Month: July 2011

The Overworked American

Technology blurs the distinction between work and home





via Morality 1: Good without gods‬‏ – YouTube.

I think that QualiaSoup does a really good job of using multimedia to illustrate or explain philosophical ideas or principles that lots of students struggle to understand from reading texts.

AHRC & ‘The Big Society’

I just received a response to my email to David Willetts MP about the use of ‘The Big Society’ as a ringfenced funding area by the AHRC. Here’s the text.

Dear Dr Farrow

Thank you for your email of 22 June, addressed to the Rt Hon David Willetts about your support for the campaign to remove the “Big Society” from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) delivery plan. As you may be aware the Minister is unable to answer as many emails as he would like and on this occasion I have been asked to reply.
Under the Haldane Principle, prioritisation of an individual Research Council’s spending within its allocation is not a decision for Ministers. The Government supports this principle as vital for the protection of academic independence and excellence. A statement of the Principle was published alongside the science and research funding allocations on 20 December 2010, the web link is attached for your convenience.
I hope this helps to explain the Government’s position in this matter.

Yours sincerely
Anne Robertson

Leaving aside the fact that trawling through Hansard is never a quick way to find the answer to a question, this isn’t very reassuring.  Simply restating the principles of Haldane does nothing to prevent this from being a violation of them. ‘The Big Society’ is a conservative party political slogan (and not even a very good one) and doesn’t belong in the delivery plan of a putatively independent research council.

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything more from the AHRC… not that I’m bitter at never getting a bean from them. But they have a responsibility to stand up for the values which they purportedly enshrine rather than going whichever way the wind blows in order to keep the money flowing.  Arguably, the coalition government contravened the principles of Haldane when they made certain disciplines so fearful of their own demise that they indulged in a kind of mediated suicide.

Thom Brooks continues to make the case against the AHRC in The Guardian and his blog.


Please consider signing the petition at

“Open Learning Network-the evidence of OER impact”

Here are my notes from this morning’s presentation by Patrick McAndrew.  This presentation combined a description of the work being done around OLnet and a look at the technology.

Patrick began by outlining the various indicators for the things being done and how everything is being drawn together… including various research strands, projects, research network building and (twenty seven) research fellowships.  (For more detail, see the interim report at

OLnet aims to search out the evidence for use and reuse of Open Education Resources and to establish a network for information sharing about research in the field. This means gathering evidence and developing methods for how to research and understand ways to learn in a more open world, particularly linked to OER, but also looking at other influences.

The driving research question for OLnet is to locate what is perceived to be the next evolutionary step in the OER movement, i.e: How can we build a robust evidence base to support and enhance the design, evaluation and use of OERs?

This high-level question is refined into three sub-issues:

1. How can we improve the process of OER reuse/design, delivery, evaluation and  data analysis?

2. How can we make the associated design processes and products more easily shared?

3. How can we build a socio-technical infrastructure to serve as a collective evolving intelligence for the community?

Patrick reported that investment and interest in OER is increasing.  OLnet builds on much previous work, including openlearn. OLnet is unusual in having a clearly identified research strand. As a result, there is lots of institutional introspection and thinking about student perspectives.

As the project enters its final stages, we are building tools and working towards OER adoption and successful supporting policies.  We need to design for openness and reuse, recognising that forms of adoption will differ according to context, discipline, institution.

One interesting idea that could have been developed further was that of the OER as attractor.

There have been some advancements made on the policy side of things, such as the $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants Program in the USA and the Bridge to Success (B2S) project. Learning from US experience with open courses to help people into college level study… Scaling not re-invention.

Fellows have come from all around the world and worked on a variety of different aspects of the project.

  • First fellow was Shiela Neill, who went to OCWC Global 2009 in Mexico.
  • Then Yannis Dimitriadis – work on use of patterns to encourage collaboration around OER.
  • Engin Kursun – survey on OCW in Turkey;
  • Pauline Ngimwa – OER Readiness in Africa. Svetlana Knyazeva – UNESCO in Russia, a study of OER in the CIS, and out to other non-English-speaking countries.
  • Jenny Preece – social structures – worked with Elpida – study of social learning in OER.
  • Scott Leslie – brought in mash-up expertise, worked to develop a way to mark OER to enable tracking: a DNA marker.
  • Agnes Sandor – from Xerox, automated analysis of texts to pick out the messages around OER.
  • Jia Yimin – large scale work in China around sharing courses.
  • Chuck Severance – highly technical work to integrate standards exchange in to Moodle. Elsebeth Sorensen – creativity and innovation and how it relates to openness.
  • Cathy Casserly – worked on approach to mapping the field.
  • Four or five joint OLnet/TESSA fellowships, African context, teacher education. Murilo Mendonca, Brazil, work on influence, OER policy contect.
  • Marcelo Maina (Catalunya), Jose Vindel (UNED), Spanish work on changed approaches.
  • Helen Jelfs, Bristol, collection of resources in Cohere around Deeper Learning – talk next week.
  • Here today – Robyn Muldoon (Australia) – assessment and OER – and Susan D’Antoni (Canada) – map to bring together OER work from UNESCO.
  • Coming soon – George Siemens (Canada, MOOCs) and David Wiley – initial thinkers around open content and OER.

(list courtesy of Doug Clow’s blog)

Advocates know what kind of claims they want to be able to make… But they need evidence.  We’ve discovered a lot, but how do we communicate this? Different visualisations are being considered, with flexible and dynamic mapping of collective intelligence.  We need to share information in simple and accessible way, but we also need different ‘lenses’ for different audiences.

The final thoughts were on the story of stone soup, a tale of co-operation, inventiveness and mutual benefit.


Personal reflections to follow…