Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

state and society: mutual aid across the dichotomy

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The Open University is largely funded by the state and yet it has supported the creation of voluntary organisations such as the FACHRS. Getting the balance right between the state and other sectors can be tricky. On the centenary of legislation which enabled voluntary bodies to administrate on behalf of the state Dan Weinbren reflects on these matters.

University of the airwaves

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Although it is a child of the sixties the precedents for The Open University are numerous and international. Harold Wilson was influenced by the work on educational broadcasting carried out in Chicago. For a posting about the American School of the Air and The University of Chicago Round Table and Judith Waller, a radio programming manager and later the Educational/Public Service Director for NBC’s Central division in the 1920s see here.  It seems that

Waller helped craft a number of educational programs, including a joint venture between the Chicago Public Schools that successfully connected city-wide special exhibits and the Chicago Daily News into an audio/visual/experiential learning experience.

Registration now open!

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

The History of The Open University Project is very pleased to announce that registration for the following event is now open.

What have we learnt?

Transmitting knowledge, facilitating learning c1960-2010

29 November 2011, 10:30-15:30

Library Seminar Rooms 1 and 2, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA

Higher education has played a significant role shaping our culture and our social, religious, ideological and political institutions. Since the Second World War, in common with other western societies, the UK developed mass higher education from an elite format. New universities opened and existing institutions became polytechnics and later universities. In 1969 the Open University provided a new form of higher education institution. The existing universities developed new student bases and students engaged with a variety of communities

This one-day forum, organised by the History of The Open University project, brings together a range of experts to discuss elements of the history of higher education over 50 years.

The morning session will ask how have students been taught, looking at the move from traditional lectures and tutorials to the use of new technologies, a variety of pedagogies and the development of student-centred learning.

The afternoon session will reflect on 50 years of the student experience, placing learners’ perspectives at the centre.

 Speakers include:

  • Prof John Beckett, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Georgina Brewis, Institute of Education
  • Prof Judith George, The Open University
  • Prof Fred Gray, Sussex University
  • Dr Janet MacDonald, Higher education consultant
  • Prof Andy Northedge, Higher education consultant
  • Prof Harold Silver, Author of Tradition and Higher Education
  • Prof Malcolm Tight, Lancaster University
  • Dr Dan Weinbren, The Open University

There will be a short meeting at the end of the day for current researchers to discuss future workshops in the context of preparing a funding bid.

The workshop is open to all, but those who wish to attend are asked to register in advance as space is limited.

More information, including a provisional agenda and abstracts from the speakers are now available here.

To register please email

Educational Futures Thematic Research Network

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

The OU has a new thematic research network, Educational Futures. The Educational Futures network draws upon the university’s distinctive engagement with understanding new forms of technological engagement, digital literacies, creativity, educational dialogues, professional identity, pedagogy, international teacher education, learning in non-formal spaces and the development of new research methodologies.

An element of this network is the History of the OU Project because to understand where we’d like to go we need to assess where we’ve come from.  As Arthur Marwick, 1936-2006, first Professor of History, The Open University noted on 24 November 1994 in the THES

We study history because of the desperate importance of the human past: what happened in the past… governs the world we live in today, and created the many problems which beset us … To change the world, we have first to understand it.

This project can help make connections and ensure that network bids are strengthened by reference to the long-standing traditions, assumptions and values of the OU. Longitudinal studies are possible here as they are not elsewhere because the OU has over 40 years of pedagogy including TV footage and course materials in the archives while other universities don’t even have collections of lecture notes from the past. The status and relevance of the OU has dramatically changed over the last half century but popular images, often reliant on stereotypes about kipper ties, remain. Through an understanding of the past the HOTOUP can take education forwards.

social media use

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

There are many OU students and staff who use Facebook (or similar social media) and there are a number of OU-related groups, including one for members of the OU here,  amd ones intended for those with a particular focus, such as the Arts Faculty. Please let us know about other groups and how you use social networks to support your learning or the learning of OU students.

48 years on from a significant moment for the OU

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Speech in Glasgow 8 September 1963 by the Leader of HM Opposition, Harold Wilson.

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 organized 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.

communicating ideas, supporting learning

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

In August 2011 Paul Ramsden, a key associate at the education consultancy PhillipsKPA, visiting professor at the Institute of Education, University of London, and adjunct professor at Macquarie University, argued in the THES that

the idea of the contact hour as a measure of teaching and learning is archaic … it is a national disgrace in 2011 that the most common form of contact hour is still the lecture. It is not surprising that today’s students believe that the main thing that would improve the quality of their experience is more interactive experiences.


Anniversary of the death of Walter Perry

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Eight years ago,on 16 July 2003, Lord Perry of Walton, founding Vice-Chancellor, died. Professor Walter Perry, Vice-Principal Edinburgh University was appointed The Open University’s first Vice-Chancellor. Part of his vision for the OU was that it could domore than teach Degrees to adults part-time.He saw that it could disrupt higher education: 

It wasn’t that I had any deep-seated urge to mitigate the miseries of the depressed adult; it was that I was persuaded that the standard of teaching in conventional universities was pretty deplorable.  It suddenly struck me that if you could use the media and devise course materials that would work for students all by themselves, then inevitably you were bound to affect – for good – the standard of teaching in conventional universities. 

In a review of Walter Perry’s Open University: a personal account (26.Nov 1975 THES) Asa Briggs suggested that it was to become

of great value to future historians and it deserves to be studied carefully now by everyone interested both in the Open University as a highly successful pioneering institution and in the operations of the British educational system as a whole. 

Research and universities

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

During its early years there was some debate as to whether academic staff at the OU should engage in research. There was a victory for those who insisted that the tradition associated with Humboldt be maintained and that this was part of the job of central academic staff. The OU is now recognized for having produced some world-class research. The debate, about the value of a research-teaching synergy continues through the recent 79-page White Paper ’Higher Education: students at the heart of the system’. (more…)

OU courses through local colleges

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science today presented a White Paper ‘Higher Education: students at the heart of the system’. The BBC reports that the Open University will offer courses through local further education colleges. 

In his reading of the White Paper the OU’s Vice Chancellor Martion Bean noted the ‘numerous positive references’ to part-time study, distance learning and to The OU. He was also encouraged by the material on widening participation and noted that David Willetts said in the Commons that ‘we think that The Open University can be one of the main beneficiaries of the new flexibility with the 20,000 extra places.’ 

This idea of a network was mooted in the early 1960s when the OU was being planned. Jennie Lee, however, took the view that the OU should take the form that it did. She felt that it was only by being independent that it could hope to operate to the highest academic standards. Soon after it was opened the OU allowed modules to be presented at colleges in the USA.  The 2011 White Paper seems to suggest that institutions, (possibly including further education colleges & private providers) which charge tuition fees of less than £7,500 can bid for 20,000 student places. Perhaps OU modules are to be sold to colleges? Who would validate the modules, be responsible for assessment and quality is not clear and the implications of a shift towards providing teaching materials for full-time and quite possibly face-to-face and young students have yet to be announced. The White Paper mentions the OU twice, once pointing out that it does ‘consistently well’ in thesurveyof student satisfaction (p37) the other time to suggest that there could be more bodies with a structuere such as that of the OU (p52).  (more…)