So Lamorna has given you a first impression of E211, let me give you a 'story so far' update. You know when you sit down to try and understand matrixes (nothing to do with Keanu Reeves) when you were about 14 and the whole thing went over you head? Well that was me this week with E211. This course is aimed at those who are interested in how, who and what is involved in our learning as children and parents. It's focused on lifelong learning and the influence of technology,is heavy going but .....you just can't help yourself! One of the first exercises is to rummage through a virtual trunk in an attic belonging to someone you don't know, then pick 5 items that tell you something about this individual as a learner and say why you chose them. Pah! Easy! No, difficult and the cause of hours of 'writers block'! Further on in the course you watch a video about soon to be parents, what are they learning? Another video about where you learn, be it home, office or school, do the settings enhance or stilt relationships? Or the one where teachers agree to be videoed in their class and then the children quizzed about their lesson, the teachers watch the tape only to discover nobody grasped the main object of the game! The Tutor Marked Assignments (TMA's) are wordy, lengthy and difficult, you'll wake up at 5 in the morning and think of a new 'dimension'! It's a 60 point course that is in it's first year of presentation, materials include videos tapes, books (you buy) and Ou software including First Class the uni's own conferencing software. You are allocated a tutor and tutorgroup. There is no exam, but an assessment on your portfolio as examinable component. This course is what you make it, there are no right or wrong answers, which can be extremely frustrating, but challenging to.
It’s normal practice for the development of a traditional Open University Course to take three years and over half a million pounds to develop before students start to be enrolled in it. Once produced, thousands of students would take it over a period of over five years or more of its lifetime. The reasoning being, that for the time and money spent on producing the course and its materials, it needed to be perfect before the launch, as it wasn’t viable to alter the course once students had begun to work on it. The course materials used in ‘Traditional’ Open University courses consisted of paper-based resources such as Study Guides, readers, TV or video programmes, audio cassettes, radio programmes and in some cases, home-kits such as microscopes and slides. The support network within the OU is renowned. Tutor groups of about twenty students with access to their tutor via snail mail, telephone, fax, and face to face tutorials. Help lines, residential schools and regional centres where students could visit all added to the beauty of distance learning. Increased competition in the distance open learning market led the OU to take note and realise the impact of Information Communication Technology (ICT) on learning and they entered the arena with all guns blazing. We now come to my current OU level two course called ‘E211: Learning Matters-Challenges of the Information Age: The Impact of Technology on Learning’ a presentation launch in February 2001. My previous OU course ‘T171 You, Your Computer and the Net’ was a presentation course in February 2000 and a resounding success. Fourteen thousand students registered to take it, with the first nine thousand being accepted. The disappointed five thousand forced the OU to go with the demand and offer a second presentation in May of the same year. Previously unheard of, offering the same course twice in the same university year . The initial cost of setting up the course was covered at once, with the fee for a level one course being two hundred pounds. Back to E211. The take up for Feb 2001 was around two hundred and fifty students! Yes! Two hundred and fifty at four hundred and fifteen pounds each. The cost of setting up this course took over three years and much more than half a million, more like three quarters I believe. The course team were keen to make ICT a vehicle as part of the learning for E211. The focus was for us to learn about the potential impact of technology on learning while actually using it and experiencing new technology at the same time. As part of our student pack we had especially written hypermedia authoring software. This was very innovative. The HyperNote CD had video/audio clips installed, illustrating various learning situations which we could view on our computers, then edit ourselves and link these to the relative text in our essays and assignments. We could web author and go ‘live’ to outside links for more information from the web. In effect, building websites, the only problem being that we couldn’t publish them ‘out there’ and nobody else could read them unless they also had HyperNote installed. Rather a small potential audience. We were learning to author on software that would be useless in the classroom once the course was over. Many students had never book marked in Word, linked to other documents in their computer, sent attachments, let alone authored, and here they were having to learn these new skills on an already obsolete piece of software. Plus the fact that the very new software was bug ridden, and there has been much downloading of ‘patches’ from the OU Admin conference to fix these sometimes devastating glitches. ‘Blue Screens of Death’ became par for the course! Authoring work using hypermedia software is structured very differently to a presentation as in a traditional essay or report. The practice of highlighting and linking text to new notes, or pages, expects the reader to be interactive and not necessarily read it in the order the author intended. For many of us, a delight, but to many very experienced educationalists on the course, it proved confusing and problematical. On the other hand, people like me, who had left school years ago and had a life in commerce, the language of the course caused near panic and hysteria. Much of it might just as well have been a foreign language. It was interesting to see how helpful the ‘techie’ element amongst us were, leaping into the various E211 conferences at every opportunity to offer assistance to the technically disadvantaged. Unfortunately this wasn’t reciprocated, and left the ‘techies’ high and dry and weighed under with massive dictionaries in an attempt to make sense of much of the reading. I now accept that my vocabulary is vastly improved, and I have overcome my initial fear of unknown words, and all through self teaching and discovering for myself. For me to study in this way, I desperately need the communication and support of my peers and tutors, and the superb conferencing facilities offered on the virtual University Campus, using the FirstClass OU software is excellent, but the level of communication was very low. I resorted to going back to the safe haven of the T171 Survivors Conference, set up for all exT171ers. There I found the ingredients I yearned for; humour, support, advice, tears, laughter and comfort in the knowledge there are other students who feel the same as I do. Based on an average of 10% of the total student number being active in online conferencing, then the twenty or so of us made are still making a very brave effort to keep things going in the E211 conferences, but there’s only so much the same few people can do. The two set course books were a delight. Every of the twenty four chapter s were written by a different author, giving us entirely different perspectives on learning matters and life-long learning. These authors included musicians, academics, professors, social researchers, doctors, autistics, computer wizards and high fliers from every part of the world, giving us a very rich insight into the course concerns and issues of Knowledge, Power, Learning, Space and Identity. The Study Guide was an elegant 181 page folder, brimming with information, guidance and the various collaborative group activities planned out for us to participate in. The seven 40 minute videos gave us many different illustrations of learning situations, in every imaginable culture, class, age, formal and informal learning environments. There were five Tutor Marked Assignments and an Examinable Component, still to be done, on October 1st. The Course Team were active in the conferences, the tutors have been excellent. The brave student number has now reduced by an above average drop out rate. My own Tutor Group of twenty is now down to ten. I believe the drop out rate has been about 20%. Those that are left are still grimly hanging on. We all admit to having had our lives enriched by this innovative, progressive, often frustrating and frequently infuriating course. We have acquired many new skills that we know will be with us in our future studies with the OU and certainly with us through life. Then they dropped the bomb-shell. Half way through the course year. The powers that be decided the student interest and uptake for E211 in 2002 was extremely low, so the course was to be withdrawn from the Course Fair for the foreseeable future! The Course Team, Tutors and Students were devastated by the news. We felt as if the ground had been taken from under our feet. The immediate effect on us was to close ranks and decide a plan of protest. Just because we were distance studying didn’t mean we don’t have a voice. The very fact we have o nline communication means we have power and the ability to unite. We felt that although we had been the biggest critics concerning some of the shortcomings and had been at times, scathing about the software, it was an insult to all the hard work and money that had gone into designing a course that broke the bounds of traditional OU offerings. Some of the strongest protestors were students already working in education, who had completed several education courses and very near to getting their degrees, but had begun E211 with little or no technological knowledge. They had initially loathed the technical aspect, but had grown to love the fun and discovery of online communication in the Campus, authoring for the web, researching for information ‘out there’ and being discriminate in judging the quality of the information they found. The course had altered some of the fixed ideas they had about teaching, and were already changing their classroom attitudes. We have united and formed a ‘Cyber-Student Protest March’ writing indignant letters of protest and objection to every official and non-official OU body we can find. The student power isn’t weakened because we study in our attics, kitchens, garden sheds, bedrooms and cellars. We aren’t isolated as we have the Internet enabling us to join forces and make ourselves heard. We all really care that E211 is being denied to future OU students, who by experiencing what we have during the last year, could challenge some of the traditional methods of teaching still used in the classroom and actually make a difference to the ways of learning, no matter what class, culture, ability, age and location. We don’t expect to change anyone’s mind in the Open University hierarchy, but at least we’ve aired our views. I’ve signed up for another new presentation course for February 2002 with the OU. It’s called T209 ‘Information and C ommunication Technologies: People and Interactions’ It’s already fully subscribed. I trust it won’t be another case of ‘Another One Bites the Dust!’ I am a serious addict to the Open University, and would encourage anyone to go to their official course website and have a read of the courses they offer. The technology courses offered are magic.If you begin with a level one, to get back into swing of learning, then be more adventurous, your life will change for the best. Go on, have a look here: http://www3.open.ac.uk/courses/index.htm