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Who gets my things after I’ve taken my life?

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

As a Master of Arts: Open and Distance Education I will give all kinds of things a go. I’ve done a few FutureLearn MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). This eight week course on writing fiction from the OU looks like being one of the biggest; the OU pedigree also shows – the thinking and ‘broadcast quality’ of the video pieces shows compared to material put up by some universities.

Activities, activities, activities I remember someone saying from the OU when it came to designing learning online. This course is a little bit of telling, a bit of doing, that a lot of sharing. You can be thinking up a comment and before you post there can be five or six posts ‘land’ ahead of you. There are 1000+ responses to a thread. To some this is daunting. To those not used to these environments it may be off-putting. When you get used to it its fine, like going to a huge nightclub in London that’s on several floors rather than a mate’s part in their front lounge.

In this exercise we watched a clip of a dozen folk going about the daily business; all had feature in the opening piece about writing, so most are ‘at it’ pen on paper, into the laptop or onto an iPad. We are invited to take a person or moment and invent a story from it. I had never consciously done this before and was delighted with the effect, not trying to figure out what people really are doing, but rather inventing something for them.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 2. From an activity in ‘Start Writing Fiction’ from FutureLearn

I have a young woman innocently keeping a ‘writer’s journal’ who I decide is writing suicide notes to five or six people; she puts a key from the bunch in each envelope, posts off the letters then kills herself. A bit morbid. I suppose I should now figure out why, and reveal what is behind each key.

Go see.

FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction

See also how a shared, threaded forum such as this can be used to create a vibrant asynchronous conversation with several hundred, even thousands of people. Several things FutureLearn do which would work well here: word count limited to 1200 characters, 16 minutes timed out having posted to edit – then its done. A ‘like’ button and an easy way to keep abreast of comments left in a discussion you have started or joined without having to try to find it.

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Did everyone used to speak English with a foreign accent in the past?

Fig.1. Images from my Google Pics gallery

We are collectively being tipped into a centenary marking of the First World War where all ‘foreigners’ speak english with an accent; we have German, Russian, French … we have Serbian and Austro-Hungarian ‘english’. We even have Americans voiced by English actors speaking … english with an American accent.

I remember my son asking if everything was ‘black and white’ in the olden days; that until recently people grew up in a black and white world. Will a young generation watching TV on the centenary of the First World War imagine that language difference is simply a matter of accent?

It’s all compromise and accommodation

It’s very much the BBC perspective: which as the ONLY public service broadcaster the world has tries so hard to represent everyone. I have my say here – Jonathan Vernon on Hastings 1918

WBC anyone?

The World or Globe or Earth or … whatever ‘Broadcasting Company’?

For all or any failings the effort, transparently at least, to strive for ‘truth’ based on evidence of what is going on.

The Open University has been, was and should take the lead. I wonder, with concern that the legacy of Michael Bean has been to trim back too hard and so diminish us to a voice from the corner of the empire.

I hope the next Vice Chancellor will be a global figure. Bill Clinton comes to mind.

‘Read in a subject until you can hear the people speak’.

E H Carr.

It has taken a forty years but I feel I have the voice of the soldier of the First World War – and the officer, and the girlfriends and mothers at home.

The Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education in images

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I’ve created, screengrabbed, mashed up and photographed my way through four years with the OU – seven modules. I should share more of them or turn it into an eBook or some such – a six hour long SlideShare? There are over 1600 images.

Are we at the Napster moment in Higher Education?

Martin Bean Key Note – notes from the 2012 HEA conference.

If there is a transcript please let me know!

Martin Bean, the Vice Chancellor of the Open University (OU) makes the point that technology in education has everything to do with brain-ware, not software, that ‘we thought our job was done when we got people plugged in’ – (he comes from a commercial technology background).

Martin Bean calls for educators in tertiary education to ‘do the right thing by our student’

Technology is the enabler – it still requires great teaching.

He is at pains to point out that our approach to education is stuck in the past, that it is NOT about rote learning to regurgitate in an exam, but helping students make sense of the information available to them.

Martin Bean is HIGHLY critical of research students who rely on the top 15 hits in Google Search and Wikipedia.

His handle on the current student is insightful.

He makes the point that ‘they want to blend their digital lifestyles with their learning – rather they would say it is ‘just the way they live’.

‘We need to create a trusting environment where the student can challenge the information’. Martin Bean

There needs to be deconstruction and reconstruction of the pedagogy to make it more relevant

Martin Bean calls for the ‘sage on the stage to coach on the side’.

He makes the point that the OU’s National Surveys say that our students want to spend time with us.

This human component is crucial for success and retention.

Martin Bean asks, ‘what would Steve Jobs do?’

  • People and process remain more important than the technology
  • What the OU does: relevant, personalised, engaging learning.

How do we inspire people in those informal moments?

The OU are lucky and unique to be able to work with the BBC on productions like the Frozen Planet …

  • YouTube as an open education repository
  • iTunes – 1:33 come in to find out more
  • Apple authoring tools

The value and opportunity of mobile

  • Akash – a tablet from India running on Android for under £50, so cheaper to give students one of these and access to the Internet than buy academic books.
  • 400 eBooks. e.g. Schubert’s poems, listening to music, seeing the manuscript, reading annotations then looking at the original handwritten manuscript …

How do we as educators do what we do so well?

  • MOOCs – engagement of hundreds of thousands, if not millions in meaningful ways.
  • More than anything esle technology creates access

We are at the Napster moment in Higher Education

See the Hewlett Foundation website for the scale of OERs. 12,000 hours of OU Open Learn for example.
Nurturing powerful communities of learning

In his final remarks Martin Beans suggests

  • Breaking the content down into shorter milestones
  • And the need for qualifications with market currency

Does exposure in the sense of ‘open’ learning work?

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Fig. 1. what collaboration online looks like? Activity theory meets neuroscience. This could be many heads knocking together, or the internal workings inside one.

I’m getting a sense of deja vu as the rhythm of H818 reveals itself. I’m doing the Open University module H818:The Networked Practitioner. It runs until Jan 2014.

Openness comes with caveats. It is not everyone’s cup of tea.

As people we adjust our behaviour in different environments. I am not saying that we necessarily behave in the same way in an Open Studio online (a virtual studio no less) than we do or would in an open studio, as in a collective in a workshop or ‘atlier’ that is ‘exposed’ to fellow artists in the physical world, but wherever we are ‘open’, in the physical or virtual worlds, we are nonetheless prone to human interaction with all the usual undercurrents.

For all those busy exposing themselves, the easiest default position, someone – ‘one’ being the key word, has the door closed and is getting on with the job without the distraction of others. Is achievement and success of necessity a lonely, not a ‘connected’ activity? You can do the networking once you have a product to sell or a well formed opinion to share … otherwise this is nothing more than ‘chatting’ in the First World War sense of the word – idol banter to pass the time between periods of conflict.

What I believe will not work is to put a gaggle of creators in the same room and expect them to collaborate. The studios of the ‘open’ type that I am aware of are either the classic Rennaisance workshop with a master artist and apprentices at various stages of their own development, or, with a similar dynamic in operation, the ‘occupants’ of a studio, or business unit cum workshop, are exposed LESS to each other and more to external commentators and contributors. This requires some formality to it .i.e. not simply ‘the person off the street’ but an educator/moderator in their own right.

It also helps if people have parricular skills sets that when combined work together – as in a team producing a film.

Is H818:The Networked Practitioner too dependent on chance? The foibles of a small cohort of postgraduate students with little in common and complete strangers … and the complex, messy, moments ‘we’ are each in. Actions differ between those who have had the course paid for by their institution, those who are doing it out of their own pocket for career advancement which requires the degree and anyone in it ‘for the love of it’ – with full-time employment, part-time employment or retirement, and any number of other commitments that colour participation and attitudes.

Over three years of this and, by chance only, surely … six of us strangers in a subgroup jelled. More often the silence and inactivity of the majority makes ‘group work’ a myth – partnerships of two or three were more likely. The only exception I have come across in the ‘real world’ have been actors working together on an improvisation – they have been trained however to disassociate their natural behaviours. The reasons why that ‘six’ worked has been a topic I have returned to often – team dynamic, spread around the globe on different time zone, all experienced practitioners and typically on our second or third OU module … digitally literate, socially networked …

Some of us study with the OU as we cringe at the ‘exposure’ of a course that requires us to meet in the flesh – distance learning suits, to some degree, the lone worker who prefers isolation.

By way of revealing contrast I am a tutor at the School of Communication Arts – a modest though pivitol role given their format and philosophy – exposure to many hundreds of kindred spirits who have been there … a sounding board and catalyst. NOT a contributor, but more an enabler.

We’ll see. My thinking is that to be effective, collaboration or exposure needs to have structure, discipline and formality. Of course this is or should be exactly what the ‘Open Studio’ platform provides. But like a restaurant, however lovely the decor, if the place is empty no one will be eating the food.

At the Brighton Arts Festival the other evening I wonder how the 80 odd exhibtors would cope if the Cornexchange was also their workshop? In certain, vulnerable environments, the only comment should be praise. Feedback is invited from those who are trusted.

A school setting is different again, as is college … people share the same space because they have to.

Open Studio apears to try to coral the feedback that comes anyway from a connected, popular and massive sites such as WordPress, Linkedin Groups, Facebook and even Amazon. Though the exposure, if you permit it, is tempered and negotiated – Facebook is gentle amongst family and friends, Linkedin is meterd and professional in a corporate way, WordPress is homespun while Amazon, probably due to the smell of money, can be catty – and in any case, the artefact is a done deal it’s not as if, to take a current example, Max Hastings is going to rewrite his book on the First World War because some in the academic community say that it is weak historicaly and strong only on journalistic anecdote. Some of the reviews read like they were posted by a PR department, not a person. Another story, but can we smell a rat as easily in the virtual as in the physical world?

We’ll see.

Reflections on postgraduate learning, online or taught

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Fig. 1. Ironically, given what I am writing about below, this book is recommended (though not compulsary) reading for the Open University (OU) module H818: The Networked Practitioner. I could only find a print version.

I’ll add notes to this blog (which I use to aggregate notes and as an e-portfolio, not just as a shared or private journal-cum-log) as the differences between the online and ‘traditional’ learning experience dawn on me as I do two in parallel.

An MSc in Development Management (a convenient way to be recognised for a collection of education and further modules on e-learning that I am doing with the OU) 100% online … except for the above book.

An MA in British First World War studies (with the University of Birmigham) 97% lectures and tutorials on campus. (There is online support, an online library and database, but books and 100 year old archive as physical artefacts in collections are the primary materials)

Actually there’s a third comparison I can make – that of ‘corporate learning and development’ which the other week with the E-Learning Network included something neither of the above formats offer – ‘social learning over an excellent buffet lunch’. (see below for my view of campus fodder).

Time Managment

The ‘traditional’ seminar or lecture forces your hand somewhat – you have to be there. Many these days are recorded for you and put online, though mine will not be. I’m inclined therefore to take either a digital or audio recorder along to record these things. I have, just a couple of times over three years, got behind with the online course as I kept putting it off.

Travel … and the associated cost

It’ll be around four hours door to door once a month. This means getting up at 4.30 am. Not of course something someone in full time tertiary education needs to do. Off peak, unless booked well in advance it’ll cost £74 return … £24 if I stick to exact trains. Lunch I may have to take with me as the campus only had premade Spar sandwhiches at every outlet.

Nodding off

After lunch on my MA induction day I did something I remember last doing in double Geography on a Friday afternoon with ‘Dusty Rhodes’ – I sat at the back, cupped my hands over my eyes as if in deep thought … and grabbed ‘forty winks’.

Something, however common to many people on any part-time distance learning course is ‘the early morning shift’ – putting in 90 minutes or so before breakfast.

Library Services

While this and other support services are offered to us on our VLE it was invaluable to to have a person run through it as a presentation in person. This kind of stuff should be given a linear expression … a mini-module for newcomers and as a refresher. All I’ve done, two years after the event with the OU was a webinar on using RefWorks.

People ‘in the flesh’

It was obvious as we gathered in the hall below the lecture rooms that the group of mainly male, mature students were turning up to the same gig. A handshake, a look in the eye and after pleasantries about where we had travelled from we got straight down to what MA were were doing and why: First World War, Second World War or Air Power. Meanwhile online, as many have been ‘gathering’ asynchronously online saying ‘where they have come from’ i.e. their last module, nerves and who they already know. No handshake, some faces, but not all, and largelly female. What these have in common is that human desire to find something in common amongst strangers. Doing a head count I’d say the ratio of male/female for war studies was 80/20 … for the MA in e-learning modules it would appear to be close to 30/70, perhaps 40/60.

Tutors

In three and a half years with the Open University I have not met any of the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) tutors or moderators. I wouldn’t even recognise some of them if I met them. In some cases I might know the voice. The ‘Chair’ of each module is the intellectual powerhouse, with tutors as moderator-cum-markers can be professors, not necessarily with the OU, or ‘fellow’ students who are a few steps ahead having completed the MA ODE. At the University of Birmingham the ‘intellectual powerhouses’ are our tutors and they were out in force – which given the subject matter included two retired Air Commodores.

Learning that is ‘any time, any where’

The MA ODE can be studied any time, any where – though in practice it is studied evenings, weekends and vacations as students tend to be in fulltime employment, those with children, during the term at least, may have some semblance of a ‘student day’ if they can settle down each morning. The MA WW1 is strictly confined to a Saturday, and not just one lecture, potentially three or four. There are Tuesday evening talks which I will never make and can only hope will be recorded and put online.

What does any of the above say about:

opportunity
motivation
support
retention
the traditions of learning
the subject matter
formal postgraduate learning for mature students in the 21st century

20130930-162659.jpg

Fig. 2 The First World War archive at the university of Birmingham

This would have been quite impossible online – handling archive 90-100 year old materials from a university collection. I was particularly taken by the personal diary and several hundred photographs of an officer who was posted widely during the war, from the Western Front to Malta, Italy and Egypt. The original artwork of Louis Raemaekers also impressed and inspired, while the actual typed up letters of cabinet ministers reasly brought home the opportunity to ‘turn to original sources’.

Reflection on a decade of e-learning

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Having not taken stock for a while it was refreshing and re-assuring to consider the Open University postgraduate modules that I have taken, though it has taken this long to understand the meaning of a module that is approaching its final ‘presentation’. In some cases a better word for this might be ‘sell by date’ especially with a subject such as ‘e-learning’ as at least three of those listed below were on their final or penultimate presentation and it mattererd – ‘H817:Innovations in e-learning’ wasn’t particularly innovative for someone who had worked in the creation of interactive and online learning. I’m used to and value the amount of background theory, but I still feel that in these ‘H’ modules that form the Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MA ODE) is considerably biased towards learning in formal secondary and tertiary education, rather than applied L&D in business which interested me most – indeed I know of two people across these courses who quit early on because they were working in a learning creation position in business and felt the modules were not suitably applied. B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change was the exception as however dated some of the content (video content shot in the mid 1990s that included companies that had long since gone out of business and innovations such as laptops the size of a small trunk with a carrier bag of cables) the activities and theory in relation to innovation were timeless – it was also an MBA module. Any of us who have taken part in or hosted learning in an organisation involving games of some kind would have found B822 familiar – much of it also touched on the kind of creativity used in advertising, marketing, PR, events and communications.

H804: Implementing Online, Open and Distance Learning (2001)
H807: Innovations in Elearning (2010)
H808: The Elearning professional (2010)
H800: Technology enhanced learning: practices and debates (2011)
B822: Creativity, Innovations and Change (2011)
H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students (2012)
H809: Practice-based research in educational technology (2013)

I’m continuing with these modules to demonstrate that the standard I am now able to achieve is sustainable so that working in academia, even studying for a PhD is viable. ‘H819:The Networked Practitioner’ is a new module. Reading through the course notes and first units (it came online today and goes live next week) I can see the care, clarity and thought that has gone into it, as well as the substantial use of a variety of online learning  tools for ‘connected’ or ‘networked’ learning … what some might call ‘social learning’ but here has more structure to it that that (parameters, goals, set tools etc:). It is tailored, every step of the way, to the production of a conference piece – there is considerable latitude here, but what is meant that you have a presentation that may be given in a variety of formats featuring a choice of core themes develop through the module but set in your ‘world’ or field of interest or expertise.

A teacher is taught to teach something in class, not simply to teach.

I  feel that I have learnt over the last three years how to teach online, but I haven’t developed a subject specialism, prefering to date to behave as if I were in an e-learning agency serving the needs of many, disperate clients. For this module, and potentially for one or two beyond, I hope to develop and demonstrate how the history of the First World War can be taught using e-learning – apt as we approach its centenary. In parallel I will be taking a Masters in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. This is also a part-time course, and ostensibly ‘distance learning’ – though in this instance the distance component is handled by my driving to Edgbaston once a month for a day of intensive face to face seminars and tutorials. This in itself will make for a fascinating constrast with the 100% online experience of the Open University.

In the back of my mind, whatever the subject, my interest is in how to address the global problem of there being 123 million people who want to study at university, but only 5 million places. Even if every university modelled itself on the Open University there would still be a massive shortfall – the answer must be in Open Learning that is supported, possibly by a huge cohort of volunteer alumni, as well as qualifying participants as they accumulate credits. Somewhere in here there may be a question for me to address with doctoral research.

It’s disengenious of me to say that I’ve been studying online for a decade.

I did a module in 2001 but did no further online learning in the subsequent decade – though I did qualify as a swimming teacher and coach! The reason for thinking about a decade as a period of time in which to study is that some would say it takes this long to become an expert. This comes from a piece of research carried out at the Berlin Conservatoire in relation to muscians and the years of training and practice they need to put in to get them to the concert hall as a soloist. Actually it wasn’t years so much as tens of thousands of hours required – 40,000 I think it was with kids introdcued to the instrument early and pushed by parents and institutions getting the furthest youngest. Martin Weller, Professor of e-learning, suggests that a decade is still the time scale in which someone might be deemed a ‘digital scholar’. John Seely Brown, who has applied learning and e-learning to business in the US, notably at Xerox’s famous research institute, suggested earlier this year that scholarship or expertise of the kind we are talking about may be achieved in five years because online learning can speed things up. People do take two degrees in tandem if they study online. Is there a fast track to a PhD? My perspective as a parent with teenagers is that they could begin a part-time online degree in their A’ Level year and graduate at the same time as getting their A’ level results or the year after.

 

Recollections of postgraduate online learning since 2010

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Fig.1 Screengrab from JISC 2011 that I took part in via Twitter (see top right hand column). From my OU student blog of 14th March via a folder in my vast gallery on picasa.

Two and a half years ago I took part in JISC 2011 ‘at a distance’ – distance, cost and illness were all barriers to attending in person. I’m prompted to recall one of the afternoon conferences as Chris Pegler and Tony Hirst from the Open University were on the platform. As well as questions coming from the floor (some 200 attendees) questions also came from the online participants (some 350). A question I posed was picked out by the chair and discussed. For a dreadful moment I worried that I could be seen sitting in pyjammas and a dressing gown at the kitchen table. By March 2011 I was on my second Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) module. A month or so later I applied to and eventually joined the OU where I worked, living away from home, for a year. This year I graduated and have since also completed what I see as a conversion course ‘H809:Practise-based research in technology-based learning’ with a mind, belatedly in my lifetime, to undertake doctoral research. To ‘keep my hand in’ and to stay up to date I have joined a new MAODE module ‘H818:The networked practioner’. I am yet to feel fluent in the language and practice of e-learning so need this repeated immersion, modules that I did a couple of years ago are being updated and I want to prove to myself and potentially others that I can keep up the scholarly level of participation and assessment that I began to display on the last couple of modules.

The learning lessons here are simple: persistence, repetition and practice.

Ambitions to take me e-learning interests into healthcare were thwarted at my first interviews for doctoral research – I am not a doctor (medicine), nor have I conducted a clinical trial before … let alone the ambitions for my proposal that would require departmental participation and funding. Basically, I’d bitten off far too much.

With this in mind I am falling back on a subject on which I can claim some insight and expertise – the First World War. Knowing that expressing an interest, linking to a blog or unproduced TV scripts won’t open academic doors I’ve decided to take an MA in History … the subject I set out to study some decades ago before getting the collywobbles and transferring to Geography. So, alongside a 12-15 hour a week commitment to another OU module on e-learning I will, over the next two years, be spending as much time on an MA in British First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. The additional insight I will get from this is comparing abd contrasting a series of modules that rely on an intensive day every month of lectures and tutorials rather than the dense, minute by minute closely supported and networked virtual learning environment (VLE) of the Open University.

Meanwhile, as in March 2011, I am recovering from a stinking cold. Not totally incapacitated – I have read several books, nodding off between chapters and so plagued by dreams about the causes of war in 1914. Power politics and corporate takeovers where the soldier is the worker while the owners, investment bankers and hedge fund managers risk all for their own gain.

No Internet Connection and the seventh MAODE module in four years.

My twelve years and more studying with the OU has seen how I learn shift.

The current twist is looping back to the less distracted days of being ‘off line’. At the same time I have done a couple of things that are very old school:

1) A ‘Room of my own’ without internet access (my choice) .. down the road with an opt in/ opt out. Also an ‘office’ (I recently bought the domain name Mindbursts.com.

2) Pen and paper … and by that I mean a fountain pen with ink cartridges and a pad of lined paper – not quite an exercise book, but close.

Why?

1) I am easily distracted. Studying with the Internet 24/7 it is too tempting to be checking email, responding to forum messages or just browsing, I miss linking to books and journals I read about, but these can wait. Maybe the impulse to purchase or read another book will reduce by the time I get to consider it in the wee hours back at home. My ‘room’ is ten miles down the road.

2) Partially this is physiological – I am seeing a physio trying to untangle or unknot some hideous pain in my left elbow which I ascribe to typing up blog entries with my left hand while reclined on the sofa or in bed. Partially it is knowing that there is never a short cut to learning and knowing a subject. I truly believe that mixed methods work – that it helps to take the written word and write it out, and type it out, and talk about it and visualise it. Neurologists will confirm that memory formation requires the  binding of activity across the brain, rather than from just one part of  it.

Meanwhile, I look forward to another e-learning module, H818, with trepidation:

1) I need to demonstrate to myself that I can keep up and even improve on the standard I’m now able to attain. (Time and effort and the only two words to think about).

2) I will be running in tandem with another module, taught old-school, at a different university, simultaneously. Already I dread the commute to a monthly day-long tutorial that I can only do by train if I am on a train at 5.20am. It’ll make for a very interesting comparison. If the OU offered the module I want to study I would have done it – they don’t. This surprises me given the Open Learn work they are doing on the First World War with the Imperial War Museum.

Best wishes to all … so much for thinking I’d finished with this. Next up I’m applying to the OU to do a PhD so I might be around for a while longer yet.

NOTES

I started an early e-learning module H808 in 2001 … skipped off the final paper and came back to it all decade later. I have both books and papers from that period which make for amusing reading.

Oliver Thomas commented

You appear to have dedicated your life to learning so I doubt seriously that you could stop even if you knew how (that’s meant kindly). Your attitude to life may well see you reach a ripe old age as I wager your mental acuities will be in tiptop condition long after a long-suffering elbow gives up the ghost. The distal study room is a fascinating idea (less so the early starts on the train, but needs must and if the devil can lay on a carriage, so be it).

Good luck on your latest endeavours!

To which I replied

Thanks Oliver ,,, yes, certainly a ‘Life Long Learner’ though only recently with any pretence to climbing an academic ladder. I have an insatiable desire to understand ‘why?’ and ‘How?’ My big why at the moment is ‘The First World War’. THe big how is, how to give 123 million people a university or tertiary education where only 5 million campus places exist in the world. The OU handles 275,000 … that leaves, well, a lot.

And he commented further:

I just looked at Wikipedia to see how my old bricks & mortar uni in Nottingham stacks up against the OU; the student populus is under 35,000. You see that a virtual learning establishment like the OU can therefore cover roughly 12 times that amount. If all universities were the same, there would still be a shortfall of 65 million places (12x the 5 million campus places; a lot of assumptions in this mathematics). It will be very interesting to see how education is meted out in future. There are obvious pros and cons with both setups, but one thing seems for sure, the internet as a medium for learning is not going away (in the same way as it has revolutionised many industries in recent years). Universities will have to adapt if they are to be competitive. There is a place for both, undoubtedly.

The communismization of knowledge and Open Educational Resources

Fig.1. I like spirals. Thirty years ago this was just a photo. For me it is an expression of what learning looks like. (I think this is St.John’s College, Boat House – or is it Balliol?)

At the base are the undergraduates, the first years, as you climb the steps you find the second and third years, then the middle common room the MA and D.Phil students while at the top are the lecturers, senior lecturers and professors.

And when you die they raise a flag.

In 1983 (or was in 1982?) this was the epitome of ‘closed learning’ – the Oxford College boat house.

Not so much ‘dreaming spires’ as ‘dreaming spirals’.

  • It was a privilege, but like many of these I’ve been either in denial or trying to shake them off for the best part of 25 years.
  • ‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’ (Jacques Prevert)
  • And there’s no going back.

I was up at 4.03am. Back to bed at 6.15am. Then up again 20 minutes ago.

  • My body was tired, my head continued to buzz.

Regarding ‘Open Learn’  what’s all this fretting about process for?

Have we all forgotten the purpose of research????

Not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’

Why? Why? Why?

We are seeking answers, not trying to construct a bridge across the English Channel with chopsticks and bendy-straws.

Not to get the process right, but to get answers to problems, to find better ways, to understand and share what is going on so that we can act, or not act on it?

Sometimes I read an academic paper and it is all about the process.

Too often I write an assignment and it has to be written to be marked – not to generate ideas. In fact, my finest few hours, a total End of Module Assignment rewrite was a disaster for a set of marks but is my theory and philosophy of what learning is. It was the culmination of months of work, years even. Expressed somewhere like the School of Communication Arts I would have had the attention of eyes and ears.

Fig.2. Submitted as the hypothesis for an End of Module Assignment the grade was catastrophic – it is of the module, but the examiners didn’t have a grid filled with the appropriate crumbs that would permit them to ‘tick the boxes’. (I did submit more than the image, 6ft high and drawn on a sheet of backing wallpaper).

Creativity doesn’t fair well in a process driven system, either in research or in marking assignments.

This isn’t an excuse regarding a grade or the need and value of process drive, guideline controlled, parameter set research, but rather a cry for some ‘free thinking’ the ‘parcours’ of mental agility and expression.

Fig.3 The cliffs below Roche de Mio, La Plagne

There is value in going off piste.

It isn’t even the democratisation of education and knowledge either, it is the Tim Berners-Lee rather than the Google approach to knowledge – i.e. give it away for free.

It  is ‘communismization’ – which is a word, however horrible it sounds, I just looked it up.

This moves me onto dwelling on Creative Commons.

If the idea of openness is to give it away for free what is the reward for the author? Recognition as the author. However, I get the feeling that unless it is published some readers think they can help themselves to the ideas and words of others and claim them as their own.

There will always be theft, but as children aren’t we told that for someone to copy your ideas is a compliment?

We need to behave like the children we still are.

But does even that matter in an open society – theft of intellectual property I mean?

If the spreading of the word is all important should any of us give a fig?

If we have a roof over our heads, food and water, electricity to charge the iPad, the BBC  … a health service like the NHS what more can we want?

  • Better schools.
  • Better roads.
  • Better weather.

‘Peace on earth and good will to humankind’.

A better word needs to be found for what is meant by ‘communismization’.

Is is just ‘communization’?

  • Is it simply ‘open’?!
  • ‘Open’ might do.
  • Free
  • Open

As the air we breathe …

P.S. I worked the season in Val d’Isere in my gap year and returned a decade later and stayed in La Plagne from December to May researching a book and a couple of documentaries for Oxford Scientific Films. None saw the light of day, though after several weeks thinking about it I came down that cliff face. I made a big mistake by slowing down at the edge and nearly didn’t have enough distance to clear the rocks. I no longer have a death wish. And it wasn’t even fun. It focused the mind though. In fact, the best way to stop yourself thinking about other stuff is to take such risks. Racing Fireballs in the English Channel has its appeal  – I  have a tendency to end up in the spinnaker or under the hull though.

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