Archive for February 9th, 2011

Economic cuts of the past

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Access to the online back issues of The Economist has been secured for OU staff. A glance through the archives indicates that in 1963 The Economist ‘warmly welcomed’ the OU and called it ‘one of the best things that he [Harold Wilson] has done’. In 1965 it said that the idea of a University of the Air had been ‘long supported by this journal’. In 1979 it reported that the OU had ‘moved away from the over-the-air teaching’ and noted the importance of regional centres and correspondence. To mark forty years of broadcasts it lapsed into ahistoric clichés. Although most of the course materials were printed and late-night television only started after a couple of years, here we are told that

OU lectures delivered remotely by hirsute professors, who dryly enumerated the laws of thermodynamics on late-night television, appealed only to the most dedicated of older people, determined to better themselves in their spare time

The median age of applicants in 1971 was 26-27 and if there were ‘bespectacled dons sporting dodgy double-knit jumpers’ then there was also some very well-presented teaching materials. Indeed an early criticism of the OU programmes was that they were ‘slickly professional’ (Conrad Russell, TES 1971).

While The Economist concludes that ‘the OU might turn out to offer a vision of the future’, an understanding of how that vision could be realised would be strengthened by a more sophisticated view of the development of the OU.

Has a module changed your life? Tell us about it

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

In 1976 TAD292 ,Art and environment, was first presented at the OU. 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’.

Students were offered a range of projects. 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. This course took the OU some way from the image of standardized, central control. (more…)