Monday, 9 November 2009

A grand social experiment and then home

The last session of EDCAUSE was another keynote given by Brenda Gourley who was Vice-Chancellor of the Open University until her recent retirement. It was a fascinating history of the OU, which was founded 40 years ago by Harold Wilson's Labour government - with Harold Wilson writing the original paper which established it. It was a grand social experiment - a University set up with no entry criteria so that anyone who wanted to could study for a degree and achieve their potential. I hadn't realised how the academic establishment at the time had reacted very negatively, claiming that this would compromise academic standards.

Of course, it has gone on to be a huge success story - 2.5m people have studied at it and it is the largest UK University with over 225,000 students currently registered. It has led the way in the production of distance learning materials, particularly in the production of very high quality multimedia - who can forget those wonderful programmes in the 70s and the amazing kipper ties that seemed so fashionable at the time?

Of particular interest to me was the OU's work outside of the UK - in Africa where it has reached over 500,000 teachers, and in India and Pakistan where is has helped to establish other OUs. It is also involved in prisoner education in the UK.

The OU's story was used to illustrate the importance of universal education in a time of recession and to developing worlds, and the importance of widening participation and part time study.

So, the conference is over, I'm back home, slightly jet lagged and back to a full diary with back to back meetings for the next three days. It was, as ever, excellent. Some sessions were better than others but that's always the case, and Larry Lessig's session on copyright is my highlight - get to watch it if you can.

The networking was excellent - both with UK colleagues and friends, and those from farther afield. The Twitter backchannel proved useful for getting feedback on sessions I couldn't attend. All in all, a very useful event - and in a lovely City with stunning views of the mountains from almost every road you looked down.


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