What have we learnt? – Transmitting knowledge, facilitating learning c1960-2010

29 November 2011, 10:30-15:30

The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA

Blog Post Introduction

I singed up for this seminar not because I expected that there would be a lot of content of direct relevance to my work on access to higher education (HE) for disabled students but because I think in all contexts it is important to know our histories.  Well my knowledge of the history of post war UK-based HE was greatly increased beyond my own experience of it, which begun in 1979, and a general awareness from current affairs coverage.  Then above that there were important highlights of direct relevance to my work.   The most notable being in all reports of studies of the experience of students in HE, there seems to be a total dearth of studies specifically looking at the experience of disabled students.

This fact is going to be both a challenge and an opportunity in a research project planned for next year looking at specifically the experience of Open University (OU) disabled students studying online.  It looks as if there is going to be much less work than I anticipated that we can draw on to contextualise what original research we can do within the scope of an internal project.   For OU colleagues this work is planned as part of the “Completing the Loop” project.

This blog consists of the title and abstract for each presentation taken from the official publicity available at: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/History-of-the-OU/?page_id=1764. (Some readers may be interested in exploring other content on that blog of the History of The Open University project).  Then my bullet point notes of the presentation and discussions from most sessions.  My notes are in blue to differentiate them.  At a later date I will post another blog entry reflecting on the points of direct relevance to my work.  There should be a “pingback” in the comments below giving the link to this entry once I publish it.

Introduction (from the published programme)

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 élite 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.

Opening remarks:

Dr Dan Weinbren, History of the OU Project

  • How university learning has changed over last 50 years – exploring roots of changes towards a more helpful account
  • The importance of learners
  • Change in no. of students
  • Change in the range of students
  • Focus change – teaching to learning
  • Shift in nature of learning
  • New methods
  • Greater separation between research and learning
  • Team / multi-skill teaching
  • Shift in political landscape
  • Public purpose
  • Support of the nation
  • Root to stable social democracy
  • Contrast to limited training for a static labour market of Communism
  • Towards a human right
  • Globalisation
  • Quasi-markets and hollowed out state sector

How have students been taught?

Chair/commentator: Prof Mary Thorpe, The Open University

The doubts expressed about the equivalence of degrees from some universities compared to others have often been framed in terms of teaching methods. Others have promoted the validity and efficiency of a variety of methods including broadcasting, correspondence, telephone and online self-help groups. This session aims to promote discussion about how we understand the development of the current interest in student-centred learning.

Widening Participation: the post-war scorecard

Prof Malcolm Tight, Lancaster University.

Abstract

Widening participation – though it has only recently been labelled as such – has been a continuing concern for policy makers and higher education institutions in the United Kingdom since 1945 (and before). This presentation will review the evidence for four key target groups – women, lower socio-economic groups, mature adults and ethnic minorities – to produce an overall assessment, a score card, of what has been achieved, and what remains to be done. It concludes that, while progress in the recruitment of women, mature adults and ethnic minorities has been substantial – though with some qualifications – it has been much less for lower socio-economic groups.

Notes

Women

  • Longest standing concerns about participation in HE
  • Post WW2 uninterrupted progress in women’s participation – now arround 60%  – the problem now is men  😉
  • Problem of representation in STEM disciplines (only partially true e.g. not in biology and medicine but yes in physics, chemistry and engineering)
  • Under represented at highest levels
So fairly positive!
Ethnic minorities
  • More recent concern
  • Not as under represented as think but issues for particular minorities and gender/ethnicity issues
  • Concentrated at particular institutions (urban newer universities)
  • Although done well their experience is different
Mature Adults
  • Long history 1870s or before
  • Only became a group of focus in 1970s/80s
  • Close relation between mature study and part-time study
People from lower socio-economic backgrounds
  • A concern for a long time (mid C19th)
  • Do so much a tale of discrimination but the structures they live in (e.g. get away from education to get a job)
  • When attend tend to have different experience
  • Where universities could be said to fall down most
  • Not really catching up
Giving the sector a mark: Women 5/5,  Ethnic 3.5-4/5,  Mature Adults 3/5,  Lower socio-economic groups 1/5
We need non-graduates as well!
What further might we do?
NB – Disability did not appear as an issue in the literature until 1980s so not included in above analysis.
[I would like to check that out further]
Oxbridge still seen as a norm.
Widening participation vs widening access

Supporting isolated remote learners

Prof Judith George, The Open University

Abstract

This presentation focuses on the challenge of meeting the needs of learners in the remote and isolated communities in Scotland, and the needs of ALs (tutors) on the ground who supported them:

  • developing structures of support which met affective as well as cognitive needs
  • the use of technologies as they came on stream
  • developing tools for confident professionalism for the equally isolated ALs (tutors)
  • the use of action research to evaluate innovation
  • creative interactions with the wider educational context and a developing identity for the OU in Scotland.

This was a period of great change in adult education in Scotland; the Alexander report on community education, for example, the Scottish Committee on Open Learning, pilot work on credit rating and transfer, the impact of nationalism and local demands for university provision – leading to the creation of the University of the Highlands and Islands, and of the Dumfries Crichton Campus provision.  The OU played a significant role in all this, building a distinctive identity and making a unique contribution within Scotland and the wider educational context.

Presentation not noted (but very interesting)

Discussion points:
  • Increase of technology (internet) does not seem to have increased reach  – but many remote areas can not yet receive broadband.
  • Also strong link to local cultures re: comparison with University of Highlands and Islands (is UHI a success?)
  • Everybody is a remote learner
  • Radio is underused (OU now only uses it as it does TV  – not specifically course linked)

‘Redrawing the Map of Learning’? The Experience at the First Plateglass University

Prof Fred Gray, University of  Sussex

Abstract

The University of Sussex, given its Royal Charter in August 1961, was the first ‘plateglass’ university. Five decades ago it was seen as part of ‘the greatest single expansion of higher education England has  ever known’.Sussexand the other new universities that followed it depended on critical elements of state intervention.

There was substantial new government funding for universities and students. And in place of the old apprenticeship system of university colleges controlled by the older and established universities, the new institutions began life as full universities – hence the Royal Charter – conferring their own degrees, ‘controlling their own curriculum and free to experiment as they think right’.

These new possibilities and freedoms allowed universities such as Sussex to innovate. To use the phrase of the first Vice-Chancellor, John Fulton, the Sussex mission was about ‘making the future’ for students and society by developing a radical new curriculum based on interdisciplinarity and using new organisational forms (departments were dispensed with). The purpose was to ‘provide undergraduates with the combined benefits of specialized and general education’. Asa Briggs, the driving force behind the developments at Sussex, saw this as ‘redrawing the map of learning’. But Sussex also drew on elements of higher education orthodoxy and could never (even if it had wanted to) throw off the tag of being ‘Balliol By The Sea’.

Just what was done at Sussex? What was the impact on students and faculty? How do we measure the success of the Sussex experiment? And how did the experiment change over time?

Notes
  • Focus on 10 years period
  • Sussex first post-war university
  • Postwar consensus – labour and conservative – re-construction after the war
  • HE should expand for family aspirations / international competition / to educate managers for new Wealthy State
  • “Education as the new universal religion” [Fulton VC Sussex]
  • Importance of HE to Brighton’s regeneration
  • Campus based – transforming landed estates c.f. York and even OU
  • Royal Charter critically important – degree awarding powers – control content of degrees
  • Backed by substantial Government funding / and funding of Students!!!
What happened at Sussex?
  • Focus on students, little focus on research
  • Prospectus – generalised and specialised
  • Great quotes from David Diaches and Asa Briggs (sorry not noted)
  • Radical elements – new curriculum – abandoned faculties, interdisciplinary
But:
  • “Balliol by the Sea” [Times] copied from Oxford – tutorial and essay based
  • “Be still and know” motto
  • Sussex students selected and self selecting
  • Early interest in what we now call “widening participation”
Challenges
  • Growth 3,000 – 12,000 students
  • Scientists not interesting in the tutorial model
  • Disciplinary strength threatened Sussex model
  • Research funding unsympathetic
  • The post war consensus eroded

TV broadcasts: the public face of OU teaching – what did we learn over three decades?

Prof Andy Northedge, The Open University

Abstract

Three decades of Open University TV broadcasts present a kind of family album, offering fascinating glimpses of the university’s growth and development as it learned the craft of distance teaching in full public view. We see the various faculties working out how to use television to teach, how to design compelling programmes and how to speak to students in their own homes. The History of The Open University project commissioned a review of thirty OU TV programmes, spanning the 1970s, 80s and 90s to provide an overview of the range and variety of broadcasts and the ways they changed over the years. The review reveals rich variety, sharp contrasts and impressive ability to adapt and develop. This presentation will offer selected highlights and some general conclusions.

  •  Presentation based on lots of video samples so not noted.
Link to full report on History of  OU blog site: http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/History-of-the-OU/?p=1897

What’s it like to be a student? Reflections on fifty years of change

Chair/commentator: Prof David Vincent, The Open University

Having considered the changes in how learning was supported over half a century, the emphasis this afternoon will be on reception. Some of the themes of the morning will be revisited but from different perspectives.

Students in places: general and particular

Prof Harold Silver

Abstract

What the research on students and higher education (HE) tells us and does not tell us, e.g. history of sectors and structures, institutions, change and reputations.

Meanings of student ‘experience’: expectations, perceptions (what kind and of what), the learning environment, outcomes, identities.

Students, HE, Elites, leaders, participants, professionals, occupations.   Examples from 1960s – Robbins, Latey, choices, new universities, towards the OU, student movements – and late/end/turn of century, e.g. CNAA, polytechnics, colleges, policies and spokespersons

Types of research on students (UK, US) and categories of students (full/part-time, mature, gender, ‘adolescent’), persistence, success and failure, social class, statistics and people. A particular case – students with disabilities.

Possible implications for the history of students in contexts (competition, marketing, policy….) and the history of the OU.

Notes
  • A shame nothing said so far about outside UK
  • Will mention some American research but will not be talking about America
  • Focus on the experience of students
  • How do we know the aim, and perspectives of students
  • What do you know, how do you know it?
  • Talk mainly about research on the student experience (an apology)
  • Begins with the Robins report (admirable descriptor of students in HE in – 1963)
  • Hale Committee on Teaching and Learning in University (1963) did not get the publicity but v. good.
  • Most important of many discussions in 1960s: Peter Marris, “The Experience of Higher Education” (1964)
  • “While the growth of higher education has questioned its aims the aims of its students remain unconsidered.”
  • In 1968, 3 years after Warwick University opened students reported valuing an independent university in contrast to state organised polytechnic sector
  • 37 years later “What’s a former polytechnic and why is it so bad?” – Quote from an Internet chat site
  • What research can we identify as being important?
  • 1960s students in their “deferred adulthood”
  • Later adulthood on political agenda
  • Student hostility to exclusion from the academic side of the university (part of 1960s radicalism not often highlighted)
  • Students in the 1970 perceived as having lost their idealism
  • Students anxiety about their learning processes – they want to succeed, feel their views need to be taken account of
[Some of presentation not noted]
Concluding point:
NB  – the published research almost totally does not ask of disabled students their views and aims!  Talks about support but not the student perspective!
[MC to check with research from Leeds, Southampton, John Richardson’s work, etc.]

Internationalisation and the University of Nottingham

Prof John Beckett,University of Nottingham

Abstract

The Times has described the University of Nottingham as being ‘the closestBritainhas to a truly global university’. The University first began to consider developing international campuses, rather than simply attracting overseas students to study in Nottingham, in the early 1990s. The need to attract overseas students in a competitive market came together with an internationalisation strategy involving both teaching and research. By 2006, two campuses in Asia had been established, in Malaysia and China, and today Nottingham recruits more international students than any other UK university. This paper will examine internationalisation in terms of curriculum, teaching and student experience with particular reference to the campus at Ningbo, China, and will consider also the extent to which the UK higher education model has been successfully implemented in China. It will also address the question of inter-cultural understanding and the development of an international focus in teaching and learning for home students at Nottingham.

  • Not noted

Student Community Action and Social Education, c. 1970-1985

Dr Georgina Brewis, Institute of Education

Abstract

Student volunteering in the UK has a long history, from university settlements and missions in the nineteenth century to workcamps for the unemployed in the interwar period to CND protesting and Student Community Action (SCA) after the Second World War. However, there has generally been greater historical interest in the more overtly ‘political’ activities of students, ignoring other forms of social action that have shaped students’ lives. This paper will show that a study of student volunteering, fundraising or campaigning can deepen our understanding of the changing ‘student experience’ in late-twentieth century Britain. Based on Student Community Action publications and a witness seminar with the movement’s former leaders, this paper will focus on SCA and its contribution to the social education of university students in the 1970s and 1980s. It explores the educative function of participation for students themselves, arguably of greater value than students’ contributions to local communities. It shows how involvement in SCA was connected to a wider critique of the function of universities and course content, contributing to debates about broadening access to higher education.

Notes
  • Drawing on students own words and own writing
  • In UK little formal citizenship programmes (different from USA)
  • Student movements shape youth culture more broadly
  • Successive generations of students seek to distance themselves from the previous generations
  • Overseas volunteering schemes emerged in 1950s – impact on their return to university on subsequent volunteering
  • 1960s radicalism – wider questioning of the value of higher education – student volunteering used in these arguments
  • Boundaries between fundraising, volunteering and activism blurred from late 1960s on
Notes on Student Community Action:
Course content:
  • SCA demanded changes in course content
  • Role of social studies
  • View that volunteering in past had been separate from studies and this was a cause of failing
  • Students questioning if courses relevant to the social needs they become aware of through SCA

Community relations

  • Students express acute awareness of separation from surrounding community and the demands the university put on them
  • How about making university resources/facilities available to the community?
Educative function for participation in SCA:
  • Awareness raising remains essential
  • Skills development, project management, etc.
Cross curriculum volunteering modules developed across many universities not just pre 97
  • Controversial – not proper volunteering; not proper learning

Distances and distance technologies. A review of rhetoric and reality

Dr Janet Macdonald, Higher Education Consultant

Abstract

How successful have distance technologies been at meeting the challenges of study at a distance?  To what extent has the rhetoric met the reality of life as a distance learner?  The OU has a long and proud history of deploying distance technologies to support learners and has developed a wonderful array of online tools with the potential to extend traditional methods of distance learning into new and exciting territory.  This presentation will focus on the student experience of learning with distance technologies over the past few years, drawing on studies of the practicalities, joys and perils of life as a distance student.

Janet has 20 years’ experience as a tutor of remote students, a remote research student studying student perspectives on online learning, and finally from working with fellow staff in a “remote” national centre at the OU in Scotland. She has now retired from the OU and undertakes consultancy in online and distance learning.

Notes
  • 1985 – OU guide to communicating remotely – including telephone techniques
  • Horizon Reports – forecast emerging technologies however …
  • So much depends on the context
  • What do students need to do
  • What are the constraints
  • What do the technologies enable?
  • Reading and listening (large number OU courses still using print)
  • Some students find electronic format particularly helpful
  • Online quizzes one way making sense of content
  • But depends on people writing the module for seeing the issues
  • What do tutors do? e.g. history tutors very different from maths tutors
  • When is staff student contact important (e.g. the tricky parts of the course? – How technology and or face-to-face used facilitate this?)
  • 1990 “No new conference messages” in online tutor groups
  • Development of plenary groups – Module wide – a Major headache for staff – too many messages – no one knows who is not taking part
  • Peer groups have grown up on university networks and Facebook etc.
  • Use what is appropriate to the context
  • Students can be in touch with Alumni
  • Note-takeing – old lecture theatres might not accommodate laptops
  • Fulminating from George Orwell on writing by cut and paste (1946!):

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” 1946

… modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy.” 

  • Searching and researching user generated content is not new – example of Chinese ancient annotation on poetry
  • Online systems made a big difference to how much students are exposed to – but behoves to us to remember that an awful lot is to be learnt from what has already happened with past technologies/approaches that is applicable.
Much to reflect on – not time to reflect or note reflection now – but I will revisit this.
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3 thoughts on “What have we learnt? – Transmitting knowledge, facilitating learning c1960-2010

  1. I am delighted that you found the forum interesting. It was very pleasing to have somebody along who was prepared to ask interesting comments, contribute some thoughtful ideas, oh and bellow when required. Your account is helpful. Thanks for it.

    There is a brief a report on the History of the OU blog at http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/History-of-the-OU/?p=2029.

    In constructing their understandings of the roles and impacts of the OU those from different intellectual traditions tend to emphasis different elements. I was interested in the event because it provided an opportunity to listen to educational technologists, sociologists, historians and others and thereby gain a variety of perspectives..

    1. Dan,

      I felt privileged to be able to able to learn from so many eminent people who had time and opportunity to reflect seriously on the post WW2 HE sector in the UK. I am a systems engineer and expert on access for disabled people, not a historian. However, I strongly believe we need to learn from our histories.

      I will continue to watch the OU History project with interest.

      Thanks for all the organisational effort and your academic reflections on the day.

      Martyn

  2. Hi Martyn,
    Just found this excellent summary of the day – glad you made such great notes! Will share.
    Thanks
    Georgina

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