Second thoughts?

This post does not represent the views of my employer, or of programmes/projects I am responsible. It is available under a CC-BY license.
In his #jisc11 keynote address (will add a link to a transcript when available), Professor Eric Thomas (the Bristol Vice-Chancellor, and technically my boss) spoke intelligently and thoughtfully about the severe issues that UK institutions will face under the Browne-Willetts funding model. 

He cited a study at Harvard that suggested that students from lower-income backgrounds are likely to be more risk averse when it comes to taking out loans. (paper with $5 access fee, wider news story)

He made it clear that the rise in fees would not generate new funds for UK institutions, who would still be operating on the same narrow margins as currently.

He agreed with my analysis that the lack of predictable income streams mean that institutions will struggle to work to these margins without cutting activities and academic investment.

He argued well that we are moving to a chaotic environment, which no data on which to base sensible strategic decisions.

And he outlined the spectre of cuts in student numbers, widening participation premiums and research funding that may be needed to pay for the “market” (his inverted commas, not mine.)

I agree with him entirely, of course.

I just wish he could have mentioned these concerns at the time of the vote in parliament, rather than being one of 16 UUK board members who signed a politically influential letter describing the new fees regime as “reasonable” and as having”fundamentally important progressive elements”. And which suggested that the alternative to the higher fee model would mean a likely cut in student numbers “enormously damaging to social mobility”.

I wonder how many other VCs are currently having second thoughts?

20 potentially great keynote speakers

This post represents my own opinions only and does not represent the views of my employers, or of programmes and projects I am responsible. It is available under a CC-BY license.

My last post about elearning experts attracted a lot of interest, a fairly even split between amused recognition and a feeling that I may have been a little harsh. But those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I don’t like to identify problems without suggesting solutions. So here’s a few suggestions for people I’d love to hear give a major conference keynotes – trying to choose people who don’t tend to get these high-profile platforms (often just because they don’t promote themselves as well or as often) but would do a lot of interesting things if offered a chance. Given my background these tend towards the UK, the transformative/open higher education world and tend politically towards the left. And yes, I am honoured to call many of these amazing people friends, fellow-travellers and colleagues. I hope that someone finds this list useful.

Christine has a long history in both OER and online learning, and is based at Michigan State University. I’m really excited about her AgShare project, which works directly to support farmers in Africa in creating and reusing OER. She’s also a great speaker and an excellent horticulturalist!

Everyone knows Barbara Chow at Hewlett – she’s been instrumental in driving the new shift to “deep learning” in compulsory ed in the Hewlett Foundation’s funding. But Kathy has had a lot of input into the international OER funded programme, and I’d be fascinated to hear her speak about regional and cultural factors in OER release.

Catherine is the project manager of OER Africa. I wish everyone who grumbles that OER is all very well but no one ever uses it could hear her speak, at least for a few minutes. OER Africa supports new – often chronically under-resourced – universities in Africa make links and partnerships with OER releasers in the west, often making the difference that means higher education is possible.

The story of OER in Brazil is an amazing one – there has been genuine governmental buy-in, which has steered the movement in many interesting directions. Carolina has been instrumental in this process, she’s also seriously in to IPR.

UK people
Helen is one of the smartest and most thoughtful people I know – a consultant with a deep theoretical and practical understanding of OER and digital literacies, amongst many other topics. She’s a challenging and inspiring speaker, and I’m always glad to see her to present in any fora.

If you’re not worried about the impact of IPR on the university system, you don’t understand IPR! Naomi can help. She’s an amazingly engaging presenter and particularly enjoys awkward questions. She’s also the IPR brains behind the amazing Web2Rights tool.

I heard Keri speak recently at the JISC Online Conference and I was completely blown away by her grasp of the wider issues of education, and the social impact of informal online learning. I hear she also impressed at Learning Without Frontiers.

Another #lwf11 speaker, though I heard her at #bebettr. A stunning and chilling indightment of ICT teaching in the compulsory (and the HE) sector. Learners are still learning about HTML tables in 2011! This critique opens up into a wider consideration of what learning actually is and should be. Oh, and Anna is about the age of an undergraduate, and never went to university herself.

One of the real stars of JISC, Amber makes the kind of links and connections betweens areas of work that feels like scales lifting from my eyes. She’s from a BECTA background – so knows HE and FE very well – and has been forging links between repositories and educational practice ever since. Her degree was in philosophy, which makes for some fascinating digressions.

I know Suzanne from OER projects, her journey within these has involved bringing the UK National Health Service on board with the OER agenda, and solving some tricky issues involving patient consent with the General Medical Council. She’s also eLearning lead at the MEDEV HE Academy Subject Centre. And I’ve never seen a bad presentation from her, always interesting, always engaging.

Dawn was involved with leading the Reusable Learning Object CETL, and was part of the team who developed the GloMaker simple learning object creator. As time progressed, RLO morphed into OER – Dawn led the influential OER10 conference and is working with the SCORE team at the Open University of OER11. She also has a side project which records and rates real ale in local pubs.

There are some great speakers in HEFCE, and it is often very hard to get to them (they tend just to send senior staff out). Caroline is one of the few who genuinely understands the teaching funding model and hearing her speak over the next year or so (as the new model comes in) will be very interesting. In a sea of speculation and mis-information, she’ll be one of the few people who can tell you exactly what is going on and what it means. She’s perceptive, intelligent and a very approachable speaker.

HESA collect data on most aspects of the sector, and I’m always surprised that they don’t use this to draw more interesting comparisons and conclusions. If anyone in HESA can do this, it would be Alison, who also has substantial experience working within JISC and at Bristol University.

There are some people that are just so on top of their specialism that they are a joy to watch. Regarding repositories and metadata, Sarah is one of these people. I always love hearing her speak.

Lorna has a vivid and wide understanding of the technical issues around OER, and she presents these with flair, consideration, pragmatism and humour. It’s rare to find a technically-slanted speaker who can really engage an audience around interoperability and data quality, but Lorna is certainly one of a handful I am privileged to know.

What hasn’t Lou done? She’s an ironmonger, a photographer, a home educator, a web2.0 zealot, an ex-librarian and an ex-JISC programme manager, turned consultant. Her main area of elearning interest is around learning resources of all sorts., and she was closely involved with the inception of the UKOER programme along with many other fascinating areas of work.

Humbox is awesome… like mixing a repository with facebook. Hugely popular, and a growing community around the humanities in the UK with great stuff. Kate is one of the masterminds behind this radical departure from “traditional” OER and she speaks very well.

Lyn focuses on the use of online resources to support independent learners in a research area that crosses both OER and digital literacies domains. I’m always keen to hear her speak, her focus on the end user is refreshing and very listenable.

Nicola Wilkinson
I can’t even find a proper profile page for this amazing woman – but she was (is?) based at Loughborough University and was the lead developer on the award-winning WebPA peer assessment project. If you’ve ever wondered how projects get taken up and become community owned, WebPA is the key and Nicola is the key to WebPA. I always loved talking to her as well. (Nicola – if you read this let me know where you are and I’ll update the link.

Token male suggestion so I can appear gender-balanced. 
I never understand how it is possible to plan a conference and *not* want to invite Joss – his mixture of community action, student-led development, OER and environmental and societal engagement is a heady brew, and he presents beautifully.

Please do suggest other great (and largely unsung) speakers in the comments below.

Note: this isn’t all just a double reverse ferret to get me loads of keynote gigs. Seriously, I’m not a great public speaker, I do only the minimum I have to because of my job – just let me blog and do the occasional video. Ask one of these people instead for a conference keynote.

Note 2: This list could have gone on for pages! Seriously, this is just the first 20 people I thought of whom I’ve never seen or heard do a keynote and would very much like to. Don’t read anything in to you not being on it.

Other additions:
Several people have recommended Becca Colley at the University of Bradford. Though I’ve known her through twitter and occasionally at conferences as a delegate, it is to my shame that I’ve never actually had chance to hear her speak at length. But based on the comments I’ve had, I’d very much like to.

How to be an eLearning Expert (module 2) – How to be Controversial

This post represents my own thoughts only, not those of my employer or the programmes and projects I am responsible for. It is available under a Creative Commons CC-0 public domain license. It is presented as an OER for personal study.

Any resemblance to celebrity e-learning experts – living, dead, or horrible flesh-eating zombie – is not intentional and is probably self-perceived due to over-active paranoia. If you *are* a controversial e-learning expert and think any of these steps are specifically aimed at you, please let me assure you that they not. Please leave a blog comment detailing which section you mistakenly think is an attack on you and why, and I will gladly change the text.
So, you’ve followed Lou McGill’s excellent guide to becoming an elearning expert. And you’ve made it!

Or have you?

Sure, you’re seen at all the cool sessions at all the best conferences, but you’re there at the bar listening to Helen Beetham talking to Diana Laurillard, Sheila MacNeill, Grainne Conole and Sarah Knight about evaluating the use of runnable learning designs in educational practice and pretending that you are intellectually capable of following the conversation by occasionally nodding and saying “mmm…mmmm…” – whilst THAT GUY* is being whisked away from his keynote address to speak to puckered-lipped senior mandarins at the Ministry before returning – you imagine – to a hotel suite filled with exotic alcohol, sherbert dips and semi-naked booth babes employed by major e-learning vendors. And gosh, you want to be THAT GUY so hard that it hurts.

What’s THAT GUY got that you haven’t?


But now, with this simple free 10 point plan, you too can experiment with controversy: the coolest bad-boy substance known to man. Feel the raw power coursing through your fingers. Feel the adrenaline rush of being up against popular opinion with only your wits and a collection of pictures from Google Images used in breach of their license to help you. Because “starting a debate” is exactly the same thing as having 600 people call you a prat on twitter.

1. IDENTIFY A HIGHER POWER AND SUBMIT TO IT. Choose market capitalism, everyone else does. Of course you wouldn’t talk directly about this to an audience of lefty academic soap-dodgers, but you can carefully structure your argument so you leave them desiring service or technology X, which is available at a very reasonable price from certain commercial suppliers. They *could* set it up and do it themselves, but if you drop in words like “cuts”, “time pressures”, “professional quality” and “advertising” it will soon put them off. If you are canny, you already own or have shares in certain commercial suppliers that provide service or technology X.

2. BUILD A STRAW MAN. There are some practices in academia that don’t work, some of the time. Hell, there are loads – here’s a few to get you started: exams, libraries, application, feedback, lectures, seminars, contact time, online learning… Pick one and argue that because it is bad sometimes, it must be bad all the time. You could cite your own personal experiences, or if you don’t have any experience (and don’t be ashamed), use a scene from an cheesy 80s film to perfectly reflect reality. In fact, if you are really confident, suggest academia is bad all the time and we should replace it with something where private companies can more easily sell services and thus support student choice.

3. SEE VISIONS, DREAM DREAMS. There needs to be a simple ideal solution to the problem you have posed under point two. The fact that there actually isn’t shouldn’t stop you getting in to some serious technologo-determinism. All students should have iPhones! All teaching should be filmed in stroboscopic surround-sound 3D! Academics should pay for the development of commercial quality games for teaching! Academics should be available 24/7/365 via a bespoke chat client and brain implant! Don’t worry about implementation, who is going to pay for it all, or whether anyone actually wants it, or even whether it would actually work the way you claim it would. You’ll never have to make it happen.

4. TILT AT A SACRED COW. Conversely, there are some things in academia that quietly work really well: try autonomy, diversity, micro-specialist subjects, local community and employer links, academic rather than business management, supporting small scale embedded innovation. But as these don’t fit in with your vision and dreams (see point 3) then they obviously don’t work. Just because they have stupid compelling independent evidence to support them does not mean that your theory is wrong. Your theory is obviously right, because you are on the stage expounding it, whilst they are sitting in rows listening. Never forget that.

5. KICK A DOG WHEN IT IS DOWN. There are some things that people love to hate. If you feel like you are losing the crowd, have a cheap shot at a complaint common among those who don’t really understand the issue in question, like PowerPoint slides, university administrators, lazy apathetic students, moaning academics or useless quangos. There – didn’t that feel good? Now everyone is back on your side again. A good time to do this is immediately before you start selling something, be that an event, a workshop or a new shiny product. Then you sound populist enough to make people think you talk enough sense that they will trust your sales pitch.

6. POTTY MOUTH. The best way to “keep it real” is to swear like a lady’s front bottom. Because your poo is from the streets and you sexually tell it like it is, incestuous person, you can really fornicate excrement up. You might initially think you sound like a cranially-mounted phallus, but really you are the canine’s gonads. And don’t you coitally forget it, female dog. (of course, if challenged, you always speak like this. Especially to ministers of state and at dinner parties with major elearning vendors.)

7. TWO PLUS TWO EQUALS FIVE. You know that deeply unpopular and stupid thing that isn’t going to work that the government have announced? Well, they’re right and the consensus of opinion amongst those who actually understand the issue is wrong. It is going to work and it’s just what we need. It may be painful and result in massive job losses/institutional closures/international terrorism/students dropping out/greater expense but really it’s for the greater good of the sector. Only you, the controversial elearning expert, understand this, by refusing to cloud your razor sharp brain with the dull grind of facts and evidence. Why, you could almost be in government yourselves.

8. GET WITH THE EDUPUNKS. No, I don’t mean proper EduPunk, which is where the likes of Jim Groom use a whole grab-bag of tools for themselves to engage with students on a personal, meaningful level and produce great art like DS106 . You don’t even need to go to the bother of selling out, because to you edupunk only means that the technology that institutions use is rubbish, and you should buy and use better stuff. Punk is simply market capitalism in funny clothes. (and note the best stuff has a logo that looks like a bit of fruit). On a similar tip, always use “disruptive” when you mean “new and probably unwise” – it makes you sound edgy and cool, and makes everyone who disagrees with you sound staid and old-fashioned.

9. THINK BIG. It’s a waste of time doing stuff on a small scale. Lots of people will never see it, and that’s bad for the ego. The only good things are those that are massive, monolithic and visible from low earth orbit. Forget doing something linked to the identified needs of a small group, forget trials and experiments, ignore building sustainable innovation: let’s mandate, baby, mandate. If everyone *has* to do it then it will definitely be good and it will definitely work. After all, we’ve had so many pilots, why not invest in some nice technical drawing instruments made by Rotring.

10. NEVER APOLOGISE, NEVER EXPLAIN. Contrition is a sign of weakness. If you turn out to be wrong about something (and you’ve about a 50% chance, statistically, just like any other monkey) the important thing is to keep being wrong, but louder. People will start to suspect that you’ve seen something they haven’t and have a deeper understanding. After this wears off, the career of a professional contrarian is open to you – a life of being THAT GUY on a plenary panel. Any you did want to be THAT GUY, didn’t you?

ONE FINAL NOTE: PLAYERS BE HATERS. Following this approach, you may find that some people begin to dislike you. If they do it is important that you appear to deal with them civily and politely. Firstly characterise them as “out of touch”. You spend all day talking to delegates at conferences, you obviously know more about what is really happening than them, stuck in their sub-specialism. Secondly, they clearly haven’t understood your argument… best repeat it to them several times in slightly different words. Thirdly, they are probably a fan of one of the things you slagged of in point three, so you can dismiss them as being self-interested. Fourthly, if all else fails, appeal to your authority. You’ve been being an elearning expert for, ooh, ages now, you even started an elearning company and got some contracts. How dare they know more than you about higher education? How very dare they?

* and THAT GUY is (almost) always a guy.

#bebettr , @anna_debenham , skills vs literacies and my shady past.

This post represents my personal opinions only, and does not reflect those of my employer or the programmes and projects I am responsible for. It is made available under a CC-BY license.

Not for the first time, I think @jukesie is on to something. #BeBettr was the bare bones of an event, simply a room to keep the rain off and some interesting people talking, both on the stage and from the floor. No tedious “conference dinner”, no dodgy buffet lunch, no reams of paper, no trailing through the bowels of an expensive venue finding the next break-out room. No wireless to lure you in to email and the backchannels. My suspicion is that we will see a lot more events like this in 2011, and a lot less multi-day quasi-academic conferences for edtech folk. This can only be a good thing.

When I go to a conference I expect to leave with my head spinning, and at least one blog post ‘twixt my teeth. I was especially keen (after very positive reports from #drumbeat) to see Anna Debenham speak and I was not disappointed (here’s her talk on similar themes given to London Web Standards). She’s a young, talented, web professional who feels she has been let down by formal ICT education, and provides example after terrifying example to back up her narrative. Academia and the world of education has simply failed to keep up with the changing face of web technology – teaching children how to lay out a web page using HTML tables, or design a site in PowerPoint helps no one, and although these examples are taken from current GCSE and A-level syllabi it has also been argued (Leslie Jensen-Inman, in A List Apart) that HE is not much better. Anna herself chose not to apply to university based on a poor impression of what courses were focused on, and has instead developed a successful freelance career.

I agree with her diagnosis, but was wary of her solutions – which were that ICT professionals should work to support the development of updated syllabi. I simply don’t think this is sustainable, as web technology and development practice are liable to keep changing at the same dizzying rate as they are currently. Will we still be teaching web design in a world dominated by platform specific applications drawing information down from the cloud, bypassing the web entirely?

My suspicion is that any course that purports to teach you how to do “x” is probably a waste of time if it talks about industry standard practice. It’s not education, it’s training – and thousands of commercial training providers are quite delighted that training becomes out-of-date very quickly as they sip champagne cocktails and cavort in pools of gold coins. 

Education isn’t training. Training shows you how, education supports you in understanding why, and in gaining the general principles and aptitudes that allow you to find out how for yourself in the future. (NB although this sounds pretty convincing, please remember that I am essentially a policy wonk that spent too long listening to experts, so I claim no special insights here).

Back in 2003, I taught Music Technology to a group of Foundation year (level 0) students at a University not unadjacent to Pontypridd. I’d graduated from what became a MusTech degree in 2000, and even three years later most of the practices I had learnt had become laughably outmoded. I had learnt how to programme the venerable Akai S1000 sampler as a cutting edge tool, I was now teaching on a platform where a plug-in was available which allowed you to play the S1000s vintage, grungy, low bandwidth samples.

However the students were expecting to learn the latest industry standard tools, and many of them were much, much better than me in using them. Clearly something had to give. So I didn’t teach any tools at all – I pointed students to newsgroups, websites and online tutorials… I showed them how to identify and use reliable advice. I talked about copyright, music publishing, composition, harmony, basic production principles and critical listening. I even did a seminar called “how to play keyboards – in 40 minutes”. I also (wonderfully) branched out of a critical listening session because of questions asking me to explain what a passing reference to “Marxism” meant – the response prompting one keen student to opine that this revolution of the proletariat stuff sounded brilliant and why hadn’t it happened already? Students used the tools they were comfortable with, supported others in developing their own skills and were supported experimenting with new ideas.

But still, when one student asked me if this course he had signed up for enthusiastically would prepare him for a career as a sound engineer, I had to say no. I explained (truthfully) it would make him a better sound engineer, a better musician, and give him the literacies he needed to work in a fast changing field… but he left the course the next week and became a sound engineer in a club in Cardiff. Fair play to him (and I hope he at least took on board the stuff about ear protection!)

We can’t teach skills in HE. We’re not set up to do it, we’re not very good at doing it and we need to stop selling ourselves as if we are. We shouldn’t run courses claiming to make people professional sound engineers, or professional web designers, or professional anything else. We give people the literacies they need in order to pursue these careers (or any other). The subject matter of a degree, I suspect in more cynical moments,  is largely a way of getting students to concentrate long enough to swallow the literacies pill.

What does it matter if you studied English Literature, Music Technology, Pharmacy, Modern History, Software Engineering or Horticulture? The important things are that you learnt how to find information yourself, make decisions about it’s validity and usefulness, use the information to gain new knowledge, capability and expertise – write and argue persuasively, use sources and quotation to back yourself up, use technology to better express yourself, and had the confidence in your analysis to stand by it in the face of contrasting opinions. These are the graduate skills that most people end up using  – as web designers, sound engineers, sales managers, doctors and business analysts – we need to be a little more open about them at the start of the journey.

The death of the university? – a video for #cetis10


“What do we need in the wasteland?” narration (Mark Stiles)

“Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” (public domain)

“What do we need in the wasteland?” full mix (Mark Stiles/FOTA)


 Images Used
The Mortarboard of Damocles – Renoir_Girl on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
End of a Building – Iwouldstay on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
Miller Avenue Abandoned Library – Aaron.michels on Flickr (cc-by)
Coming Down – Fatemeh on Flickr (cc-by-nc)
Gloucester Technical College – Nickserabi on Flickr (cc-by)
Demolition of the Old Student Center –  Spike 51551 on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
Arts E inside ground floor – Ephemerol on Flickr (cc-by-nc-sa)
Broken Windows – TheGiantVermin on Flickr (cc-by-sa)

Fire and trothing at #ALTC2010

(these are my views and not those of my employer, or of projects and programmes I am responsible for. This post is available under a creative commons CC-BY license)

I should admit, to my shame, that I had a blog post pre-prepared – I felt we know all there is to know about #altc by now. Someone waves some flashy technology around, everyone says “oooh shiny”, someone asks “what do the students think?” and then we nod sagely at this insight and move on to the next session. I was going to call it “Fear and Loathing at ALT-C” – travelling to Nottingham to find the great academic dream, systematically and self-destructively losing touch with reality, and reflecting on missed opportunities and the old high water-mark

But there were surprises in store. This was bat country.

If we started with Donald Clark trashing the cathedral, we followed it with Sugata Mitra connecting the bazaar. We’ve been critiquing the lecture for nearly 30 years (“What’s the use of lectures”), we know the arguments well, we’ve used them ourselves. It felt like cavoli riscaldati – reheating old cabbage – and the gas and the stench of negativity nearly choked us. But then out of nothing more than a hole in the wall, we saw learning (almost) unplugged and a restatement of the essentials of self-education (and really, what other kind is there) by exploring, of community and peer (and near-peer) support.

ALT-C used to be a gathering of technologists, but we seemed to be groping towards the unfashionable social sciences – anthropology, psychology, sociology, education and (most clearly) politics. We saw the birth of a star: Dave White with the golden ratio of research evidence, charisma and radicalisation managing to please the crowd whilst drawing the wool away from our eyes. And an award proved that, as our governmental ministers draw from their Oxford experiences and networks, we could now draw on TALL, and on similar departments of agitators, trouble makers and genuine post-doctorate-level awkward fuckers (see Donald, I can do it too!) elsewhere.

The technological is now political; rather than leaping at the possibilities as in the past we are sitting back to ask why? who for? and what is the real cost? There was a sense of a last gasp, we are running out of time, running out of money, and (as Richard Hall and Joss Winn made terrifyingly clear) running out of energy. Even by 2014, we could be living in a radically altered society in which we would either adapt or collapse. Kudos to the pair of them for making it sound challenging and exciting. We’re higher education, we used to love solving problems…

In my own meagre contribution, my colleagues and I tried to highlight the dangers of toying with transformative concepts without at least an aspiration of where we want to end up. We saw three delightful models of how OER could benefit the educational community, and then one neo-liberal corporate nightmare. The oncoming commercialisation of higher education is another figurative crossroads that we stand at, with a genuine and fundamental conundrum about the creative and connective capacity of humankind being used for the benefit of all, or sold back to us to benefit from the few.

But there are strange and magical powers within our creaking old dark-age institutional structures. The gaps, the synergies, the misfiring collegiate neurons and the freedoms within the way we work give us the chance to influence, to build and to organise against the oncoming storms.

Maybe Dave White won’t get to be prime minister after all, but as academics and tutors (even if we are not teaching PPE at Oxford) we can rule a nation with a microphone.

David Kernohan
twitter: dkernohan

OER futures and Universality, Inc. #altc2010

(these are my own views and not those of my employer, or of programmes and projects I am responsible for. This post is available under a CC-BY license)


In working with Sheila MacNeill, Li Yuan and Heather Price (nee Williamson) in preparing our workshop at ALTC2010 (slides) on trends and scenarios in OER, I was challenged to flesh out the following scenario:


“the radical change model in which a global university appears to serve the different needs of the learners through open access to course materials, learner support and assessment”


This was one of four, ranging from a status quo model in which OER was simply an adjunct to an institutionally focused model, on  to seeing OER as a means of facilitating institutional credit transfer, and (excitingly) to OER as a spur to widespread institutional collaboration. So clearly my scenario was on the neo-liberal nightmare edge of the spectrum.


Predicting the future is not the kind of thing I generally enjoy. I feel that I understand the present and the recent past so poorly that anything I could come up with is based more a hunch than the result of any proper analysis of trends and patterns. Unlike other future gazers, I admit this,


But I ended up with a business model that was both plausible and terrifying; contemplating “Universality Inc” where OERs are a primary means of learning alongside peer support and automatic formative assessment, with other “optional services” (like tutorials, practicals, examinations and qualification/graduation) available for a fee. Academics, in this nightmarish vision, were mainly paid to produce OERs to draw customers in to pay for other services, and employers had enough input into the curriculum to save on corporate training costs.


I frightened myself.  I stared in to the abyss and saw things that cannot be unseen.


The only thing to do seemed to be to make a pretend corporate video, featuring the range of fine acting talent you can find around the JISC offices on a Tuesday lunchtime.


Enjoy (and come along to the session in room ALTCT at 10:30 on Thursday 9th if you want to discuss).


(if anyone wants the raw materials from the video for reuse please leave a comment and I will send you anything you need. Oh, and please don’t build Universality for real. If you do, I waive the attribution part of the license. I want no part in this.)


Update: With thanks to Barbara Dieu, this video is now available with English and Brazillian Portugese subtitles

Personal reflections #heaconf10 … causing trouble

(just to start by reminding all that these are personal reflections and not the opinions of my employer)

I always like to look for themes at conference, underlying points of reference that come up in a number of sessions and begin to form a narrative. CETIS conferences, especially, do this very well and you can often spot the EdTech trends just by noting what keeps coming up (Linked Data last year, in case you were asking).

At the 2010 Academy conference, given the timing, forthcoming (and existing) cuts to education funding were central to pretty much every session, coupled with a linked expectation that radical change was on the way and radical change was needed to cope with it.

I wouldn’t go as far as the panel members who claimed the cuts were an “opportunity for innovation”… certainly not for the thousands of students unable to get a university place. But clearly, people are going to try increasingly crazy stuff, and make increasingly crazy leaps. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that the outcome of all this “we must do something…” headless-chicken dancing is actually something worth doing.

Business, it appears to me, is not going to solve anything. First up, universities run businesses all the time… conference facilities, bus companies, science parks, innovation centres, cafes and restaurants. And we’re damn good at it. We work with businesses already – both on the research and teaching side, and also with stuff like business incubators and advice centres. Aaron Porter at the NUS noted that HE get about 2% of the annual business training budget – I’d argue that this was probably about the right level. So the idea we can learn from and grow with business is rubbish – we are doing it already. We could maybe do more of it, but maybe universities would be less exciting and less valuable places if we did.

Business is characterised by short-term thinking – they want skills for people to do the jobs that they need doing, and they need them now. Looking to businesses to plan long-term curricula is nonsensical – most businesses only have one long-term plan which is to grow as much as possible as fast as possible. There’s this myth within the public sector more generally that private sector management practices will save us all – this is nonsense. Management is not the strength of the private sector, profit is.

So why would HE be well placed to seriously enter the workplace skills delivery market? It’s not what we’ve traditionally done. I see HE as basically a factory for producing awkward bastards.. the kind of people who will create change and innovation, and also question and dispute poor existing practice. The private sector needs these kind of people, but it tends to think that it doesn’t. It then claims that the staff it has are not “proactive” – which is just a horrible airport management book way of saying the same things. But the “awkward squad” aren’t necessarily profit making, so it’s not what the managers (focused on their bottom line) look for from universities, colleges and trainng.

We need more troublemakers in HE too – and especially in the educational development world. The establishment of the Academy, and predecessor bodies like the LTSN and ILTHE, has added a lot of weight to the arguments around teaching quality and the student experience – issues that the rise of the fee-paying student “customer” are starting to raise in the minds of very senior university managers. Ideally, we could now just roll out what we have learned into the system and reap the benefits. But there is still a lot more work to be done, and a lot more trouble to cause – and I wonder if the structure and hierarchy of JISC, the Academy and others are the right tools for the job.

Fundamentally, we need to have the courage to get up and question stuff. There is nothing that makes me more pessimistic about the future of my profession (which I’m still going to maintain is “educational developer”) than when we let nonsense pass unchallenged, or dubious reasoning pass unargued. This happened on a few occasions at #heaconf10, and it depressed me. These are the attitudes and confidences we need to pass on to our students. Maybe we need to start closer to home.


#oerhf – personal reflections: “…there is a light?”

With half-a-day’s distance between now and the Hewlett Foundation OER grantholders conference, I have been mulling over some of the issues and themes raised at the conference. These are my own thoughts and do not represent the views of JISC, the UK Government or even – possibly – me on another day. Those I have quoted I do so out of context and without permission, and will happily correct instances where I have misrepresented views. The video is a live recording of “Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra” playing “There Is A Light” (and lyrical quotations are also taken from this song), which both fits my themes and is one of the most amazing pieces of music I have heard in recent years. The track is available on Constellation Records on the album “Kollaps Tradixionales”
“Lux et Veritas”…”Light and truth” is the official motto of Yale University, our conference host, and has been since foundation in 1701. Like many of our older institutions, the origins of Yale are shrouded in mystery – but like most higher education institutions it was created to fill a public need, a need for skilled and knowledgeable elite men (and later, as we became more enlightened, women and those of less noble birth). Always, universities, though founded by kings, governments and commercial benefactors (and spending the money they have accrued by exploiting the hard work of “lesser” people), have been designed to serve a civic need and provide skills and training in areas where they are needed. So, if we work for, or support, an institution of learning we are public servants, working for public benefit. “We are the people we are waiting for”, as Hal Plotkin ( paraphrased Barak Obama, and we have work to do.
A lot of the work has been done. What was clear from the presentations, workshops and informal discussions was how much of the ground has been cleared. Governmental support in the US, in the Netherlands, Brazil, New Zealand, the UK. Projects releasing materials all over the world. The Creative Commons framework of licenses. The network itself. And it is worth noting who has done this work – the institutions. Serving the public.
Wayne Mackintosh ( made provocative arguments about the place of the commercial in “free culture” – his arguments challenged many people but is message was there is a cost to freedom, and to be truly free we needed to accept that it may be others that are collecting the coins. This is tough for institutions as they seek to maintain their position via scarcity, but moving the battle to the forums of quality and utility would serve everyone. We should not be hiding behind century-old reputations, scorning those who are late to the feast. To embrace this, institutions need to accept that they are not always the best people to exploit what they do, and the exploitation can bring benefits other than financial.
Alongside, and inspiring the institutions, there has been a network of  OER funders and supporters. Vic Vuchic and Barbara Chow ( made it clear that this network will, and needs to grow. And a discussion at lunch led by Steve Carson of MIT and OCWC ( made it clear that external funders are not always the answer – state and foundation funding is not sustainability, and if we are not sustainable all the movement has done is given the world a library full of books, more accessible than the books in the Beinecke Rare Book Library ( locked in their isolated glass core and shielded by marble and concrete, but neverless a library. And OER as a movement needs to be more than that to answer the problems that education faces.
Anya Kamenetz ( described problems faced by the education sector well in her closing keynote. The rising demand for higher education’s lifelong benefits, and the inability of our current system to cope. The dissatisfaction with the experience, whether warranted through our  failure to engage or unfair and petulant pouting from “learners” who expect spoonfeeding and have no reason to expect anything else. And the time, the money, the work. Is there an easier way?
What Anya proposed was a trainwreck – starting off with a splitting of education into three “chunks” that cannot feed in to each other (the content, the social, the recognition of efforts), and a call to grab what we can from goodwill and good connections – the institution cast aside in favour of open content (produced by whom? for what reward?), social networks with names like “Brazen Careerist”( where only the confident can flourish, and new media “superstars” vouching for former interns in a grotesque parody of the old patronage/neopotism model. It’s who you know, not what you can do. These days the grandchildren of Thatcher, Reagan and Friedman wrap themselves in the language of revolution, and parody Che Guevera’s raised fist of solidarity on the covers of their books as an incitement to begin the revolution of me me me. This is no time for personalisation and the crowning of new gods at the expense of a broad and fair offer to all who can benefit.
People built institutions, institutions build knowledge, and now institutions are giving knowledge back to the people. And people are people, more than “brazen careerists”, more than a set of competencies. Barbara Chow’s ideas of “Deeper Learning” respect this, and have a genuine chance of bringing about a positive change to the lives of millions excluded by circumstance from the sheer pleasure of learning.
And institutions are more than commercial knowledge and skill factories. They were built for another world, and it is this otherworldliness that creates the gaps that allow the trickles of OER that are turning, often without any (or much) external funding, into torrents. We need this otherness, and we need institutions, to do what we are doing. Our next challenge as a movement is to understand what it is we are doing and why, and marry this to the fleeting concerns of managers and policymakers whilst retaining our own plurality and independence. If the OER case is so compelling, we shouldn’t need to seek external funding. Perhaps we need to change the institutions, return from our ineffectual forays into the commercial world to light and truth. 
And we built the institutions
And we are the institutions
And we can rebuild them.
So c’mon ye children
If there’s one thing we know
It’s that them gathering arses are swinging low

We’ve been building in the dark
There’s so many of us

Now blinking in the light
There’s so many of us
Illuminated and proud
There’s so many of us

Though we’ve been denied too much hope in our lives
Let tonight be the night when it ends.

Tell me there is a light
There is a light