What are we going to do about the Open University?

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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Neill on Tue Nov 25, 2008 6:56 pm

Reading back through this thread the word that comes to mind is
"choice".
Ideally the OU needs to offer a "sliding scale" of alternatives so that every one can pick and mix.
I would pick a 100% Internet based alternative with no books, eTMAs, forums and Skype tutor groups.
Some one else would doubtless chose everything on paper, TMAs on paper and post and traditional tutor groups.

I see no reason why the two could not run concurrently and you tick what you want when you register.
Obviously T214 would have to throw away the collaborative project and Netlogo and the Wikipedia stuff, etc. but even then it could still be a systems course and for those who ticked "Luddite" (joke alert :-) ) the course team could offer alternatives.

"Open" means open to all - open to some one who thinks PC and open to some one who thinks book.
Why not?
Neill Hogarth
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Andrea on Wed Nov 26, 2008 12:10 pm

I think we need to qualify the term "choice". I would be more than happy for the OU to provide different choices, but people ought to pay for the true costs of each choice. At the moment we have courses which are completely online which cost the same as courses which are completely print-based. In effect, the former are subsidising the latter. Is this fair? If people are required to study only online, surely they should be paying a lot less for their course?

There are also practical issues. With printed material, economies of scale demands that you have to print a large volume. This means that the printed material cannot be updated for at least two or three presentations. With courses that provide both, you get into the situation where the equivalent online material has been corrected/updated, while the printed material has not. We can address this somewhat by inserting a "supplement" to the printed material which goes something along the lines of "disregard activity 1.3 on page 30, and do this one instead...". But this can become very confusing. The much longer lead times that printed material requires also means that you have to complete the updating of the course much earlier than you would have to if it was only online - our current ridiculous system (based on print lead times) meant that we had to put in a request for resources by December 2007 for changes we wanted to make to T214 for the February 2009 presentation -- and this was before we had presented the course for the first time!!! As a result, we now have to plead for changes that have not been approved!

I am also very concerned that print-based teaching is extremely limited, and does not encourage the development of the wide range of skills that are now needed e.g. team working. There is also a huge body of evidence that many students do not bother to do the activities indicated in the text. And just reading is a crap way to learn anything -- whether it's on a computer or on a printed page. There are however some very sophisticated ways of ensuring people carry out the required activity-based learning online. For example, subsequent material is not released until adequate work is submitted and validated by your tutor/student peer group.

There is still the problem of people that do not have access to computers and online connections. But this is a wider social issue. You could make this argument with any cultural advancement ("we must abolish breast cancer treatment because the poorest people cannot afford it " etc). I would turn the argument on its head: "how can we lowered the costs of breast cancer treatment so that it becomes accessible to everyone". You can already buy a WiFi laptop for less than £150 and broadband connections are nearing 100% coverage (you can now get broadband speeds through several means: telephone lines; cable; mobile phone networks; satellite linkup) and it can cost less than £8 a month. Surely, if we can cut the costs of 60 point undergraduate courses from £650 to £350 because they are online, poorer people will be better off in the long term? People with a bit more cash can then have the luxury of printing off the course material in colour and having it hardbound professionally.
esse sequitur operari
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Teiana on Wed Nov 26, 2008 12:46 pm

yes subsidising some courses with others is fair!

1) some courses may be valuable but only useful to a small sector of society, whereas other courses may fit a wider audience, and therefore bring in more money. If you argue that courses should never subsidise each other, all the small courses become extinct. The education becomes about providing the courses that are the most generalised or whatever and not about real choice, or specialisation. If popular courses are allowed to subsidise smaller ones, we can cater for everyone.
2) some of the people who have least 'real' choice about how and when they study may be disabled people or people with difficult lifestyles. Preventing different styles of course ( online vs print) subsidising each other may mean the people who can afford it least are the ones hit with the biggest costs. Absolutely there should be subsidy - the alternative is that the people who need extra resources or help because of disabilities are penalised for that.

This is the same argument that closes under used post offices and makes rural areas struggle: it is a fact that historically posting a letter in a city costs a lot LESS than a stamp, and posting one to a rural address costs a lot MORE than a stamp, but because of the volume of postage in the city, it can afford to subsidise the rural post: until some wise guy in the shareholder department thinks hey i know, let's sell off the profitable bits of the company... and then there are loads of couriers making a packet on the city post which is cheap and the people can afford high costs, and nobody is interested in supporting the rural mail system because it's not profitable and never will be.


With printing: it is now possible to print on demand, or print short runs, in a way it wasn't possible years ago. If you look up some internet publishers eg Lulu (
http://www.lulu.com/uk/products/paperba ... me_publish ) you can print any number of books. The argument that we are tied to big runs of printing doesn't hold. Plus the quality of the print can be lowered: most materials can be readable on recycled paper on simply bound books, we don't need the whole 'glossy corporate image' thing. ( cf the whole block 3 printed matter issue). they can also produce booklets or loose leaf printing which can be easily changed without changing a whole book.

i support the argument that online stuff can create more interactivity and help people engage fully with the work. I like online. If it were possible to cut the course from £650 to £350 ( eg) with print vs online, then they could afford to give out laptops instead of books if people preferred...
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby jamesWtc on Wed Nov 26, 2008 2:08 pm

Cost apart, what about the quality and efficiency of online learning, say, eliminating print-based materials altogether.

Found this article about the effect of Internet on cognitive development:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

I sometimes find myself surfing the Net for hours, yet I could not absorb anything other than title and first few lines of the web articles. I'm quite agree to the points laid out in the articles, as I have similar experiences too.
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Teiana on Wed Nov 26, 2008 3:01 pm

that looks like a really long article. could you make me some bullet points instead?






:lol: :P
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby jamesWtc on Wed Nov 26, 2008 4:48 pm

Teiana wrote:that looks like a really long article. could you make me some bullet points instead?


This is exactly one of the main points the article points out! :)

Well, same to me. It has some interesting facts though, let me summarise it.
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Teiana on Wed Nov 26, 2008 8:27 pm

i was joking. hence the :lol: :P at the end of the post...
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Neill on Wed Nov 26, 2008 8:39 pm

James wrote
I sometimes find myself surfing the Net for hours, yet I could not absorb anything other than title and first few lines of the web articles.

to which I have a question. Is this the case irrespective of your purpose in surfing?
I would agree that if I am surfing for pleasure then my experience is similar to that which you describe.

But when researching a subject I work quite differently. I am happy to (speed) read long (relevant) blocks of text and take notes on them. I note the important points and the links back to the source. I will often go well beyond the first paragraph if the content is relevant. I am very harsh about reading irrelevant content.

I suppose that finding a book used to be really hard (go to library, search for book, read introduction, check index, etc.) so once you had invested the time, you wanted to get your "moneys worth" from that book. Nowadays your investment in searching is seconds so you can afford to keep looking and plucking information out as you find it.
Neill Hogarth
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Andrea on Thu Nov 27, 2008 11:50 am

jamesWtc wrote:Cost apart, what about the quality and efficiency of online learning, say, eliminating print-based materials altogether.

Found this article about the effect of Internet on cognitive development:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

I sometimes find myself surfing the Net for hours, yet I could not absorb anything other than title and first few lines of the web articles. I'm quite agree to the points laid out in the articles, as I have similar experiences too.


This is actually an excellent article and I think we even discussed it on the T214 fora at some stage. The actual thrust of the argument is not against the Internet as a new medium of communication (and learning) per se, but, how it can be subverted to promote the mechanistic paradigm that has dominated society since the Enlightenment. This is where I agree that the dangers lie.

Even within the article there is a vision that the machine will eventually transform itself into something living -- indeed, is that not the trajectory of the evolution of ICT? The vast has always been to make communication more human, eventually recreating the face-to-face interaction between people. Indeed, I already interact with my computer using voice alone, and there is now a greater tendency to move away from the written to the visual and the oral.

Any new technology (the printing press, the telephone, the television) has historically been accepted with much fear and trepidation -- especially because it rocks the boat of the establishment -- that is, until we learn the skills to deal with these new technologies. Unfortunately, we are at the stage now where there is a generation that is in transition between the written text and the digital world which is clearly feeling threatened, and it is therefore not surprising that they are experiencing the greatest trauma. It is quick thinking marginalised groups that are being advantaged by this technology as can be testified by the collapse of established industries and services.

One of in the main criticisms within the article is that people will stop engaging with material deeply. I do not think we will have the same problem when the Google generation comes of age -- they will have the innate skills to engage with digital material deeply and, potentially, engage with reality more systemically. Because reality is not just about in-depth knowledge concerning a specific subject in the written form. Reality is ubiquitous, multidisciplinary and multisensory -- very much the direction the Internet is going towards..........

I would pay special attention to some of the concluding remarks within the article:

Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.

So, yes, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom.

esse sequitur operari
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Re: What are we going to do about the Open University?

Postby Andrea on Thu Nov 27, 2008 12:20 pm

Teiana wrote:yes subsidising some courses with others is fair!

You can turn your argument on its head. If people could make the cost of running "post offices " cheaper, then there wouldn't be a need for shutting them down in rural locations. And there is no free lunch -- the money for subsidising rural post offices must come from somewhere -- by for example, increasing the cost of postage. Would you not say that the high costs of postal services excludes some poorer people?

Reducing the cost of our courses through cutting back on the huge amount of administration they require would automatically mean that it would be easier for us to develop a wider range of courses that would attract lower population numbers. And that is exactly why low-cost airlines can cover a much wider range of destinations :P

But I think there is a deeper problem. The problem is that people are not adaptable. There are now a million and one ways in which the same services provided by post offices can be provided by alternative means (indeed, that is why post offices are losing money!). Government money would probably be better spent helping people to adapt to changing practices, rather than supporting inefficient historical ways.


Teiana wrote:With printing: it is now possible to print on demand, or print short runs, in a way it wasn't possible years ago. If you look up some internet publishers eg Lulu (
http://www.lulu.com/uk/products/paperba ... me_publish ) you can print any number of books. The argument that we are tied to big runs of printing doesn't hold. Plus the quality of the print can be lowered: most materials can be readable on recycled paper on simply bound books, we don't need the whole 'glossy corporate image' thing. ( cf the whole block 3 printed matter issue). they can also produce booklets or loose leaf printing which can be easily changed without changing a whole book.


I agree that you can easily print things with a few quid nowadays -- but if you actually look at the costs of the printing process at the OU, the bulk of it goes into administration, rather than the " manufacture " of the product. So why can't we provide all of our material online and then recommend several websites like the one you have identified, to students who want to study in print -- using Lulu, for example, would cost less than £8 for a ringbound 100 page document and less than £3 if a whole bunch of people got together. Surely this is a win-win situation all round?
esse sequitur operari
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