Archive for the ‘History of the OU’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 42. The Perry Building

Monday, February 4th, 2019

The Perry Building (see illustration) is on the Milton Keynes campus and is named after Walter Laing Macdonald Perry KT OBE, Baron Perry of Walton, (1921 – 2003). One of the influential Scots at the OU he was born in Dundee in 1921. He died in 2003 and was the subject of obituarties in the Independent and Guardian.

The image here includes the art work outside the building.

As its founding Vice-Chancellor Walter Perry was central to the creation and establishment of The Open University. He was appointed in May 1968, felt that the OU could ‘change the face of education not only in Britain but in the world’ and set out to transform learning and teaching. There were 42,000 applications to start studying in 1971 of whom 25,000 were accepted. Other UK universities which opened in the 1960s started with a few hundred students. He established a successful system for transfer of academic credits and he encouraged prisoners to study at the OU. Despite opposition from those who felt the OU should only teach, he noted that ‘it was the intent of the new university to promote the research activities of its academic staff, an intent from which the Open University has never wavered’. Many knew him as a skilled negotiator, despite the fact that as he noted ‘at one Senate meeting in 1971 each member received 487 pages of typescript weighing 2lbs 15 oz’. He was also flexible. When the site was a sea of mud he sent out for slippers which were issued to staff. He initially demonstrated little interest in the regions and nations, claiming that he used an amended version of the further educational administrative boundaries because ‘we had no coherent plan for the regions when we started; they were simply allowed to evolve’. Nevertheless, the model of central planning was amended to encompass the specific needs and aspirations of nations. He insisted on high academic and pedagogic standards noting 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. I believed that to be so important that it overrode almost everything else.

He also recognised how difficult it was to study with the OU. His history of the OU, Walter Perry, Open University: A personal account by the first Vice-Chancellor (Milton Keynes: Open University, 1976) was one of the blocks upon which Daniel Weinbren, The Open University, A history (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014) was built.

 

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 41. Trade Unions

Monday, January 28th, 2019

After negotiations reaching back to 2002 the new contract for Associate Lecturers (ALs) is going to be implemented over the next two years. This was after 93% of AL union members who voted in a union ballot, favoured the new contract. Casual labour has long been an important element of staffing at the OU. In the past it was only when students signed up for a module that the ALs to teach them are employed. If the number of students fell then, although efforts were made to avoid this, ALs might not be contracted. The new, permanent contract for over 4,000 ALs will mean more job security for tutors, as well as better terms and conditions, more staff development opportunities, and improved long term planning. The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mary Kellett spoke of this being ‘a huge step towards an inclusive OU family and a united teaching workforce’. UCU regional official Lydia Richards said: ‘The new contract is a huge step forward for associate lecturers at the Open University. It means they are free from the fear of being out of work if there is a fluctuation in student numbers’.

In the light of this development, this week’s object is the trade unions at the Open University. Members of a number of unions have worked at the OU. Currently two trade unions are recognised at the OU. UNISON was created in 1993 through the merger of a number of unions, including the National Union of Public Employees, founded 1905. It negotiates on behalf of Secretarial and Clerical, Industrial Production Staff and Manual and Ancillary staff at the OU. This includes members who work for private contractors on an OU location. In addition to employment Terms and Conditions UNISON offers advice and support regarding Leave Entitlement, Health and Safety, Bullying and Harassment and it also offers services such as Insurance, Holidays and Legal Advice. Based at Walton Hall, it has representatives at all the OU locations. These include Walton Hall, the Regions, the Nations and the Wellingborough Warehouse.


At Walton Hall the pensions strike picket line, Princess Leia, sporting her bagel-style haircut, helped with the leafleting. Strikers were also supported by the local prospective Labour MP, Cllr Hannah O’Neill.


 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

The OU branch of the University and College Union negotiates with the University’s management on behalf of academic, research, AL and academic-related staff. It encourages staff to have a voice in the strategy and future of the university. Fifty years before the OU received its Royal Charter the Association of University Teachers (AUT) was formed. In 1949 the Scottish AUT (formed 1922) affiliated to the AUT (UK) as the AUT (Scotland). Almost from the start the AUT was active within the OU. It was joined by the Association of University and College Lecturers in 1992 and in 2006 it merged with the National Association for Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) to form the University and College Union (UCU). The union’s trained caseworkers have provided support and advice to members on a wide range of issues. Unreasonable treatment, such as bullying, discrimination and unfair dismissal have been challenged. There have been campaigns about the gender pay gap, job losses, casualisation, excessive workload and many other issues. The union has not simply been reactive. It has encouraged members to work together and to imagine how education could be better. There has also been support from the central officials and representatives of the union. Following votes, members have gone on strike with other branches around the country, most recently over pensions. Whilst most UCU branches have a membership based in one campus or a single town, the OU branch has Associate Lecturer and Staff Tutor members across Britain and Ireland. The UCU has often campaigned to defend students, opposing the decision to introduce high fees for learners. It has, in turn, received support from students. When tutors have explained that their reasons for postponing the assessment of students’ work, they have received letters and emails of support.
Specially-produced clothing to promote a campaign at the OU.

There have been other initiatives to engage with trade unions and industrial workers. In 1977, in an OU television programme and an internal paper Dr Ke  Jones drew on his own research in order to demonstrate that education was perceived as middle class He proposed study centres in industrial premises and the offer of guaranteed places for industrial workers. (Ken Jones, Given half a chance: A study of some factors in cultural disadvantage affecting the acquisition of learning skills in adults). The OU has also been in partnership with Unionlearn, the learning and skills organisation of the Trades Union Congress which helps trade unions provide opportunities for their members to learn.

 

 

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 40. Scotland

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

 

Right. The Open University in Scotland,  Jennie Lee House, 9-11 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh

On the left, Dr Gerry Mooney, OU Staff Tutor in Scotland and author and co-author of many texts including an article which won the Sociological Review 2017 prize for outstanding scholarship: Place revisited: Class, stigma, urban restructuring in the case of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games.

Although the OU has never simply been in Walton Hall, Milton Keynes the assumption that the OU was to be a unitary institution to serve the whole nation was illustrated by the editor of the Times Educational Supplement, who in 1971, called it ‘England’s Open University’. This marginalises that Scots have played a significant part in the shaping of the OU. Harold Wilson first announced his plans for a ‘University of the Air’ in Glasgow Concert Hall, and Jennie Lee (the MP who did so much to create the OU) and Walter Perry, the founder Vice Chancellor, brought their experiences of Scottish universities to the OU. The Scottish Education Department attended the Advisory Committee which helped to shape the OU. Scottish personnel brought experiences of specific features of higher education that were particularly relevant to the OU. The four-year degree was widely accepted in Scotland and the Scottish Universities Council for Studies in Education had already explored credit transfer systems.  Stirling University offered modular degrees from its inception in 1967. These precedents encouraged the OU’s planners to believe that a modular system, necessary as students often took breaks within their studies or did not seek to complete an entire degree, could successfully be developed. Members of the Planning Committee included Professor Lord Ritchie-Calder, Professor of International Relations at University of Edinburgh and Roderick Maclean, Director, University of Glasgow Television Services. Winnie Ewing, Scottish National Party President 1987–2005, suggested that the honorary doctorate she received from the OU in 1993 was ‘in recognition of my role in establishing it’.

The Scottish local authorities were given the right to nominate a member of the OU’s Council. They brought with them the confidence that working-class students could attend a university, a notion with a longer pedigree in Scotland than in England. Since the nineteenth century there had been a large number of bursaries for university places in Scotland and there are strong traditions of independent working- class education in Scotland. In the 1860s 1 in 1,000 people went to university in Scotland compared with 1 in 5,800 in England, and 20 per cent of students at universities in Scotland were of working-class origin. OU students were not always like those from England. Among the first ten cohorts of OU graduates 44 per cent were teachers, but this was only 37 per cent in Scotland, where there had long been many graduate teachers; the percentage of teachers without previous degrees was 41 per cent across the UK but only 29 per cent in Scotland.83 In addition, 20 per cent of Scottish students were geographically remote.

Once established the regional structure enabled the OU to adapt to differences within the United Kingdom. Roger Carus, the first Scottish Director of The Open University, ignored ‘“instructions” from Milton Keynes when he believed they did not meet Scottish needs’. Neil McCormick (an arts Staff Tutor in Scotland) noted that the Scots working in Edinburgh felt obliged not only to appoint and supervise staff in Scotland, but also to adapt OU teaching to local conditions. Scotland has a different legal system, different educational traditions, an Established Church of its own and a distinctive cultural history. The distance between the university’s central administration and its furthest flung students put a lot of mileage on its Scottish staff, as Neil McCormick noted: ‘Stornaway Tuesday, Milton Keynes Thursday’.

Soon after the tuition fees doubled in the course of four years he pointed out the inequalities of access in Scotland and McCormick commented, ‘The better-off can travel from Arran to Aberdeen, just for a day school, if they want to. The others may not be able to, even once a year.’ A generation later when fees were raised the OU’s Young Applicants in Schools and Colleges Scheme (whereby about 25,000 school students studied OU modules) was closed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was retained in Scotland where the fees were remained the same.

The teaching methods had to be adapted as the reception of broadcasts was unreliable in some parts of Scotland and the distances people were required to travel, if they sought to attend tutorials, were vast. However, there were compensations: staff who went to Kirkwall and Lerwick spoke of how they returned with sides of lamb from appreciative local organisers. For part-time staff with more generic roles, location counsellors, location centres (rather than study centres) and telephone and later video conferencing were employed. Telephone tutorials were developed by, amongt others, Judith George These were for those who lived in remote locations, some disabled students and those on some low-population courses.

The OU in Scotland gained a reputation for reaching out, providing evidence that the OU, while distant, was also nearby. The Scottish Director of The Open University from 1988, John Cowan, an educator of international reputation, was involved in many local issues and networks and active in securing access to university education for the Highlands and Islands. Emeritus Professor Ian Donnachie chaired Validation Panels for OU Validation Services, the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships, and acted as an assessor with QAA, the Scottish Funding Council, and reviewer for the Arts and Humanities Research Council. He also took a long-term interest in the heritage of the New Lanark World Heritage Site, helping to develop a search room and archive at New Lanark.  Professor Christopher Harvie was a senior lecturer in history at the OU before becoming an elected Member of the Scottish Parliament. Katla Helgason started to study at the OU in 1971. She became a tutor, established the Scottish Prison Scheme which replaced ad hoc arrangements with prisons, and later became the Assistant Director OU in Scotland. She went on to be active within National Dementia Carers Action Network.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 39. The Stuart Hall Building

Monday, January 14th, 2019

The Stuart Hall Building, on the Walton Hall campus, is this week’s object.

It was named after Professor Hall, 1932 —2014, a Jamaican-born British cultural theorist, sociologist, and political activist. Hall’s father was the first nonwhite person to hold a senior position within the Jamaican office of United Fruit. This was a powerful American farming and agricultural corporation. His mother was mixed-race. In 1951, Hall won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford and became engaged with radical politics. Following Kruschev’s ‘secret’ speech of 1956 and the Russian invasion of Hungary, many Communists left the Communist Party. The Reasoner, later The New Reasoner, was created to address some of their concerns. Another journal, less associated with former Communists, was also founded, Universities and Left Review. Stuart Hall was the first editor-in-chief when, in 1960, these journals merged into New Left Review. Hall joined Birmingham University’ Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in 1964, became acting director in 1968 and Director in 1972.

Hall was a popular public intellectual, frequently calling for social justice and against nuclear proliferation.

 

He left Birmingham University in 1979 to become a professor of sociology at the Open University. He noted that the OU was ‘filled with good social democrats. Everybody there believes in the redistribution of educational opportunities and seeks to remedy the exclusiveness of British education’. He later pointed out ‘it would have been funny to come to the OU and not to be committed to redistributing educational opportunities’. He remained at the OU until he retired in 1997 and became a Professor Emeritus. He played a full part in teaching and research. One of the modules with which he was involved included a popular teaching text: Paul Du Gay, Stuart Hall, Linda Janes and Hugh Mackay, Doing Cultural Studies: The story of the Sony Walkman (London: Sage, in association with The Open University, 1997).

His ideas about race, gender and culture informed much of the OU’s teaching. His focus was less on the conventional division between the culture of the masses and the validated culture of the dominant, the music and books that were supposed to teach people how to be civil and which would reveal them as well-mannered. Rather, for Hall, culture was ‘experience lived, experience interpreted, experience defined’. It was a site of ‘negotiation’ and popular culture was ‘where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in that struggle’.

50 objects for 50 years. No 38. The annual Innovating Pedagogy reports.

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Naomi Sargant (later Lady McIntosh) studied sociology, worked within market research and was an associate of Michael Young on the National Consumer Council. She joined the OU in 1970, becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Affairs; 1974–78) and a Professor of Applied Social Research. Through sample surveys and interview she brought the disciplines of marketing to education before anybody else did. Since that period the Institute of Educational Technology, which she helped to establish in 1970, has become a leading European research institute in the field of innovative education. It operates alongside teaching and strategic work at the OU and provides support for doctoral students as well as running a Masters in Online and Distance Education.

The impact of IET’s research has been far-reaching, leading to improvements in practice and policy. Its research on using mobile technology to enhance education, resulted in institutional and national policymakers signing formal declarations committing to the development of mobile learning across Europe. Its research also lies behind the OpenLearn website – now accessed by over 22 million visitors. It also works in the fields of Learning Design and Learning Analytics and its contributions for almost 50 years have led to worldwide recognition and considerable funding from a wide range of sources

Since 2012 colleagues within IET have produced annual reports outlining recent relevant educational developments. The 7th annual Innovating Pedgogy, the 2019 edition, echoes its predecessors in providing information about newforms of teaching, learning and assessment. The report proposes ten innovations that are already in currency and have the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice. These are

Playful learning

Learning with robots

Decolonising learning

Drone-based learning

Learning through wonder

Action learning

Virtual studios

Place-based learning

Making thinking visible

Roots of empathy

Social and emotional learning

 

 

This guide to teachers and policy makers interested in making the most of interactivity reflects the values of the Open University.

1. There is collaboration. The OU worked with the Centre for the Science of Learning & Technology (SLATE), University of Bergen, Norway.

2. There is co-operation. The authors include

Innovative pedagogy in the Legacy Garden, Walton Hall campus

Rebecca Ferguson,

Tim Coughlan,

Kjetil Egelandsdal,

Mark Gaved,

Christothea Herodotou,

Garron Hillaire,

Derek Jones,

Iestyn Jowers,

Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Patrick McAndrew,

Kamila Misiejuk, Ingunn Johanna Ness,

Bart Rienties, Eileen Scanlon,

Mike Sharples, Barbara Wasson,

Martin Weller, Denise Whitelock

 

3. There is openness. The material is openly available on the web. Permission is granted under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this report freely, provided that attribution is made.

 

4. There are international links. There are versions in Chinese, Hebrew and Korean.

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 37. Conferencing software.

Monday, December 31st, 2018

 

The use of technology to promote co-operative and collaborative learning goes back to the earliest days of the OU. Despite initial complaints from the GPO, which ran the UK telephone system at the time, since 1973 telephones were used to support the physically isolated, the itinerant, the housebound and the shiftworkers who were often unable to attend tutorials. Expert strategies were developed and a pack produced. Advice was offered to tutors about encouraging students to gather around a loudspeaker telephone for self-help activity ‘with the added bonus of you taking part from a distance – like an academic Cheshire cat’. Soon audio conferencing, which could involve up to eight people on telephones in different locations, was  employed as were faxes, personalised audio-cassette messages and video-conferencing.

In 1988 the OU introduced courses which required students to have access to a desktop computer. It presented Information technology: Social and technological issues, DT200, (1988–94). This used computer conferencing. By 1990 about 2,000 students were using CoSy to communicate with tutors and with other students. Programming and programming languages, M353 (1986–99) required a home computing facility, while Matter in the universe, S256 (1985–92) provided computer assisted learning for home computers and employed interactive videotape. Students were given opportunities to buy or rent computers. In 1995 twenty courses, with a total of almost 21,000 students, required undergraduates to have access to an MS-DOS machine. Conferencing enabled students to select a time which was convenient to them to respond. This did not offer the immediacy of quick-fire debate but it did provide opportunities for reflective dialogue. The large-scale use of this facility on Information technology, DT200, helped to shift the focus within the OU away from the individual learner towards consideration of how best to support social interaction. Individual students were encouraged to construct personal meaning and to contribute to their own learning and that of others through online discussion.


Information technology: Social & technological issues, DT200 (1988–94) introduced many students to computer conferencing with this electronic map of a virtual campus.

 

A new text-based conferencing system was developed. In 1994 FirstClass was provided for undergraduate courses following successful trials of the collaborative learning activities that it supported. It was considered to be much more intuitive a system than CoSy and within a year 5,000 students were conferencing. By 1996 there were 13,000 and soon 50,000. Initially the conferencing facility was used for interactions previously carried out by phone or letter. Tutors offered advice and responded to requests via FirstClass. The house-bound and those overseas began to exchange ideas with other students, particularly if conferencing was structured and linked to assessment. The university began to devise guidance for tutors on conference moderation and ideas about conferencing were further developed for an online course You, your computer and the net, T171 (1999–2005), which enrolled around 10,000 students in its first year and had 12,500 students by 2000. In addition to access to an extensive website students received a CD-ROM of software and set texts.

As new ways of providing interactive and individualised support for learners became possible so the importance of maintaining face-to-face contact declined. The OU study centre had begun life as ‘a “Listening and Viewing Centre” with the express purpose of providing access to VHF radio and BBC2’. Used for counselling and other purposes, many initially cost little to rent. The increased use of home video players and desktop computing cast some doubt on the value of study centres.


Typical FirstClass screen, 1996

On Discovering science, S103, computer-mediated communication was optional for students but a requirement for ALs. They used FirstClass to access a national conference at least once a week and they could also exchange messages using conferences designed for the localities in which they were based. ALs were provided with guidance as to how to teach in the interactive seminars and offered practical advice which reflected the ethos of OU teaching practices. It was suggested, for example, that they ‘adopt an informal, friendly tone. Start a message with a greeting such as “Hello” … avoid the more formal “Dear Chris”.’ In addition, they were told that ‘CMC is a medium devoid of warmth and you need to compensate for this’.

Learning was integrated with practice and students were required to submit their work electronically. They communicated not only with the central computing facility but also with one another and their tutors. Groups of about fifteen worked collaboratively on projects in their own tutor-moderated conferences. Reflection was integral to the assessment. Students were required to provide evidence of participation in online discussions. The intention was to use the new delivery modes to ensure that the OU’s environment remained congenial and supportive of the creation of knowledge by learners.

Online conferencing enabled data to be recorded for later analysis of how students learn and which were the most effective teaching strategies. Illustrations from Morris, R.M., Mitchell, N. & Bell, M. Student Use of Computer Mediated Communication in an Open University Level 1 Course: Academic or Social? Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 99, 2, 1999.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students studying ‘Environmental practice: Negotiating policy in a global society’, D833, used conferencing software Lyceum to represent different specific countries attending a virtual United Nations. They were given the problem of constructing a shared agreement through virtual UN negotiations. Negotiation was presented as an interactive dynamic, social activity and mutual learning process. Students were encouraged to understand both negotiation and how practi- tioners deploy theory through engaging in reflection on the simulation. They were also invited to keep non-assessed negotiation journals. An evaluation of the first presentation suggested that they appreciated the sense of community engendered and the support for reflection. Some of them said that they used the negotiation skills they had acquired in other situations and that they felt empowered by the course. While this module simulated a workplace, the United Nations General Assembly, other courses written for practitioners overtly tied their practical workplace activities to their studies. See David Humphreys, ‘The pedagogy and practice of role-play: Using a negotiation simulation to teach social science theory’, Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE) ‘Learning Communities on the Internet: Pedagogy in Implementation’ (Auckland, New Zealand, 3–6 December 2002).

 

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 36. The Briggs Building.

Monday, December 24th, 2018

I work in a building named after Asa Briggs. It is on the OU’s Milton Keynes campus. But why was he significant to the OU?

Briggs, 1921-2016, was a member of the OU’s Planning Committee 1967 ─ 1969 and chair of its working group on students and curriculum. He recalled that

Harold Wilson’s original idea was to connect existing extra-mural departments, the Workers’ Educational Association [Asa Briggs was President of this body] broadcasters, correspondence courses and night classes together to create a scheme for degrees to be awarded by an established university. He did not initially envisage an institution with a charter and autonomy but a consortium of existing universities using television and the post, facilities for home study, nationally-organized correspondence teaching and a structure open to a variety of people.


Briggs addresses an  OU Awards Ceremony.

Asa Briggs went on:

I was very keen that there should be some kind of gateway element, an introductory element into the courses … there should be some inter-disciplinary element and that there should be no great gap in the university between one set of courses and another. That there should be very considerable freedom to move from one course to another… that people should take as long as they liked to get their degrees. And I found all this extremely exciting… not a great deal of resistance on the Committee, but an immense amount of scepticism outside’.

Briggs also ‘believed very passionately and still do, in getting the access questions right.’ All these elements were introduced to the OU. Wilson’s ‘educational trust’ and Jennie Lee’s engagement with conventional wisdom were developed by Asa Briggs. As Ritchie Calder, a colleague of Asa Briggs on the Planning Committee said, ‘we stripped down the conventional university to its chassis and examined the essentials’.

Briggs taught modules at the OU. While the 1966 White Paper The University of the Air’ argued that OU programmes should bring ‘lecturers of distinction within easy reach of everyone’, the Planning Committee concluded that television ‘should not be wasted in the straightforward visualisation of lectures’. Asa Briggs took the opportunity to explore this idea. For the Arts Foundation Course, he presented a television programme, ‘Leeds: a study in civic pride’. Using film and music it is far more than a dry lecture to camera, or a travelogue. This is history which contextualises the level at which people lived their lives within broader regional, national and international perspectives so that those new to studying and with only one opportunity to watch the programme (this is before video playback machines were commonplace) could get a sense of why history is important and relevant to them and how it can be created by ordinary learners everywhere. Watching the programmes years after they were made you see both an expert enthusing about his subject and somebody who makes support for learning central and who wants to provide learners with opportunities to construct their own understandings, to be producers of knowledge as well as consumers of education. He also worked in some of the course teams. These comprised of academics, BBC producers and editors and created the teaching materials. He recalled that ‘sometimes I was on ones where I found myself in, to some extent, in disagreement with many other members of the same course team. But the idea of pulling together a group of people was important’.

As well as being an influential planner Briggs was Chancellor of the OU 1978 – 1994. He brought to the post his experience of work on the University Grants Committee and at the universities of Sussex and Leeds. He also used his Bconnections to well-established networks enabled him to help resolve disputes. Sir Keith Joseph, the Secretary of State for Education, 1981-1986 expressed concern at that which he considered bias in OU materials. The Vice Chancellor, John Horlock recalled being ‘summoned to what proved to be a very difficult interview’ with Joseph. He concluded: ‘I am sure that he [Joseph] would willingly have closed the OU down if it had been politically possible to do so, particularly after the affair of academic bias’. Asa Briggs was familiar with Keith Joseph ‘because I’d written a Nursing Report and when he was Secretary for Health’. When the Minister sought wanted advice about the best books on the history of his constituency in Leeds from the author of Victorian Cities the OU Chancellor used the opportunity to address ‘his fears and doubts of bias in Open University courses’.

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 35. Dum-dah, dum-dah, dum, dum, dum, daaaaaah

Monday, December 17th, 2018

 

This fanfare, the sting, the first few bars of Divertimento for three trumpets and three trombones, opus 49, was composed in 1959 by Leonard Salzedo and, from 1971, was used by the Open University as the signature to radio and television programmes. In this respect it is framed by the 60s as also are the origins of the OU. The music was also associated with the logo. The OU was announced by Harold Wilson in April 1963, developed by Jennie Lee and granted its Royal Charter in April 1969. Those few bars was the sound of my youth in the 1970s. They were a signal that my Mum was switching identities, was ceasing to prioritise being maternal and was instead to be an OU student. However, the Open University did more than disrupt my life. It enabled ‘university learning’ to enter millions of people’s homes and to transform their lives. It also disrupted the higher education sector and indeed the very idea of the university.

Those five bars can each work as a reminder of the OU to listeners and viewers. As you sat on the sofa in front of the television you were being told that the next programme was evidence of a society which wanted to improve itself, which was run by a supportive government, that was using the most up-tp-date technology and systems for social benefits and that higher education was not confined to either young radicals or the campus.

This was an affluent society. Wealthy enough to own televisions, mass literacy, mass access to broadcasts and, from 1964, BBC2. Television, it was argued could be transformative, acting as the window on the world.

This was a government, the BBC was state-run, which promoted social justice. Labour’s Nye Bevan, had opened the NHS in 1948, now his widow, Jennie Lee was expanding provision. The OU demonstrated the worthiness of the state vs commercial broadcasting pirates. Within a few months of a newspaper interview with Edward Short, the Postmaster-General, which was headlined ‘Why I’m sinking the pirates’, he became Secretary of State for Education. Questions of “education” and of “pop music” should not be treated, as separate historical topics. Nor at the time were they kept in entirely separate files. The agenda and the chronologies of education and pop music criss-cross. Educational television was, it was claimed ‘a symbol of a new type of government’.

Reaching a mass audience was a symbol of mass production business model and a systems approach. Encouraged by the Wilson government, a new car company the British Leyland Motor Corporation was formed in 1968. Within a year it employed 250,000 people at the largest car plant in the world. Most UK universities which opened in the 1960s initially catered for a few hundred students. By contrast, when the first round of applications to the OU closed, over 42,000 people had applied. There were only 621,000 students in higher education.

There was cross-party support that state should build more universities. The Robbins report of 1963 was approved by all sides. However, by the time OU opened, students were perceived as a pampered lot, wasting time and taxpayers money. ‘Youth’, lamented lecturer E.P. Thompson in regard to Warwick University where he taught, ‘if left to its own devices, tends to become very hairy, to lie in bed til lunch-time, to miss seminars’. That most of the members of the Angry Brigade, who faced trial for a bombing campaign in Britain between 1970 and 1972 had been students was not lost on the press: ‘Dropouts with brains tried to launch bloody revolution’ claimed one headline. By contrast another paper claimed OU students were ‘Short-haired students keen to work’. Those five bars told viewers and listeners that technology could be used to support learners. University studying could occur in locations which had not previously been used for such purposes. At its foundation in 1969 the first Chancellor called the OU ‘disembodied’. Students in front of the television set could rearrange the conventions of time and space. They could create a laboratory or seminar room. One space could become several. Students could hold a mirror up to the mainstream, could recognise normality by observing what it could be, what it has been and what it is not. Through broadcasting spaces in which the social order could be made and remade were created.

 

 

 

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 33. Blithering opponents.

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

The quotations above manage to insult the students (Spectator) the founders (Christopher Chataway) the staff (Robert Jackson) the idea (The Times) and the Scots, Welsh, Irish and others not based in England (Times Educational Supplement). This was a university which failed as:

  • it was not a community of scholars, it failed as a university
  • it strove to be a university, it failed those best served by technical colleges and adult education provision
  •  it used television, it failed to educate and only managed to transmit
  • it was party political, it failed to be objective.

These criticisms had an impact. To prove it was intellectually sound the OU made strenuous efforts to present scholarly television programmes. as a result some of them ended up speaking to academic peers, not interested learners. To prove that students were being thoroughly tested to a high standard the OU’s assessment system has long been rigorous. For many years there were external examiners for every module, not simply every degree and there is checking on the marking of tutors through a system of monitoring and tutorial visits. The accusation that it was the creature of the Labour Party shifted. Some teaching materials were accused of bias.

However, slowly, the OU came to make the transition from an ‘electoral gimmick’ (to quote Chataway) to its current status of ‘national treasure’ (in the words of the Vice-Chancellor at another university). As it became more popular, so more politicians claimed it as their own. Winnie Ewing, Scottish National Party President 1987–2005, suggested that the honorary doctorate she received from the OU in 1993 was ‘in recognition of my role in establishing it’. One Liberal claimed that, ‘the idea owes its inception to a meeting at the Liberal Party Council at least a year earlier as any Liberal pamphlet for the year 1962 can amply demonstrate’.

 

50 objects for 50 years. No 32. Video recordings.

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

The OU achieved national, indeed international, fame through its use of television for teaching purposes. However, it was teaching so much that the time allocated to OU broadcasts soon became inadequate. The BBC wanted to broadcast a range of materials. As noted under Object No 31, the number of television transmission slots available to the OU did not grow at the same rate as the number of OU broadcasts. By 1978  about 20 per cent of OU television broadcasts had only one transmission. The percentage of students watching the broadcasts fell and the OU’s Video-Cassette Loan Service was introduced in 1982. As only about 8 per cent of OU students had a VHS player at home, machines were distributed to the regions. OU study centres began to be stocked with collections of videos and replay machines. In 1981 students could attend centres in order to use Europe’s first ‘interactive videodisc’.

Soon the technology spread. By 1986 60 per cent of OU undergraduates had a video player in their homes. Britain had the highest ownership of video-cassette recorders in Europe, and OU students’ access to such technology was ‘well above the national rate’. A survey found that only 14 per cent of OU under- graduates could not arrange access to a machine. In 1992, 90 per cent of OU students surveyed had a VCR and 80 per cent of them recorded OU programmes. From 1993, instead of mailing video-cassettes to students, the OU arranged for the night-time broadcast of programmes for students to record.  Video-cassettes liberated students from a fixed viewing schedule. OU Professor John Sparkes argued that ‘it was a mistake to try to teach conceptually difficult material by broadcast TV. It goes too fast and cannot be slowed down to allow for thinking time.’ Using video, students could skim, pause, rewind, fast forward and search. They could integrate reflection on of other teaching media. By contrast, a third of students who watched television material focused on the details and failed to draw out the general principles.  For courses with fewer than 650 students each year it was cheaper for the OU to distribute returnable video-cassettes than to broadcast the material. he OU had its own purpose-built television studio complex at Walton Hall. This enabled it to produce a video which generated three-dimensional images of the brain for the Biology: brain and behaviour course. The OU began to produce course-specific, non-broadcast materials (for group viewing at residential schools, for example).

OU videos, unlike broadcasts, were designed for students not general viewers and could be and replayed by the students. The OU considered how best to use the equipment. Research was carried out at the OU into the effectiveness of teaching by non-academic organisations, such as British Telecom (which used interactive video to train managers dispersed throughout the UK) and Price Waterhouse (which used a videodisc-based training programme to acquaint employees with potential computer security risks). An ‘Alternatives to print for visually impaired students: feasibility project report’ was produced for The Mercers’ Company and Clothworkers’ Foundation. A team from IET worked with Rank Xerox EuroPARC in order to design effective computer-based support for collaborative learning where people were located at different physical sites and connected via various forms of technology.

The OU made a number of videos as part of its Continuing Education activities. A video for Talking with young people, P525, included forty- three sequences. Students were invited to watch in groups and consider their reactions. The constraints inherent in a 23-minute broadcast slot did not apply to a video-cassette with a number of independent sections of varying lengths. For Social psychology, D307 (1985–95), students were invited to analyse a drama by referring to letters in the corner of the screen and a grid provided in the video notes. The presenter explained:

watch the excerpt straight through first time, even if you can’t get it all down in your notes, you’ll have a chance to replay this section of the tape later on. Doing this analysis in real time will be good practice for when you do your own observation.39

Similarly, the, video associated with Matter in the universe, S256 (1985–92), included the instruction that viewers should watch it more than once and that they should address questions related to the numbers in the corner of the screen. For Engineering mechanics: Solids and fluids, T331, 1985–2004, students were expected to measure the time period of an oscillating pendulum, and then stop the tape and apply the data to an equation. The impersonal broadcast to an infinite crowd had been adapted to enable personal use by members of the OU’s student body.

By the 1990s for Studying family and community history: 19th and 20th centuries, DA301 (1994–2001), students were encouraged to develop their transferable skills by making audio and video recordings.