In this short post I summarise the themes and papers I will be looking after at the upcoming OU WP conference, taking place on the 27th/28th April in Milton Keynes.

I should probably say from the start while they seem diverse, “I do have form”. My first roles at the Open University were around transitions, then I looked directly at learning at for and through work, and now I am resting (or should it be wrestling) with questions around online learning and equity.

To the themes …

ACCESS & ALTERNATIVE ROUTES INTO HE

On day one the alternative routes into HE features theme has three papers, one exploring the concept of a Good Transition from French and Kempson, and what does good mean in the context of moving from FE to HE, a space where the personal often comes up against organizational and political pressures to promote efficient transitions. Transitions are temporal and spatial, they happen across our lives. We hear from the Open University in Wales (Hudson, Pudner and Chilcott) about how Open and Distance Learning organisations support them, and the use of free and open educational resources in creating routes from the informal to the formal. When we talk about life-wide learning then transitions often start in the workplace, indeed when one is learning at for or through work then notions of being a learner or a worker start to dissolve, and we hear from Fisher about interesting work being done in this space.

FLEXIBILITY AND TECHNOLOGY 

Sometimes it can seem like flexibility and technology just do not go together, in particular when our social interactions with virtual and material technical artefacts seem to suggest they are not designed around how people work or live (or perhaps I am just showing my age). However, where technology is used to develop systems built as if people matter then it makes a difference. Hills looks at the Open Universities use of free and open to draw in learners. In particular it considers the role of recognition and designing relevant content in drawing in those distanced from education. Stone extends these questions, geographically looking at international examples and focusing on UK Australian comparisons of open and online, but also draws directly on questions of digital as problem or solution. This runs through the theme, and onto day two. If I had been writing about technology and WP a decade ago I would probably (and I was) worrying about the way educational technology might accentuate educational inequities, today I am more concerned that if WP does not address technology its failing the learners we ought to have. On the second day we have a concrete example of how adopting technology “the big red button” from Casey Collins and Gregory (including a demo) can help develop models of teaching and assessment that are more inclusive. Using video technology and a new tool to look at how we capture embodied knowledges often ignored in our attempts to force competencies into texts. We hear from Foley and Marr about the effective use of online networks and communities to allow learners to socialize their online learning experiences. Lastly I should probably flag a conflict of interest as Cannell will be talking about work I am heavily involved in at the interfaces of the free and open online and WP worlds as part of a Scottish Government funded project looking at raising awareness and building capacity in open educational practices.

EMPLOYABILITY

I have already alluded to the link between education in work when summarizing the transitions theme, and it is implicit in the digital and flexibility strand as well, for example “the big red button” capturing embodied competencies often done through or for work. Roberts considers how to ensure equitable access to very employment focused programmers through targeting at entry and throughout. While it is right that we focus on equity at the point of entering education and during it, when considering employability one is considering the notion of equity and fairness post education. Rattenbury, Holmes, McEwen and Rennison look highlight these inequities in their study of education to work transitions, noting even with specific employability programmes they tend to be used by those that need them least and many of the social factors we recognize in WP (family background) often play a significant role. They explore how making this visible informs institutional policy and practice. These social aspects and the sense of learning for and through work are explored in more detail by Smith who looks compares BTEC and HE programmes in relation to the vocational identity.

TO CONCLUDE …

On the surface these seem like disparate themes, however the question of transitions underpins all our work in WP, indeed sometimes I think WP can be defined as an attempt to work around what it not happening, it’s about the absence of smooth transitions, structural problems and underlying social inequities that alter people’s life chances. In the end, what is it for, education is of course an end in itself and lifelong learning, but is also about accessing to “a living”. Questions of equity of access to those employment opportunities are important ones the WP community needs to consider. Flexibility is clearly tied into ideas of lifelong learning, but so is technology, while the technologies themselves are tools they are becoming increasingly everyday, and just as we might press on numeracy and literacy, so questions around digital participation are challenges that need to be met head on. If we do not provide routes in for those distanced from the digital world we will be failing in our duty as educators.

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