. New media, the virtual reality of SecondLife for example, became popular and enabled people to exchange ideas and work together without being in the same room at the same time.




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.


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!


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.

Decades of impact: TAD292 lives on

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

TAD292 Art and environment (1976-85) was a distinctive course chaired by Simon Nicholson (1934-1990) who had studied at the Royal College of Art, London, and the University of Cambridge and between 1964 and 1971 taught at the University of Berkeley, California. It sought to develop ‘strategies for creative work’ and it dealt with

the processes and attitudes of art not so much as these were evidenced in products of art but as they underlie the very act of doing art. This can be seen already from the titles which were given to some of the units in the course: ‘Boundary Shifting’, ‘Imagery and Visual Thinking’, ‘Having Ideas by Handling Materials’.

TAD292 students were offered a range of projects on this 30-point course. These included the suggestion that the student stop activity and engage in listening. Another was to compose a score for sounds made from differently textured papers and a third was to enumerate the household’s activities and categorise these in terms of role and sex stereotyping. The aims of the course were attitudional, sensory and subjective rather than cognitive, relating to feeling rather than knowledge. They were ‘more phenomenological than conceptual in nature’. Assessment involved a student not only submitting the product, such as a self-portrait photograph, but also notes describing the process and rationale. The criteria were not specific but involved formulations including enthusiasm, imagination and authenticity. See Philippe C. Duchastel, ‘TAD292 – and its challenge to Educational Technology’, Programmed Learning & Educational Technology, 13, 4, October 1976, pp. 61-66. The course received considerable publicity. In 1976 The World  At One, a BBC radio news programme, reported on TAD292 at one summer school:

Bizarre games and happenings formed a part of experimental residential course for a group of students at Sussex University. They were encouraged to make prints of various parts of their bodies. Some made bare bottom prints, other dragged rubbish through the streets and one group appeared to be aimlessly kicking a giant rugby ball about. (more…)

Poetic brilliance and imagination trumps dreaming spires

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Ian Flintoff  was a language scholar at Oxford University before becoming a professional actor and director. |He started his OU career in 1989.His academic qualifications are mainly in biological sciences and he has a doctorate in science communication. He appeared on an album compiled by Richard Holliman for iTunes U, Science communication and public engagement. The album also features contributions from Alan Irwin, Jon Turney, Susan Greenfield, Vic Pearson, Robert Lambourne and Richard Holliman.Here Dr Flintoff recalls the residential element of his OU experience:
 You can never go to an OU summer school without seeing this amazing cross-section of society. The first time it brought tears to my eyes, the beauty of it … I was in an all-male college at Oxford which was mainly Etonians who were charming people, but I can’t kid myself for a moment that Trinity had anything on the majesty or poetic brilliance and imagination of the Open University.The Open University is a century or two ahead of Oxford.
Quoted in Patricia W. Lunneborg, OU Men. Work through lifelong learning, Lutterworth, Cambridge, 1997, p. 117.

A national, local university

Saturday, March 17th, 2012
Wherever I go I meet OU students, including ones who wish to discuss their TMAs, and I see signs pointing towards the OU. When I travelled to Huddersfield the other day, in order to act as discussant at a doctoral students’ study day there, I was delighted, on emerging from the railway station, to be greeted by a statue of Harold Wilson. The OU founder maintained an enthusiasm for the OU and I work in a building named after him which he opened.
I’m now off to act as discussant of other doctoral papers in London, at UCL which is a few mins walk from the OU’s metropolitan office. Perhaps the alleged popularity of Hi-ho silver lining at summer schools of yore is because the lyrics speak to the virtual and real OU ‘You’re everywhere and nowhere baby, / Thats where you’re at’. The song concludes with a reminder to return to focusing on the teaching materials of the period, no matter where you are located: ‘So open up your beach umbrella /While you are watching TV’.
If you have ever got sun tan lotion on your Reader or you have a favourite OU location (I once got locked into a study centre and had to use all my teaching skills to pursuade the most agile student to clamber out of the window to summon help) do let us know via the website.

Studying in the 1980s

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
Richard Baldwyn’s autobiography Only Yesterday. Times of my life Kendal and Dean, 2008 includes his recollections of his OU degree which he started in 1986 and concluded in his sevenieth year, 1991. In the book he calls his experience ‘exhilarating, terrifying, humbling and oh so rewarding’. He describes the OU pedagogy which ‘teaches one to teach onself and at the same time to realise that the true purpose of education is the knowledge, not of facts but of values’. Richard Baldwyn mentions ‘the dreaded exam’ which led him to be ‘transported back some fifty years’ but spends more time recalling tutorials (which he clearly enjoyed) and Arthur Marwick who he met at Summer Schools in Westfield College, Hampstead and in York. While this summary indicates the importance that many students attach to their time studying with the OU, it does not do justice to the prose, described as ‘delightful reading’ by Wendy Craig. If you want to know more about the book, follow the link. If you want to tell us your OU tale, follow this link.

Summer school

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

S357 Revision Weekend, York 2004



The White Paper on the University of the Air, 1966, proposed that the teaching provided via correspondence television and radio ‘will be reinforced by residential courses and tutorials’. The Report of the Planning Committee, 1969, stated: We recognise the great advantage that can accue from face-to-face meetings, which will be provided for by the short residential courses proposed’. An early Senate made attendance at residential schools compulsory and reinforced that decision in 1970 when it was questioned by the Faculty of Technology. (more…)