Martin Bean: Looking Ahead: Mission, Values and Opportunity

Martin Bean is the OU’s Vice-Chancellor designate, and will be taking up his post later in the year.  This is his first opportunity to address the OU community, and it’s been wildly popular, with tickets required for the lecture theatre, overspill, and videoconference.  The Communications group are out in force to marshall the loyal troops. I managed to get a ticket and have secreted myself quietly on the back row to take quiet blog notes.

His quote on appointment was very encouraging:

It is an honour to have been selected as the next Vice-Chancellor of The Open University. It is a unique and amazing institution that has changed the lives of millions through its commitment to furthering social justice and to making higher education and educational opportunity accessible to all. I look forward to combining my passion for education and technology to lead The Open University over the coming years, as we continue to provide innovative and high quality distance education solutions to meet the needs of the 21st Century

Social justice right up there, and with his techie management background, he could be just the right person for what is a really challenging time for the OU.

(He walked past me, sat on the corner, shook hands, and invited me to Tweet away!  Helped that I was sitting in the back corner.)

Current VC, Brenda Gourley, introduces him.  Says she can’t wait for him to be VC.  Runs through his CV – a tremendous track record, international connections.  Over to him.

Know it was a big surprise to be working with Mr Bean, nobody is more challenged by that than he is.  At least people don’t forget his name.  People want to meet him, and know why he wants to be a VC.  Answer is more why the OU, than why a VC – it’s because of everything you’ve achieved and stand for.  “I’ve always loved learning, had bad experiences, but OU has given me confidence […]” – OU student feedback about life changing, in airports, train stations, etc, he gets that everywhere now.   Wants to be with us “for the next 40 years”.

(He’s good with an audience, good judge of mood and joking, self-deprecating, compelling speaker. Was better before he went in to Powerpoint stepwise reveal mode.)

Link to UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 26 “right to educaiton, and he equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”.  Universities role is questioning, help people understand – a change agent.  We are special, we are open, we broke the mould. (Now ‘we’ rather than ‘you’.) Have proved don’t have to sacrifice quality for scale.

VC described many of you as missionaries. They said it was never happen, it was mocked, “blithering nonsense”.

The OU has led through acts of imagination, delivering high quality education to people who had problems of access, of all sorts. Let’s get our imaginations working together again. In the 40y ahead we’re going to face a lot of challenges, will take a lot of imaginations.

So easy to make decision to come here.  Close alignment of his personal mission and OU mission:

  • Everyone should have the ability to access high quality HE.
  • HE must become more open and flexible – have done a tremendous amount but much to be done.
  • Innovation happens through research, people, process and environment – technology is just one enabler.
  • HE needs to be relevant, personalised, engaging and student-centred – social:learn, Web2.0, 3.0
  • It’s important to nurture communities of learning
  • Partnerships are essential to maximise results – must open up private, public, employer, government partnerships. Thoughtful, don’t sacrifice mission or quality. But essential
  • Economic prosperity is underpinned by quality education at all levels.

His Values:

  • Belief in people at an individual level – protect rights of individual, start and finish of social justice
  • Open, honest and respectful communication – tell him what you don’t like
  • A never ending positive attitude – this will annoy many of you over the coming years. Says, What can we do, not woe is me.
  • A belief in making a difference.
  • Teamwork makes sense
  • Be inclusive yet decisive – get many data points, but you have to decide and move on – be careful with questions you bring to my desk, you may get an answer
  • Never be shy to ask for help
  • Celebrate success – e.g. wonderful success in RAE, feel good about that

The Future:

  • HE important in light of the crisis
  • HE can’t be produced at the scale needed on the traditional model. – John Denham “unacceptable that eLearning is a sub-quality experience vs traditional” and then gave example of OU moving to new media not sacrificing quality, MB delighted to hear it.
  • Dist ed market will grow rapidly and be increasingly competitive – US has large for-profit DE sectors. Difference between them and us is profit/shareholder value. Our cause more noble.  Need to understand them and stay in front, and never sacrifice our mission and values as we compete with them.
  • Technology will shift from content centric to people centric – very enthusiastic on this.  Our ability to embrace, extend and take OU innovation and quickly mainstream it – is terribly exciting and a business imperative
  • ‘Flat world’ puts skills agenda on Government policy agenda
  • Financial crisis uncertainty, but also unprecedented opportunities for change – will put presure on everyone, who knows for how long.  While everyone else is looking at the downside (which we must), but (his optimistic side) says will put pressure on to address skills gap, help citizens to get employable skills, realise what they want out of their lives.  Will help world sig themselves out.

Cites John Gray, Success and Sustainability: Tertiary Education’s Global Challenge – must be

  • Responsive,
  • Effective,- Quality. Supported Open Learning model – cannot sacrifice the quality. Can’t use quality as an excuse not to innovate and be responsive.
  • Efficient – Pressure. Not a business but sometimes need to act like one, allocate resources right.

Shows OU Futures – declares that we do not need a whole new set of priorities, they’re great.  Evolve, develop nuance, though. The plan we have is the right plan.  More thoughts to come, though.

Getting Started, wants to

  • Get to know you and our students.  Will get out and about very quickly, is stealthy in a cube environment. Not just MK, expect to see a Bean near you very quickly.
  • Get insight in to how University is perceived, without responsibility, so will seize the day. Doing already. Everyone has an opinion of you! Reputaiton is strong.
  • Listen – asks lots of questions, from lots of angles
  • Hit pause – wait before answering every question (mother said to put this in), important not to jump to premature conclusions, and don’t ask him to. Needs to understand the history, is very very important.
  • Give feeedback – take what he learns and communicate back
  • Draw on and make great use of your expertise.

OU student feedback – quote from Kerzy Lando, 84, BA Hons, “Life has taught me several lessons …”

Honour and privilege to stand … on this riser they’ve given me so you can see me.  I am in awe of the opportunity to be part of the community you’ve built.

Q & A

(his phrase for it)

Brigid Heywood – MB “Hello Brigid”. – Value of education should take note of, also climate change. What can we do?

MB: Climate change is going to require every human to get behind.  OU response is multidimensional: what we do with our working practices, and how we deliver our programmes, reduce travel needs.  Contrasted brick and mortar or click and mortar.  Then what we teach.

Lots of questions with same theme (and much polemic): When does the OU intend to go cross-platform?  Non-Windows computers.

MB: What a surprise! Where did that question come from?  Couldn’t be more delighted at the question.  Technology should provide as much freedom of choice as possible.  Firm believer in interoperability.  (Knows what that means.)  Fraser and I are debating but I’m determined to get an iPhone, because it’s fit for purpose, it’s the best device.  Microsoft was just a waypoint in his career in the intersection of technology and education.

Darrell Ince: Tension between university and business requirements, impinge on academics.

MB: We do have to face this, have new entrants in our world, playing with a different playbook. Will require us to be knowledgeable, and adjust to it.  Am never going to sacrifice the mission or quality or how we serve our students.  We’re not a business but we have to act like one – intelligence on trends in the marketplace, shifting student demands, government policy shifts.  Inclusive and decisive – we will need to keep pace.  The DE marketplace worldwide is on fire, 25% to 55% compound average growth rate, don’t join that and stand still.  1. Be open and don’t deny.  2. Compare what’s going on with our mission and value.  Then formulate a competitive response.  Faster than ever before.

Martin Weller: Shortest question of the day. If you could overcome one challenge in your tenure, what would it be.

MB: Being short!  Good question.  Touched on it already: scale, and quality. All must work on that, with technology.  All you missionaries, pack your bags, we’re off again.

Nottingham (in the room): Gordon Lammie – joined in 1970. Been through many different periods. Financial situation. Agre with being a good employer.

MB: Personal belief, nobody should be denied doing what they want to do in life.  (Not a policy answer …. yet.)

Web – Ian Gilmour – OU Wikipedia entry describes BBC’s role in establishing OU, who is our partner for next 40y?

MB: Everybody! Partnerships really important, multi-broadcasting partners.  Unbelievable work with iTunesU.  Multi-casting partners.  Look at all educational content, develop fit for purpose.  Multiple types of course development models, done some, must do more.  Work with other universities – beyond and in UK.  Public sector tremendously important.  Private sector can be important – as employers (to help them meet their needs, and union reps). Make your best analysis of what partners you need based on your priorities. But OU never worked in a vacuum.

Jeff Johnson, MCT: Found presentation inspiring..  How can I tell you what I’m doing?

MB: We need to set up some good fb loops.  In prior roles, f2f, out and about, structured things (e.g. focus groups).  But at MS your life is your inbox.  When gets here, has learned to triage an inbox.  Will run sessions like this too. Without filters.  Use tech tools coupled with what we can do f2f.  In companies, have used web-based collaborative groups, can talk to remote people without having to travel, very time effective, environmental.  Voice of people back to him is very important.

Josie Taylor, IET: Was inspiring. In particular, that is a human right to access education.  The ELQ issue, a problem on financial side, but is also a potential barrier for onward HE.  Are you ready to engage with British political system?

MB: I’m Australian, I love a good fight.  Way to early to comment on the details.  But did due diligence to look at the external environment – ELQ today, but will be something else tomorrow.  Role of VC – active constructive dialogue with legislators – but have courage to respond appropriately and take action to remain healthy.  Real skill is not about ELQ, but about the fight.  Really easy to fight for something he believes in, and he really believes in the OU.

Carmel McMahon (Assoc Dean in OUBS): International opps for OU?

MB: Believes in bringing our offerings to people throughout the world. OU held up as the example of SOL at a distance that got it right.  Academic and policy world knows who you are.  Now need to be deliberate and creative about … country-by-country issue, or states and regions even.  Where to focus our efforts, partners, business models – but must return value to University – either promoting extending mission and values, but also to balance with business agenda.  Don’t do the collegiate thing of sharing all our collective wisdom and give birth to a competitor who forgets where they come from.  Hardest part is showing what your unique value is, you have done that already.

Clare Cortesky, research student: What are we doing wrong?

MB: I do believe you’re doing most things right.  Wrong: amazing innovation in pockets in OU – e.g. technology of the day vs tech of tomorrow, quality and scale rapidly.  Need to do better job letting world know about our innovation, which is not understood, “you’re doing what?”.  Have to speed up appropriately how we unlock innovation.  Can honestly say it’s not a matter of fixing something that’s fundamentally broken, matter of reigniting the imagination to do it all over again, only faster.

What can OU learn from MS, Yahoo! and Google?

MB: Who?  From MS, tenacity.  MS don’t usually get it right initially, but we’ll stick at it until we come up with a way of making it work.  Yahoo – saw power of bringing people together through Internet; not just browser, but vision of transforming how people interact. Google – everybody else was iterating on what already had; Google said what’s the transforming thing people do with Internet, it was simple, it was search, so needed more sophisticated way of retrieving meaningful content. Leapfrogged entire industry, revolutionised software industry, ever-new suite of stuff wrapped round it.

He appreciated the questions, much more enjoys a dialogue than prepared remarks.  “Look forward to working with you!”

Update: I made a Wordle of these notes.

Google Analytics on library websites

OU Library seminar, given by Tony Hirst and Hassan Sheikh. Reprise of talk at ILI given by Hassan last year – draft presentation, PPT. Tracking referrals from course websites and how that affects their behaviour on the OU library site.

Google Analytics allows you to track users across your website during their session – how long they spend, which pages.  Tracking code (Javascript) put in to page templates. Up to 5m page views per month. Eay to set up.

Lets you ask and answer: How well is the home page working? Gives you an overlay of % clicks on each link.  One way of using the data is to change your site design to make things easier for users.  (E.g. to match Fitt’s Law – make the common elements larger and hence easier to acquire.)

Most clicked links: Databases (20%), eJournals (19%), library catalogue (11%).

53% traffic direct, 41% referring sites (i.e. via link), 5% via search engines. List broken down by referrers – so learn.open.ac.uk is 18%, intranet next.

Then look at summary report of behaviour of visitors from a specific referrer site – so intranet.open.ac.uk traffic as an e.g. Show clear work-week peak of traffic. Bounce rate (single page hit): 27%.

Direct traffic much more steady through the week.

Content overview is another headline report – shows you top content, popular pages – / is top, find/journals is, top, then find/databases, etc. (Can map URLs on reports to easier to read names.)

Most popular pages: journals, databases, eResources.  Top traffic sources – shows you where the traffic comes from.

Can tunnel down too.  Interestingly, the databases get about 45% of traffic on site, but drilled down in to the databases themselves, even the top one only captures 5% – distribution much flatter. But we can’t get down to the activity spent on the journals themselves.

Library using GA to generate some performance indicators on page site – e.g. unique visitors, bounce rate, visitor loyalty, average page views, depth of visit, length of visit. Bounce rate is not necessarily bad for the Library site – if they come in and then go to somewhere you’re trying to get them to go, then that’s good.

Can export the data from any of the reports you can get on a single screen in GA – as XML, or CSV – so can plot e.g. avg time on site vs pages/visit, with a dot size for bounce rate, or avg time spent on site per network location – Tony has done quick graphs of this in ManyEyes.

Search traffic – can track search terms used – top were: athens, safari, refworks, referencing.  99.29% visits are without search (good site design?).

These are all averages – but be wary of them.

Next up: exploring OU library website usage, based on course referrals.  Brief look at traffic from Moodle (OU VLE), and also from TU120 (which has Google Analytics on it, so can match them).

Segmentation (breakdown) by Referral URL. Moodle has complex URLs with queries in them (which define the course, etc), but Google Analytics by default throws that away.  But can define a rule in GA to say ‘don’t discard that’. Then can see where traffic comes from (which courses), and then where it goes to on the Library website.  Can look at the originating page too.  So can get inkling of how effective (little bits of) the course pages on the VLE are in terms of where they send people.

Landing pages across VLE referrals – mostly home page, then eResources, then the Library Guide, then specific pages on eResources.

Tracking back, can find e.g. that ‘Article for Question 3’ was a big traffic driver on M882 – “Success Factors for Implementing Global Information Systems”.  (Currently a few technical fiddles required about being hard to distinguish links to separate sections of the same resource – an additional bit of tracking code on each link.)

TU120 2008J presentation – information skills “Beyond Google” – in Relevant Knowledge programme.

Out of 227k visits, TU120 generated 1678 visits. (In this sample – Sep-Dec for a single presentation.)  Can segment down in Google analytics.  Data is not TU120 students, it’s TU120 students visiting the Library.

Profile of visits – big spike at start, another spike in the middle, another towards the end.   Content Performance – tells you what pages were viewed.  Databases and journals are popular.  Look at referrer – and it’s mostly the ECA (week 10, final spike), then Section 3 of the course (multiple pages, week 3, mid-spike).   Can look down at what databases (it was Academic Search Complete, and Nexis UK).

Average 4.6 pages per visit, 14 min. But for the ECA, 28% of visits (overwhelming mode) are 2 pages deep – not normal distribution. But the depth of visit is much flatter in the middle of the week.

Can run A/B tests using Google Analytics – so 50% see page A, 50% see page B, see if the patterns are different.  Low risk way of trying A/B testing out for real on course content.  (Or multivariate testing, would be more efficient but more complex.)

Can look at which pages are sending e.g. traffic to the journals page.

Actions: segment onsite/offisite and regional users (IP range filters). Track by course referrals from the VLE. Enhanced OU Library PI reports (Many Eyes?). Improve homepage by keeping eye on site overlays.  Worth tracking changes – useful flag for problems. Keep eye on usage of database.  Reduce long list of databases (?). Use consistent names and URL paths.

Tony posts about Library analytics – eight posts already.

OU on iTunes U – education 2.0 business models

The Open University is on iTunes U! As Denise Kirkpatrick, Pro-VC for Teaching and Learning says in the press release,

Making available selected video and audio items from among the University’s highly-rated course materials via iTunes U to audiences worldwide offers a new channel for the University. We can open up free access to educational resources as well as a window for our potential students.

John Naughton says “At last we have a proper global distribution channel for our stuff.”; Martin Weller says “This is for the proper quality stuff, and provides a good outlet for OU material”.

I think they’re right: this is the high-quality stuff that the OU has a well-earned reputation for, and the content up there is good.

OU iTunes U

(I note that the OU is taking a sideways look at the world, and placing the Arabian Peninsula at the heart of its activity – visually at least.)

It’ll be interesting to see how this fits in to the emerging ecology of online educational material. There’s been a lot of debate in the last week or so around new business models for education – kicked off by Tony Hirst, then followed on by Stephen Downes, Martin Weller, Gary Lewis, and others. It’s great to have good stuff available for free. But how we make that sustainable – particularly the high-quality stuff that costs a lot to produce – is a profound challenge that we don’t yet have tested answers to.

There was a good post by Mike Masnick on Techdirt yesterday, summing up a really interesting discussion on “The Economics of Free”, and pointing out that

The first thing to understand is that we’re never suggesting people just give away content and then hope and pray that some secondary market will grant them money. Giving stuff away for free needs to be part of a complete business model that recognizes the economic realities

Give-away-and-pray isn’t a business model. I don’t believe education is (or should be) a business, but in a world based on exchange (rather than a gift economy), there are bills, and to be sustainable, there needs to be some way of paying them. Educational resources – once produced – are infinite goods: the marginal costs of reproduction are zero, or very near to it. Mike Masnick points out that the price of such goods will tend towards zero, and suggests that to make a sustainable living in that environment, you need to link the free distribution of those infinite goods to scarce goods, so that the greater availability of the inifinite goods make the scarce ones more valuable. The canonical example is the music industry, with the give-the-music-away, charge-for-the-gig (and other stuff) model. But I think it’s very applicable in education as well.

The infinite goods are obvious. If we’re not already in a world where good-enough zero-cost educational resources are widely available, we’re very close to it. The OU’s offerings on iTunes U are just the latest goodie in a great and growing sack of wonderfulness (!).

The linked finite goods are less well articulated, and I think the discussion about ‘business models’ for education 2.0 could be improved with a focus here. Martin asks whether it’s acceptable to provide free resources and tools, but charge for support and accreditation. I think that’s exactly the sort of model we should be exploring. Learner support, guidance and accreditation are scarce goods: they depend on individual attention. The other thing that’s an obvious scarce good in education is bespoke production of learning materials. As with the open source software community, companies (and even some Universities) are prepared to pay programmers to develop specific bits of software as part of open source projects, to ensure that their particular needs are met. I’m sure this is also true in education. The employer engagement agenda is one aspect of this, and one we should be trying to link in with all this education 2.0/OERs stuff – I suspect that will make us a much more attractive proposition to businesses.

Swinging back to the OU’s offerings on iTunes U, I love our tagline “Warning! Content may transform your life” (as does Martin). It’s a lofty goal, but one well worth striving for. With all this unseemly grubbing around for money, it’s well worth keeping those noble purposes in mind.