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On Loving the Open University – hours after submitting a 5000 word assignment. Give me more!

Fig.1. Love steps in the snow. Spotted outside the Michael Young Building, home to the Open University Business School

I have a unique insight on the Open University. I graduated with a Masters in Open and Distance Education in 2012, worked at the Business School for a year and have done further postgraduate modules since – not just here but at other institutions too.

I know what you get:

  • An online system and support network that is second to none: clear, robust, intuitive and friendly.
  • You gain from educators who are just that – wedded to the process and their subject.
  • And you gain most of all from the fabulous network of contacts and friends that you make – even if you never meet them, you have a myriad of ways to share your thinking and ideas online.

In the course of my duties I interviewed some twenty MBA international students during a residential school in Brussels – what a great, inspired and positive bunch. These were people in business, with aspirations, as start-ups, from the established to the new kids on the block, and from right around the globe. For this residential week they flew in from the US, from Japan and Russia … and everywhere in between or around the corner. That is the nature of the beast – International.

And then, perhaps like so many of us, you finish one module and itch to join another. Personally, I will never stop learning and have found no better way to achieve my goals than with the OU. My next step? After a lifetime of failing to do so, to learn French well enough not simply to understand it and to speak it …. but to write it too. That module starts in October 2014.

Then there’s the MBA. I had the most wonderful time on the module ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’.

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My Open University Years

Fig.1 Odd that, 12 years and I’ve gained hair, glasses and a tie.

In February 2001 I began an OU module on Open & Distance Learning – last year I graduated with the Masters in Open & Distance Education (MAODE). Since then I’ve taken a couple more MAODE modules to stay up to date. Impossible given that any MAODE module is out of date before it goes live?

The next direction has to be horizontally into the Open University (again), or vertically towards a PhD. Or both? Or neither.

Meanwhile, I sincerely recommend that anyone with any interest in the way education is going to follow the BBC tonight.

BBC Radio 4 8.00pm

The Classroom of the Future

Is it an OU co-production? These days these things usually are.

The networked practitioner in e-learning and the 1914-18 War revisited

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I’ve just read ‘The Sleepwalkers. How Europe went to war in 1914’. By Christopher Clark.

More than any book I have read before on the subject this blows away any myths or propaganda – not least the fact that Germany did not start the war, that award goes to Russia with France’s support. I’d have liked to study this period with the Open University but the History modules simply don’t accommodate this. I’ll therefore be going up to the University of Birmingham, in person, once a month for a mammoth day-long series of tutorials and lectures. That’s as ‘distant’ as it gets with very little online support.

A few weeks ‘out of the loop’ (it’s called a vacation) and I feel the knowledge on e-learning I have gained over the last few years draining away – it is such a vibrant and fast-moving area that I feel I need to refresh and update at every opportunity. This is why I am returning to the Open University to study the module H818 The Networked Practitioner. Having already achieved a Master of Arts in Open and Distance Education earlier this year, H818 and H809 which I completed three months ago, will go towards an MSc in Education; not that I am chasing a qualification, rather I went to keep my thinking alert, current and applied.

There’s a practice based element to this which I’ll apply to an long-held interest in the First World War. There’ll be a lot of interest, reflection and soul-searching over the 100th anniversary from 2014 to 2018. That war is relevant to the Europe and wider Europe we live in today, from Northern Ireland to Syria, via the Balkans and the EU.

Super-selection creates a monoculture that does not benefit society

7th January 2012

Tim Blackman, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Open University: in response to the article by Baroness Blacktone in the THE: says,

It’s interesting that selection has always been a hot topic in secondary education but widely accepted in tertiary education. Just as selective schools are our ‘best’ schools because of very little to do with the teaching but a lot to do with who they keep out, we should start to question just what makes a ‘top’ university.

What do you think? My take is as follows:

Life is messy; selection based on consistency of performance suits a type, not simply by background but by character. We gain when everyone is able whatever route they take to satisfy their desire to learn, indeed there may be greater appreciation and gratitude of the worth of education for those who haven’t gone through via the conveyor- belt of privilege. The caveat is to respect those who not only don’t want to study: they like to learn by doing, but who seek out to learn in a way that suits them and their circumstances. Flexibility has been the watch-word for this group until now; ‘personalised’ learning that turns an education into a carefully tailored and personally adjusted garment is the next step.

The thing that binds the extraordinary diversity of students at the Open University is ‘the desire to learn’, something that I find most humbling in those who have been imprisoned for their crimes and find salvation in learning, invariably through the OU, others, ‘prisoners’ of circumstance, can equally find the OU offers a way out and on, if not up and into parts of society that had shunned them because they not dine things in the right order and at the preferred time. Increasingly, in this century, courtesy of personalised learning through mobile devices the OU model of flexibility and ‘distance’ or e-learning could be picked up at secondary, even primary levels, something that is perhaps being demonstrated by the Khan Institute in North America, indeed happens anyway vicariously through learning in social networks or in online games.

The shift towards increasingly personalised, flexible, online and even mobile learning can only be achieved by self-selection; in the case of learning this becomes the point where the individual’s desire to learn is ‘activated’ never mind the advantages or ‘disadvantages’ of their prior life opportunities. The ‘system’ will improve and benefit more by valuing this moment and therefore nurturing those who make it to a course or through a qualification via what is currently thought to be a ‘different route’. To which I might add that ‘who you are’ at and during a short or extended period of learning matters more than the grades you were able to achieve in your youth, ‘privileged’ or otherwise. For many OU students the opportunity to learn, whoever and whenever they make a start, can with the nurturing and supportive environment and ‘personality’ of the OU result in countless extraordinary stories of lives being enhanced, turned around, given meaning, value and even status.

A final thought, I had this ‘converyor belt of privilege’: boarding prep school, public school, Balliol College, Oxford yet my love and respect for learning has only come from the Open University; I am a better person for it.

Might I also suggest that this perceived selection process leads to expectation that someone with such an education (not their choice but their parents’) is then possibly obliged, like it or not, to continue into the Foreign Office, MOD, Banking, Law or Accountancy instead of developing a sense of how they are instead of what others want them to be?

REFERENCE

Tim Blackman, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Open University: in response to the article by Baroness Blacktone in the THE:http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=418423

Intellectually and spiritually content? Getting there

21st April 2011

Delighted to have found somewhere to stay in Milton Keynes.

It is extraordinary that people live such lovely lives, the privilege of the commute being a short walk over a field, from village to Central Business District in minutes. This isn’t the Britain I have ever known – a 79 mile commute being one of the worst, cattle-trucks in from South London even worse. But I’ve done the ‘weekly border’ having once been in Penrith, Cumbria while my fiance was in Paris, France for six months. Sleeping away from home is part of me of course, having had boarding school from the age of 8 I perhaps find it easy to get used to?

Of course the OU Campus is a strange beast, each Faculty a bright sparkly building set in its own grounds each building a short walk apart from the other. If it weren’t for the speed bumps to slow the traffic down (people come in by car in their thousands) I’d imagine golf-carts to be the required way to move around.

But do you much? Your faculty is your home.

My home once again has connections with the university, mother and daughter work there. This does not need to be a point of conversation at home, I have the Masters in Open and Distance Education to complete for a start and instead of talking about the OU I am delightfully engaged in conversations on the medical effect of what we eat. I find myself creeping back towards soya milk and muesli and away from coffee and biscuits.

For someone who typically blogs a thousand words a day I’ve been unusual quiet.

The pressure on my mind is considerable. If I find myself near a keyboard over the bank holiday I may catch up, though my inclination is to head for the sea.

This isn’t to say I’m not writing a thousand words an hour; that would be an exaggeration, but I find that 60 emails a day (sent), half this number received, contributions to Yammer an OU Twitter like feed and the various minutes and reports that I’m writing quite easily makes up the number.

As I will often tell people, the best contribution to my career was a touch-typing course at Oxford College of Education.

I’ll become a poor-weather blogger.

Meanwhile what I have to say has gone into note pads. I’ve filled a 80 pad shorthand notepad, both sides. This contains a good deal of ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’ and all that I wanted from ‘Use of Blogs.’ How I would have preferred both on my Kindle, all this note taking reduced to highlighting, my ideas saved or shared immediately, and the entire thing now at the edit stage. Instead I’ll have to write it all out. I find my concentration wavers if I transcribe stuff, or more likely I feel inclined to add yet further notes and thoughts.

Meanwhile, perhaps sensibly going for paper rather than technology, I have ‘The Social Life of Information’ (2002) John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid to enjoy, ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ (2007) Rick Levine et al and ‘E-moderating’ (2005) Gilly Salmon.

My perfect Bank Holiday would be to take these to sea – sail across the English Channel, a few days in French Ports.

As crew, this way I can read, all that fresh air, with occasional moments of physical agitation.

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