OUConf10 – Open Access (fourth session)

Here’s the notes from the fourth session of the OU Teaching and Learning Conference 2010. There’s plenty of discussion, notes, links and academic references in the clouds in the conference cloudspace on Cloudworks – and these notes appear there too.

The final keynote by Jimmy Wales I’ve separated out in to its own post, which should be the next one along.

Doug Clow – iSpot

This was the high point of the conference! Er, well, I can dream.

Obviously I didn’t live blog it, but Andreia Santos helpfully did so here, and Giota wrote some reflections and pasted up some of the chat commentary from Elluminate on Cloudworks (scroll down to the ‘Discussion’ section near the bottom).

And here’s my slides:

The website is iSpot, the short OU course that’s related is Neighbourhood Nature (S159), and it’s all part of a very big overarching project called Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), funded by the National Lottery through the Big Lottery Fund.

Steve Swithenby – The OU’s Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

COLMSCT name was chosen precisely to have an acronym only Steve can pronounce.

The Open CETL is made up of four different CETLS – COLMSCT, PILS, PBPL, PI. Don’t cover the entire range of teaching and learning.

Almost unique in success – a lot of money, £2m pa for 5 years 2005-2010, to end of July. Major investment, need to establish what the CETLs are about. The central rationale was to effect improvement in mainstream practice. We’re not paid to investigate the cutting edge of technology (necessarily) – but to take in to practice good ideas that will improve learning and teaching. Technology and other vantage points. Difference in participation and membership. OU CETLs are Faculty-led activities, come from the world of the teacher, not educational development – a different emphasis.

Original vision was about a community of teachers – community word chosen carefully. Very much in the space between strategy and bottom-up creativity, bringing them together. Generalised ownership of our future. See themselves as a subversive influence.
Tag cloud is interesting set of feedback from CETL conference – fun, provoking, exciting – as well as other words.

Trying to bring together a number of themes. One influence has been subversive in that they’ve brought new trajectories to the discourse – Wenger, Engestrom brought in to discussion by PBPL, but OpenCETL had conversation with them about CoP for a long time. Were not part of how teachers discussed what they did. Introduced them in to colloquia, remained themes, this discourse shifted. Led to notions of communities of learning, how those coexist with personalised learning. And iCMA, launched in to University, now used widely as a term.

Have affected the trajectory of many discourses. Behind the scenes, developed new frameworks and ways of thinking. People often say the OU is an institution that works on systems, on an industrial scale. We have had a major hand in developing new frameworks – e.g. ARCS model of student support. Can be used widely.

One example of an iCMA – interactive computer-marked assignment, they get personalised feedback on the basis of their responses. Now 50,000 students a month using these sorts of assignments.

Hosted ReLIVE conference, at how Second Life can be used in education. Also introduced the robotic telescope – real life astronomical observation. Interactive screen experiments – real experiments played back under student control, can modify the parameters and get real data.

Have taken those learning innovations and seen how those could work – e.g. how ALs can work in Second Life environment. What is the nature of the relationship, how it changes.

Also worked on offender learning, influencing policy on how it can be sustained in prisons where there’s an emphasis on e-learning. Governors don’t like e-learning, it poses challenges, so as our courses have more of it, we have more problems working with offenders. Is a major problem.

Much work on effective access – how does conferencing really work for students? Very low tech these days, how does Elluminate really work?

ERA – Enabling Remote Access – about doing field trips for people with mobility problems or can’t afford to travel.
And distance learning for e.g. African situations with challenges around infrastructure.

Where the CETLs are – different areas – student, teacher, university, peers – for the development of practice in teacher development. A teacher may have a wonderful idea, fascinating technology, stimulating, exciting – but the real points where you have leverage is the area of overlap between these areas. So trying to find that point of overlap where we have maximum leverage to engineer change.

Final question – have been a group of CETLs, 600+ academic/AL staff (between 500-1500), have innovated and promoted change. How do we ensure that community of people has an engagement which is scholarly? A lot that we do is not scholarly, we have a good idea, we implement, we make anecdotal judgement about its effect. How do we ramp up the professionalisation of what we’re doing? Also, what about ALs? None of the mechanisms take these 7000 or so staff with direct experience of students in. Need to be more ambitious about how we plan for scholarship and innovation to be an inclusive, participatory activity for the future.

Martin: may be too early but any evidence of sustained change in practice from participants?

Steve: Yes, it may, but some evidence. Much work on Student Support Review now implemented, informed by CETL perspective. Don’t want to claim too much ownership of any of these things, but yes, there has been change to practice.



Will Woods: I think it’s important to continue CETL work but it’s about ringfencing time from groups of people around topics as much as it is about governance? – what do you say?

Steve: Only way this happens is people have ring-fenced time. Is within the gift of the Faculties and managers of the university. No reason at all, is now accepted, will happen that people will get workload including time to engage in innovation and scholarship. Need time, but also structures, support, organised, mentoring.

Martin: Ringfencing time – e.g. podstars – the important thing wasn’t the training, but ability to legitimise people doing things. Need to give people some space, some structure.

Clare: Last slide, scholarship. The OU’s current scholarship document doesn’t involve a role for ALs, that’s what you’re pointing to?

Steve: Was being slightly subversive, yes. That issue is not sorted out. Should be high priority for OU to involve this enormous expertise.

Alison Robinson – HEAT project

Very modelled on the TESSA project. (Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa – uses OER for teacher training at scale.) Got off the ground via funding from Ferguson Trust. Also want to introduce Ethiopia. Lesley-Anne Long and Basiro Davey also talented photographers. Very small team at present but will be increasing presently.

Striking things is the high incidence of child and maternal mortality – frightening. Shortage of health workers – which is where HEAT comes in – trying to build health worker capacity by distance learning. Very unlikely that health Millennium Development goals will be met.

Single most common request according to Lord Crisp from Africa is assistance with educating and training staff to address health problems.

High incidence of maternal mortality – very stark. Neonatal and child mortality also very high.

HEAT aims to address the shortage of health workers. Support quality materials, build local capacity. Want to be able to scale. Easy to put initiatives in place, difficult to scale.

HEAT delivers big impact for relatively small investment – reaching community-based health workers first, but applicable more widely. Improving population health. Learning resources adaptable and transferable – curriculum has to be deliverable in whatever medium is most appropriate – print, online, disk.

Pilot country is Ethiopia. Because Prime Minister and Cabinet have OU MBAs! And post-secondary education and health sector is in English.

Health in Ethiopia – population mostly in rural communities. Life expectancy low, maternal mortality rate extremely high – but less than average for Africa. Significant that only 6% of births attended by ‘skilled birth attendant’ – very low.

Ethiopia very much a country of contrasts. Many people have a picture that’s completely informed by Live Aid pictures during the dreadful famine of the mid-80s. It’s a beautiful country. It is dirt poor, and has difficulties, but it is beautiful, the people are really warm and welcoming. The Chinese are in Addis and it looks like a building site – spectacular amount of construction. Traffic is something to behold. But equally, less than an hour’s drive away it’s horse and cart. Even though Addis is the capital, choked with traffic, still has a really rural feel.

One reason chose Ethiopia is because it’s a model in terms of what it’s trying to achieve. Currently, primary health care for 87% – only 143 hospitals for 81m people. Each Health Centre has to serve 25-35,000 people. Health Posts serve about 12,500 people each, staffed by Health Extension Workers – in 2004, identify two young women from each village to train as community-based health workers. Have trained and deployed nearly 32,000. One reason maternal mortality rate is not as bad as you’d imagine – these women are making a difference. Health Centre has no running water but serves 35,000 people.

Health Extension Workers get a small salary, aim for 2 per 5,000 people. Initial training was at residential college, face to face. Evaluation shows was a tremendous achievement to mobilise basic health workforce in a short time. But way it happened, some was patchy, some gaps around maternal and child health. Ministries of Health and Education recognise need to upgrade training of these workers for two reasons – one, to overcome patchiness in initial training, secondly because they’re keen to have a career path, if can’t be provided then retention problems will be heightened. Some areas of curriculum not covered in initial training, needed now.

Huge debate about how to do this – face to face vs distance learning. OU is well respected by the Government, but generally in Africa the case for distance learning still to be made. Distance learning for theoretical part is very clear case – if go back to college, villagers lose health service. The same curriculum, with practical skills-based training, will only take 18-24 months rather than >10 years. All the workers study exactly same material, so quality and standards uniform. As long as the Government can appoint sufficient tutors, no limit on student numbers.

The HEAT model has at its heart  an online knowledge bank of training materials, text, multimedia. All available as Open Educational Resources (OER) for anyone in the world to use and adapt. Plus self-assessment questions.

Have meetings and workshops with stakeholders very widely – regional, national and international. Materials development starts with a curriculum design workshop, where OU experts work with Ethiopian health experts. Process begins.

Working on four modules – antenatal care, labour and delivery care, postnatal care, integrated management of newborn and childhood illnesses.

Level 4 curriculum will have 16 modules, but also assessed practical skills training at Health Centres and Hospitals. Each module assessed by a TMA, Min of Education sets final exam. Graduate at level 4, equivalent of Diploma.

Issues – low status of distance learning, people don’t think it has much to offer. It’s a real rollercoaster – speed that the Min of Health escalates their requirements is breathtaking. Started with one module as a pilot, 200 students in two regions. Few months later are doing 16 modules! More than 1000 students, pilot version in 16 regions. The timescale keeps being accelerated. Some authors have issues writing in a second language. Also trouble for some authors with being released from other work.

Modules will be available freely. Also working with other countries about adapting them. Also additional modules to be commissioned.


Steve: To all, taken by Alison’s contribution – challenges of creating effective learning in challenged communities. Not just technological, social pressure, expectations, and so on. Are we as a community fulfilling our remit, bringing appropriate technology in to our working with groups such as Alison is addressing? Terribly easy for us to innovate with our unlimited horizons and huge self-confidence. Are we emphasising enough of our work, ingenuity and innovation – in to reaching somebody in a health centre outside Addis Ababa?

Nigel: Highlighting one of those problems. It’s very difficult to disseminate. I’m working in prisons, so is Val. It’s not silo working, but difficult to keep across all the things happenings across the OU, before you get to the whole world.

Martin: OU has ring-fenced OU Africa work.

Doug: We are working to get funding support to take iSpot model to an international audience, with British Council – looking at Southern Africa, Arab world, Latin America, Caribbean initially.

Alison: Will be reusing technology we’ve moved away from in the UK – e.g. radio broadcasts. Initial funding for HEAT from Ferguson, other pledged to fund OU contribution but also the implementation, practical skills training. Like TESSA, to roll out we need additional moneys, so a lot of time is spent pitching for funding.

This work by Doug Clow is copyright but licenced under a Creative Commons BY Licence.
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Author: dougclow

Tutxor, online learning expert, project leader, data scientist, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in the education field and beyond.