Open as to…

The OU’s internal curriculum and technology conference ran over the last couple of days. As with all such events it is both inspiring and a bit deflating. Inspiring because you get to hear of all the good stuff going on and see the enthusiasm of your colleagues. Deflating because things you want to happen still seem a long way off, and some of the same old arguments keep coming up.

One of the thoughts that occurred to me (not for the first time) was that the OU now needs to establish a new definition of openness, and by extension, new identity for itself. The OU’s mission statement is:

open to people, places, methods and ideas

Now these are all good, I don’t want to do away with any (although I sometimes might question the how much the methods one is true), but I think we could extend this to open as to technology and content. Here’s why: increasingly the tools people use as part of their everyday lives are far more sophisticated than universities can create and (more significantly) maintain. We’re going to have to accept that people have these tools and don’t want a separate (inferior) set for learning. The walled garden approach is becoming less and less viable. Similarly, the amount and quality of content available makes the creation of bespoke content a much less useful way of spending time for an academic. But obviously we need to do something, so what we do is offer some good quality content, we construct good learning activities and we offer support and guidance (as well as all that accreditation stuff).

The other aspect of openness that struck me was that, like all unis, our VLE requires authentication to access. As soon as you do this you are cut off from the connected world. You can’t use cool tools like Gabbly (unless you install a university version), and you can’t subscribe to feeds. This came home to me in a workshop Tony Hirst ran, and he has a good rant on how the OU is failing to grasp the significance of RSS. Now there are a lot of reasons why a VLE needs to be closed (rights, privacy, etc), but increasingly it looks like a high price to pay.

I gave a talk on the broadcast strategy, which looked at how things have changed and suggests some new models for how broadcast could be used in teaching. Slideshare file below:

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