Archive for January, 2011

Excited by learning at the OU

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Collaborate to compete. Seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher educationis a recently produced report to HEFCE by the Online Learning Task Force. The authors include OU Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean, Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive, HEFCE, a number of academics and representatives from Microsoft, Apple and also the President of Higher and Professional Education, Pearson Education Ltd. 

The report employs understandings of the history of the OU noting both that ‘this country set a world standard for distance learning by establishing, some 40 years ago, the Open University’ and that

The Open University has developed its own style of online learning called ‘supported open learning’ giving its 250,000 students flexibility to study when and where suits them best. This is in keeping with the university’s founding mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

 The report also noted that

Learners are increasingly able to navigate high quality, open and online resources and can do this through social networks, which in some cases are more supportive contexts in which to develop skills. New broadcast and distribution channels such as iTunes U17, Youtube and Wikipedia demonstrate this trend. Learning environments and contexts are becoming increasingly participative and the learner’s contribution is highly valued by teaching professionals….The Open University, for example, has successfully attracted students by placing small segments of content for informal learning on iTunes U.

Can you help us explore the history of this trend of support for informal learning so that we can better comprehend it and assess the impact of the OU? (more…)

Walter James

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011


Professor Walter James, the founder Dean of the Faculty of Educational Studies, born in 1924, died on Christmas Day 2010.

The son of a railway fireman, later an engine driver, Walter James attended Grammar School due to a scholarship but had to leave aged 16 as his family could not afford for him to remain in full-time education. He joined the Royal Navy aged 18 and after war service he trained as a teacher. He was a mature student at Nottingham University between 1952 and 1955 and then a lecturer in adult education there. While working at the Department of Adult Education, Nottingham he worked on a project to integrate television broadcasts and correspondence materials into a university course. Associated Television and the University of Nottingham produced a 13-week course which 1,250 people completed. It included programmes, written notes, two tutorials and a residential weekend attended by 200 people.

Following his appointment to the OU he sought out others who had used a variety of distance teaching techniques, visiting both the University of Wisconsin Extension and the USA Forces Institute, a centre for correspondence-based education which was based nearby and had links with the Wisconsin. (more…)


Monday, January 17th, 2011

 Gina Barreca noted that there are songs about the experience of attending college and university. However, there are not any commercial ones specifically about The Open University. If you know differently, or can supply the lyric sheets for ditties composed at summer school or for Christmas parties, do comment.

Goodbye to the Geoffrey Crowther building (corrected)

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

A moving tribute to the Geoffrey Crowther building has been paid here. The building on the OU’s Walton Hall campus in Milton Keynes is currently being demolished. It was built in in 1971 with its extension opened in the early 1980s.

Lord Crowther of Headingley was the first Chancellor of the University until his death in 1972. He was installed as Chancellor at the first meeting of the Congregation of the University on 23 July 1969 at the Royal Society. This was combined with the award of the Charter by the Privy Council, and was attended by the Prime Minister to much fanfare. It was on this occasion that Lord Crowther gave his speech describing the new university as open as to people, places, methods and ideas: the University’s mission statement to this day.

CORRECTION (14/02/2011): An official document from the University’s Estates Department provided the information for this post that the Geoffrey Crowther building was built in 1971. However, an observant reader of this blog contacted us to point out that as he was working in the building in 1969, this could not in fact be the case. A check of the aerial view of the campus from 1969 shows that indeed the building was in place then (on the left hand side of the picture).

1969 campus from the air

Modules and courses

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

At many universities students sign up to read for a degree (sometime called a course)  rather than for a series of single modules (each one of which are sometimes called a course). At the OU students have to be enrolled not once for a degree but many times. How has this complexity arisen? (more…)

Anniversary of the first OU programme on Radio 3

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

The first OU programme on Radio 3 was Arts Foundation Course 1, broadcast on 11 January 1971 between 7 and 7.30pm.  Open House, 7th January, 1971, reported that the initial broadcast was repeated on Radio 4 on 17th January. Professor Asa Briggs, then the vice-chancellor of Sussex University, told the story of how the Humanities had changed over the years and Professor Ferguson examined the OU’s interdisciplinary approach. Derek Hart raised some questions. (more…)

Press at the OU

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The OU has produced many newspapers and magazines over the years. One of them was aimed at staff and students within Social Sciences. It ran between 1998-2010 in print format and according to the person who edited every edition, Dick Skellington, it sought

to engage readers with those realities which make up everyday life. It has championed the involvement of students themselves, questioned government and academic dogma, informed readers of our curriculum and research priorities, and provided a diverse array of short and informative, often amusing, stories, all embellished by fine photographs and illustrations plus contributions from our two highly talented student cartoonists

This is an example of the work of Catherine Pain a cartoonist For Society Matters and now one for the Open University Community Online Platform 

Early use of the term ‘University of the Air’

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The University of the Air

The term ‘University of the Air’ was used by Harold Wilson on 8September 1963 when he announced plans for the body which became the OU. He said

Today I want to outline new proposals on which we are work in, 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.

He used the term again in a speech at the Labour Party Conference on 1 October, 1963. On 25 February 1966 the Labour government published a white paper, ‘A University of the Air’. George Catlin used the term in 1960 and Michael Young in 1962.[i] Anglia TV broadcast a series called College of the Air in 1963. Versions of the term had been used before prior to this time. (more…)

Harold Wilson’s big idea

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Wilson’s speech in September 1963 is often seen as the beginnings of the OU. It is called ‘Wilson’s vision’, here. But from where did he get his ideas? One source was William Benton. Benton sponsored Harold Wilson’s trips to the USA in 1960, 1961 and 1962,and Wilson felt that Benton’s ‘heart was in academics and in politics’ (Harold Wilson,  Memoirs: The Making of a Prime Minister, 1916-64, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Michael Joseph, London, 1986). It was Benton who suggested in 1963 that Wilson and he have dinner with Geoffrey Crowther, the Vice Chair of the Editorial Board of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) who, as chair of the Central Advisory Council for Education was responsible for the The Crowther Report – Fifteen to Eighteen (1959). Benton chaired EB. Crowther went to become the Foundation Chancellor of the OU.  The first Vice Chancellor of the OU, Walter Perry, argued that Benton was one of the men whose vision of education for all, through correspondence teaching and the use of the mass media contributed to the decision to found the Open University (Walter Perry, Report of the Vice-Chancellor to the council, 1972, The Open University, Milton Keynes, 1973, p. 30) (more…)

Forty years on air

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

There was considerable coverage given to the fortieth anniversary of the first OU television broadcasts on 3rd January 1971. A local freesheet in Milton Keynes, MK News included an image of an early broadcast. There was also material based on interviews with Michael Drake, who made many of the early social sciences programmes and with Sally Cromptron, the current head of the Open Broadcasting Unit.  There was also a link to the timeline. The archives has more information about the content.