The pandemic response and the OU

(some VisualThinkery from the course mentioned)

I’ve just had an article published in the OTESSA Journal, entitled “The UK Open University COVID Response: A Sector Case Study“. I wrote it last year as I was interested in the various actions the OU took during the pandemic. Lots of people in other unis came to us formally and informally seeking advice as they were required to shift their teaching online. You may remember I ran some drop-in sessions on different topics back in 2020. The OU also set up a research fund, developed teaching content and gathered resources on openLearn (most notably, the Take your Teaching Online free course).

In the paper I categorised the different responses as curriculum, research and outreach. Of the different responses, I identified six different, but often overlapping aims:

  • Support –offering support to students, researchers, teachers, and learners during the pandemic
  • Understanding –undertaking research and analysis to understand the impact of the pandemic on education.
  • Proactive Knowledge Sharing –through formal courses such as microcredentials or more informal means, the UKOU undertook a considerable knowledge sharing role during the pandemic, based on its expertise in online and distance education.
  • Replacement –some activities were undertaken as direct replacements for ones that could no longer occur during the online pivot, such as the use of virtual field trips.
  • Resources –allied with knowledge sharing is the development of resources aimed at supporting educators and learners, as evidenced by the increase in traffic to the OpenLearn site.
  • Capacity Building –a more targeted form of knowledge sharing, working with specific audiences and tailoring bespoke content to meet their needs

While this is all very interesting from an OU perspective and maybe a bit back-slapping, what is more relevant I think is that as we face the demands of building a more robust higher ed system to deal with future crises and demands, these areas of activity are arguably what the sector more widely needs to be undertaking. Any institution looking to develop hybrid or online offerings that can accommodate a new pandemic, cost of living crisis, or even changes such as the impact of AI and increased student need for flexibility, will need to develop solutions across all of these areas I feel. It’s a starting point anyway.

It was useful to look back at the various actions people in my own institution undertook. I expect most HEIs will have a range of actions they can reflect on also. It felt like that time is already part of ancient history, so even if you want to shy away from the grand claims I make in this paper, it’s worth recording what happened now before everyone forgets.

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