Archive for October, 2011

Conference, Oslo

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Oslo has just over half a million inhabitants and is located at the head of a 70-mile long fjord. It is surrounded by forested ridges and I’m told that it is straightforward to go skiing, kayaking or ice skating within the city.

It certainly appears cheerier than a glance at the work of local artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) might lead one to suppose. He painted other images beside the famous one shown here. For instance he provided a mural for a local chocolate factory.

I’ve come here to spend a weekend listening to papers and contributing to discussions in a forum entitled, ‘Rethinking Modern University History’. I hope to situate thedevelopment of The Open University within the wider context of the development of other universities and hear, among other contributions, a paper about ‘The Myth of Academic Dissertations’, another intriguingly entitled: ‘An Inside Job? The Problem of Reflexivity in University History and Higher Education Studies’ and a third called ‘Undoing the European University: The Bologna Process’.

More graphic than info

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The history of distance education has been compressed into an infographic by, see here. All events prior to 1960 receive as much attention as ‘crime’ (illustrated by a poodle in a mortar board, though not this poodle). A teleological approach is implied by a number of images of evolutionary development, The Open University is not mentioned in this US-focused account and women are not considered to be of significance in this narrative.

Good to see the subject raised. Could try harder with grammar and content.

The OU is missed from this account of the history of distance education which has been produced by There are, however, links to the ‘top distance learning schools’. They are all US-based and private.

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.

Facing the social sciences

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

As part of a pilot scheme with The Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University has launched a Social Sciences fan page on Facebook.  This new platform is an opportunity for all Social Sciences students to network outside of their Tutor Group Forums and current study module/s with other Faculty students within the Facebook community. There are nearly 6,000 fans, some of whom have commented on their learning experiences. Here, for example is one:

It’s a journey – enjoy it. I like the ‘big picture’ concepts in OU Social Sciences especially, and a thoughtful tutor, which both help us stand back from the day-to-day. (And ignore the ironing, which is waiting in my kitchen here as I write my first TMA of DD301 for tomorrow’s deadline

Othrs at the OU have used social media to support learning. The History of The Open University Project is still collecting tales from staff, students and alumni, see here  and is running a forum on student experiences, see here.

Grandad, you’re lovely

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Writing in the THES on 6th October 2011, Martin Bean argued that the ‘vital work’ of the OU was to support widening participation and social mobility. He went on to refer to the history of the OU, using a familial image:

I recently heard The Open University described as the “grandaddy” of widening participation into education. The title was gratifying, but being the grandaddy brings with it a responsibility to work with the rest of the higher education sector and the government to ensure that we do what is necessary to provide the best possible opportunities – and outcomes – for future generations…. we must redouble our efforts to ensure that all of those who wish to study are able to do so.


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

Happy Birthday THES

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Happy birthday to the Time Higher Education Supplement which is celebrating its fortieth birthday this week. The newspaper first came out in 1971, the same year that students first started studying at The Open University, a reflection perhaps that higher education had moved up the political agenda. Matthew Reisz describes the background to the paper’s launch in this week’s issue:

It all started with a direct threat. Macmillan, the publisher of Nature, was planning to launch a paper called Senate, aimed at teachers in higher education. Times Newspapers Ltd was worried that this would eat into the substantial advertising revenue of the Times Educational Supplement – and so, in 1971, the Times Higher Education Supplement was born.


30 years of the OU on the TV

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Arguing that ‘Three decades of Open University TV broadcasts offer a kind of family album, providing fascinating glimpses of the university’s growth and development as it learned the craft of distance teaching in full public view’ Andy Northedge has produced an analysis of a selection of the OU course materials which were broadcast on the BBC. See Three decades of Open University broadcasts: a review.

Hats off to Drake

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

On 10th October, 2011 Michael Drake, the OU’s first Dean of Social Sciences, gave a talk in the Milton Keynes Village Hall to the Two Villages Archive Trust about on ‘The OU and me’. He employed the metaphor of industrialisation to describe the impact of the OU. This echoed a phrase that he had employed in 1972 when Michael Drake argued that the Open University was ‘the industrial revolution of higher education’ (M Drake, ‘The Open University concept’, Studies. An Irish Quarterly Review, Summer 1972, LXI no 242, p. 158).  (more…)

Society for Research into Higher Education

Monday, October 10th, 2011

 The Society for Research into Higher Education is a UK-based international learned society concerned to advance understanding of higher education, especially through the insights, perspectives and knowledge offered by systematic research and scholarship. The Society aims to be the leading international society in the field, as to both the support and the dissemination of research. 

Higher Education Close-Up  is a virtual network for in-depth research into higher education. It aims to provide a forum for discussion about, and the enhancement of, this kind of research through a JISCMAIL discussion list. You can find this list at: