Archive for May, 2012

End of an era, or repetition of an error?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Many people have clear ideas about what they think that the OU has done, its history. These are reflected in their views about its future. For example, it is argued here that ‘the Open University is trying to poach full-time students from “traditional brick universities’. Competition for students was not invented by the OU and throughout its life the OU (open to people) has resisted treating students simply as objects to be poached or assumed that some adult learners automatically belong elsewhere.  Doug Clow proposed another approach and others noted that the OU was cheaper than other universities in England but the ‘thought slash blog’ continued to present the increase in fees as ‘the end of the OU as we know it — but only for students that live in England’, here. Understanding the shift in funding towards individual learners and away from taxpayers as part of a longer and wider trend could help us gain a better sense of its implications. Presenting change in terms of a drama of epochal moments may be less useful.

Asa Briggs and the OU

Friday, May 18th, 2012

In a few days Asa Briggs will launch his book which includes material on his relationship with the OU. This is a good moment to reflect on three contributions that he has made to the OU. (more…)

Roy Shaw, 1918-2012: mature student who helped found the OU.

Friday, May 18th, 2012

The death of one of the members of the Planning Committee of the OU, Roy Shaw, at the time the Director of Adult Education, at Keele occurred on 15th May. Born in 1918 Sir Roy came from a poor background. He gained a place at Firth Park Grammar School, Sheffield, but aged 18, a major operation for Crohn’s disease almost killed him and he could not complete his Higher School Certificate. He left school and worked in a library. He obtained a scholarship attended university and, after he graduated in 1946, became tutor-organiser for the Workers’ Educational Association. He then became a lecturer in the department of extramural studies Leeds University, the director of the Leeds University Adult Education Centre in Bradford, and from 1962, Keele University’s professor and director of adult education. He was an active member of the BBC’s board of governors and the British Film Institute, and, after his work helping to create the OU, he became an unpaid adviser to Jennie Lee (The Minister for Arts). When the Tories won power in 1970 he was retained by the Conservative Arts Minister, Lord Eccles. He became an unpaid member of the Arts Council in 1972 and was its secretary general, 1975 to 1983.

Before Life on Mars, and Other Roman Gods

Thursday, May 17th, 2012
The 1970s are conventionally associated with apocalyptic heradlines, ‘3 million face the dole queue’ screamed The Sun (15 01.79), redicting the impact of the events in the ’80s. Others phrased their views as questions: ‘Is anyone running Britain?’ asked the Daily Express (08.02.79) and ‘Is everyone going mad? was the Daily Mirror‘s poser on 05.12.73. However, amidst the petrol and bread shortages and the closedown of TV at 10.30 (due to power cuts and strikes) the decade also saw some exciting use of television for educational purposes. Now associated with the strange messages from another era beamed out to the central character in ‘Life on Mars’ the OU’s TV output was pf significance to many more than this fictional late-night learner. To find out more check out the 22nd International Screen Studies Conference, 29th June – 1st July 2012 at the University of Glasgow. It is there that Amanda Wrigley is to give a paper on ‘Theatre, education, television: the BBC and the Open University in the 1970s’. (more…)

OU 70s drama: first time as tragedy. Rerun and analysis

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

On 22nd June a symposium at the University of Westminster will consider the presentation of Greek tragedies on television. The speakers include Professor Lorna Hardwick of The Open University. She will talk about the use of television transmissions for the teaching of drama by The Open University and how this has developed and changed from 1971 to the present, drawing on her personal experience working in the Department of Classical Studies during some of this period.

Other confirmed speakers: (more…)

Short long on support

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Edward Pearce’s obituary of Ted Short (Baron Glenamara) who died aged 99 on 4th May, notes that he ‘took charge of the final stages of creating the Open University, perhaps the best thing any Wilson government did’. In a similar vein in 2004 Edward Graham (Lord Graham of Edmonton) who left school aged 14 and was one of the first students at the OU, attributed the creation of the OU to Harold Wilson, Jennie Lee and Ted Short.

The OU opened in 1969 and in 1970, before any students had started to study with it, a new government was elected. William van Straubenzee, the Junior Minister for Higher Education in the Tory government of 1970-74, said of the OU ‘I would have slit its throat if I could’. However, he felt that his violent enthusiasms were curtailed by Ted Short the Labour Education Minister whose ‘nifty, last-moment work with the charter that made the OU unkillable’. Perhaps this manoeuvre endeared Short to Wilson who kept him in his post at Education while Labour was in opposition in the 1970s. (more…)

Bringing it all back home

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

When, early in 2012, Alan Tait, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Curriculum and Qualifications, received an honorary doctorate from the Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics and Informatics, one of Russia’s leading economic institutions, in recognition of his services to distance education in Europe he gave a keynote address. This was about open and distance learning in Europe. This was to an audience of rectors from universities across the former Soviet states and also to students. A former President of the European Distance and Elearning Network and the Chief Editor of the European Journal of Open and Distance Learning, Alan noted that ‘there is currently significant effort in Russia to invest in distance education’. While MESI might be interested to learn from the OU, the OU has learnt from the USSR which provided a role model for the University of the Air.


Former OU man loses seat

Friday, May 4th, 2012
In the May 2012 local council elections in Milton Keynes, the town where much of the OU is based, the Tories lost a seat and Labour gained seven to become the second largest party. The Lib Dems lost a couple of seats. One of the defeated candidates was Sam Crooks, the Lib Dem leader on MK council. He lost his Middleton seat by four votes. He now runs an educational software company but he used to work at the OU.

Decades of impact: TAD292 lives on

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

TAD292 Art and environment (1976-85) was a distinctive course chaired by Simon Nicholson (1934-1990) who had studied at the Royal College of Art, London, and the University of Cambridge and between 1964 and 1971 taught at the University of Berkeley, California. It sought to develop ‘strategies for creative work’ and 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’.

TAD292 students were offered a range of projects on this 30-point course. 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. See Philippe C. Duchastel, ‘TAD292 – and its challenge to Educational Technology’, Programmed Learning & Educational Technology, 13, 4, October 1976, pp. 61-66. The course received considerable publicity. In 1976 The World  At One, a BBC radio news programme, reported on TAD292 at one summer school:

Bizarre games and happenings formed a part of experimental residential course for a group of students at Sussex University. They were encouraged to make prints of various parts of their bodies. Some made bare bottom prints, other dragged rubbish through the streets and one group appeared to be aimlessly kicking a giant rugby ball about. (more…)