Dear Reader you may have noticed a change in title from my more common “where’s Sheila been” an “What’s Sheila’s seen” this week. Today I am thinking more about where I, and indeed many of us in the sector, are going. As usual this is a bit of a half formed post about “stuff” running through my mind, sparked by the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen this week.
On Monday I attended the ALT/BIS Learning and Technology in Further and Higher Education symposium. This was a really positive meeting in terms of “our” community getting the chance to share and talk with representatives from BIS, some of the challenges, models and opportunities that both FE and HE across the UK are facing.
Open policy, practice and badges were all covered by the presentations. Martin Weller (OU) aand Neil Morris ( Leeds University) shared their respective models of policy to practice. Martin also gave a helpful overview of some of the evidence and international business models around open education. Peter Kilcoyne and Peter Robinson (Heart of Worcestershire College) gave a really inspiring presentation about their Blended Learning Consortium.
This now has almost 20% of the UK college sector as partners. It’s the tried and test model of “if we all put a little in then we all get a whole lot more out.” In these times of FE cuts and restructuring doing a little with a lot is critical. Bryan Mathers (City and Guilds) gave a beautifully illustrated talk on the power and potential of open badges to help fill the twists and turns that people who fall out of formal education have to take. Bobbie McClelland (BIS) provided a useful overview of the current FE landscaping review in England, stressing the need for strong digital leadership.
The discussion afterwords, was, as ever, wide ranging and ALT will be producing a summary of the proceedings of the day over the coming weeks. A couple of things have been circling the forefront of my mind since the event. One is about the move from policy to practice and then business models and the other is around leadership.
The Blended Learning Consortium is a fantastic example of a ground up, sector led approach to addressing funding cuts and mandatory requirements around online provision. It’s essentially a content creation and sharing club. It’s open in the sense that any college can join, but the outputs are just for those in the club. How much more effective could that club be if the funding model was flipped a bit of funding from each college was put into a pot, and the resources were created and openly licensed? Top slicing isn’t in favour just now, in case you missed if folks, that’s what I ‘m talking about. Increased regionalisation shouldn’t lead to more silos of content. We could have a cost effective model based on open content, if only we had the leadership to drive it. Which brings me to my next point – leadership.
During the discussion I made the point that we need leaders who “walk the digital walk”. By that I mean people who actually use digital technologies, and don’t wear their “I’ve never used twitter, I don’t understand all this social media nonsense” badge with blazing pride. We need people who do understand the frustrations and simple pleasures of using any kind of VLE, who understand the difference between open and freely available software, who know that there is more to open education than MOOCs who you know, have a bit of digital capability . . .
Maybe it’s because it’s a Friday afternoon and it has been a very looong week peppered with restructuring fun for me, but I can’t help thinking we in our institutions and in the sector in general are in danger of heading down the wrong road.
Open seems to be slipping off the agenda and not being recognised as much as it should as a sustainable, alternative business model. Partly because there are too few people in leadership positions who understand and engage with it. There’s the beginnings of a good debate on this kicking of on the Open Education special interest Jisc Mail group which is far more eloquent and informed than this post.
I’ll leave you with the song that’s been playing in the my head too this week, and hope that , as David Byrne says, “it’s all right”.