Archive for July, 2011

Thinking outside the socks

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

A report on the OU’s women students in The Times in 1984 included an interview with Jan Hobbs, who left school at 16, received her OU degree while aged in her mid-40s and by this point was studying for her Honours. The reporter notes that while Jan said that she was happy, the garden is ‘a confusion of weeds and piles of unmatched socks sit jumbled in a chair’.

A summer school counsellor recalled how he talking with a woman who said ‘Well you know what? My husband rang me up and he was up to his neck in it with the kids and I can’t believe I laughed’. She then said ‘And I don’t miss my Mr Sheen a bit’. I am grateful to the Society for Research into Higher Education for the funding which enabled this interview with Tony Whittaker by Ronald Macintyre, 4th January 2012, to occur.

Perhaps you too have snubbed Mr Sheen? If you have ever left socks to sort themselves, exerted will power over wool power, in order to get on with your studies, tell us about it.

Broadcasting developments

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
The OU has not used television to support assessed learning for many years. The relationship with the BBC has changed from one of partnership towards one in which the BBC is only one of a number of possible providers. One forthcoming development is a series with Channel 4. In the meantime the OU continues to use broadcasting to support learning with a new series just about to hit the screens. It is about towns (one of those featured is Totnes, hence the picture) and there is a website and openlearn site. More here.

BBC science broadcasts

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

The OU made thousands of broadcasts with the BBC and between the two bodies there was a flow of information about how best to communicate and support learning. However, educational broadcasting predates the OU by several decades. It was these early broadcasts which provided many of the blocks onto which later broadcasts were built. Sometimes the BBC produced programmes whichwere criticised. ‘Outlook’ went out on the television in the 1960s. It offended the clear, and narrow, view of education held by reviewer J D S Haworth, writing in The Listener (17th Feb 1966, p. 255) it ooffered ‘instructional essays [which] cannot be thought of as wholly educational in purpose because they are not rendered through whatever  techniques as lessons’.  He went on ‘if this is strictly educational television it does damage to the vague idealism conjured up by the phrase ‘University of the Air’ whose plans we are awaiting with awe and cynicism’.

Looking further back is Allan Jones. An exploration of the role of one of the BBC’s first science producers, Mary Adams 1898–1984, who was active in BBC radio from 1930-36, has recently been written by Allan Jones, of the OU. Mary went on to work at Alexrandra Palace as the first woman appointed as a television producer. Allan’s paper, Mary Adams and the producer’s role in early BBC science broadcasts, should soon appear in the journal Public Understanding of Science, a peer reviewed, quarterly international journal covering all aspects of the inter-relationships between science (including technology and medicine) and the public. For an example of his previous work on Adams see here.

Fees news

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Since it opened the OU has charged fees, often different rates for different students. In the context of other universities charging fees (see here) on 19th July the OU announced that the fee level for new students in England starting their studies on or after 1 September 2012 is to be £5,000 per full-time equivalent study year (120 credits). In Wales, the cost incurred by OU students is likely to be lower than in England as a result of additional support from the Welsh Government. In Northern Ireland, there is yet to be a decision on future fees. (more…)

Deaths and the OU’s near death experience

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

It was 41 years ago that Iain Macleod the Chancellor of the Exchequer died. The death occurred at 11.35pm on 20 July 1970 while he was in 11 Downing Street and, according to Patricia Hollis p. 339, while the papers which would enable him to close the OU were on his desk. Macleod is credited with the view that the OU was ‘blithering nonsense’  (Daily Telegraph, 17 February, 1969). The first Dean of Arts at the OU, John Ferguson, said that Macleod’s view of the OU was that he was

rigorously and almost fanatically against it… had declared publicly that if the thing were set up, his party would abolish it… There is no doubt that Macleod’s sudden death, lamentable for national leadership in other ways, eased the University’s infancy (Ferguson, The Open University from within, pp. 13, 26).

Although Macleod’s last testament ‘acquired a special sanctity from the untimely death of its author’, Thatcher, motivated according to George Gardiner, by ‘her strong belief in giving educational opportunity to those prepared to work for it’, kept the OU. (more…)

Jennie Lee and the pioneers

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
At the Jennie Lee and Pioneer Alumni Event on 19th July, there was the official opening of the Jennie Lee Building, a visit from 250 of the OU’s first ever students and some guests who have played significant roles in the history of the OU, including Asa Briggs, Mike Bullivant, Joe Clinch, David Hawkridge and Robin Wilson.  In the photo the artist, June Mendoza, can be seen talking with Lord Briggs in front of the portrait. There was a tour of the Jennie Lee building before people gathered in the Hub (see photo).
Dan Weinbren explained the role of Jennie Lee in the history of the OU. This was prior to the unveiling of a portrait of her by Martin Bean. One untold story about Jennie is that mentioned in Ferguson, The Open University from within, p14. As the Labour government left office in 1970 the outgoing Education Secretary Ted Short is said to have put his arm aound Jennie’s shoulders and said ‘Jennie. the great achivement of the first post-war Labouradministration was the National Health Service, and that was Nye’s. The great achievement of the second is the Open University, and that’s yours’.  
The Vice-Chancellor also unveiled a plaque. Dan also gave a talk on the History of the OU Project to some of the guests.  
Copies of the ‘Share your story’ cards were distributed and it is hoped that there will be further contributions to the website. 
The event was reported by several of those who attended. The architects, SHCA, commented on the event with a pdf and a link via twitter. Anna Page told her Twitter followers that she attended the official opening of the Jennie Lee Building and IET tweeted, ‘The OU is holding the official opening ceremony today of the Jennie Lee Building and we are hosting pioneer alumni as part of the event’. Doug Clow tweeted a link to the Platform site, and claimed ‘For the record: I’m wearing smart togs today for the opening of the Jennie Lee Building, not for the Select Committee’. A visitor Gerald Haigh said ‘Great day at @OpenUniversity ,with pioneer class of ’71. Great presentations. Brilliant speech by VC Martin Bean. Due homage to Jennie Lee.’

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. 

Messages through the long white cloud

Thursday, July 14th, 2011


In From a Distance (published in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of the distance education programe of Massey University New Zealand, Aotearoa) Emeritus Professor Tom Prebble noted that the use of television by the OU (the educational significance of which he may have overemphasised) had an influence on this New Zealand university’s distance education programme.  

‘When the British Open University began in the early 1970s, it made extensive use of television to support its teaching programmes. These programmes were also available to the general public on a free-to-view basis and they did a lot to publicise the new institution. By the mid 1980s there was a widespread belief that television should be used to deliver distance education in New Zealand. At Massey, this viewpoint found an enthusiastic champion in Terry Povey [who established] a Television Production Centre [p.79]’.     (more…)

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.

OU: one of many?

Monday, July 11th, 2011

The popularity of distance education has increased considerably in the USA. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of students enrolled in at least one distance education course increased significantly between 2002 and 2006, from 1.1 million to 12.2 million–and the growth spurt doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The OU, once unusual in offering supported learning for degrees at a distance is now much more part of the mainstream. The history project aims otconsider its role as parent to many other institutions offering distance education. If you have experience of distance education through another body, perhaps you could share your story.