Naomi Sargant Memorial Lecture

Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor of The Open University is delivering the lecture at Channel 4 on digital literacy – survival skills for the 21st century.  I’m liveblogging this so keep refreshng the page for updates.

18:20 We’re all packed in to the seating here in the main C4 Auditorium, ready to start.

18:22 Acting Chief Executive opens the proceedings, acknowledging the NIACE and Open University support.  She also speaks about Naomi as the first C4 education commissioning editor, and noted her immense contribution to the development of educational programming.

18:25 Andrew MacKintosh begins by noting his thanks to Open University in the development of this series.  He goes on to speak about the honour of having the newly enthroned VC, Martin Bean as a speaker tonight.

18:28 Martin begins by noting his Australian antecedence, and his history in the private sector, working in the computer industry and the ICT sector.  He’s worked for years in trying to make technology work for education.  Two industries in the world where tech hasn’t had the impact it has done in other sectors.  He says this is one lonely world if you don’t have some access to higher education, and to technology access.

He cites Digital Britain statistics saying that a third of the population is effectively digitally excluded and 15% are socially and digitally excluded.  He says projections suggestions for 2021 are that generationally the digitally excluded will reduce to 15%.  But getting people connected is just the beginning of the journey.  We need to get people  equipped with the skills to be able to dervice value from access.  According to the economic case for digital exclusion, if all adults got online and made one transaction per month would save £900m per year.

Our collective challenge

It makes sense to widen access.  The real value of technology in education is providing afordable access at scale to quality education experiences, in cost effectve ways they normally wouldn’t have access to.  One of the great values of digital literacy is the capacity to get access to higher education and lifelong learning.  He says that the challenge of the Open University is to ensure that they lose as few students as possible along the way.  But even for those that are lost, at least the programme is introducin students to technology and providing new life skills for work.  The only way forward for the economies of the western world is through technology.  Need to transform information into meaningful knowledge.

Bean says 39% of all graduate students are part time, but the funding system excludes them utterly.  While it’s fine to supprt 18-21 year olds is fine, it’s not sufficient or economically viable to exclude these older goods if we are to adequately meet the needs of the community in providing technology skills.

Bean cites a 12 year old who said that going to school is like being in an aeroplane – you put your trust in the person up the front and they tell you to turn all your devices off.  As a society, we need to prioritise useful deployment of technology to meet student needs.

Work place needs very different digital skills than what is largely on offer.  Why waste the face-to-face time doing things like listening to a speech or getting access to case studies.  Young people can’t distinguish between digital lifestyle and digital work style.  This is a constructed barrier.

Bean notes that Naomi Sargent was clear that we can get to overly interested in formal education.  Lifelong learning is a key outcome and opportunity for the digitally connected.

Examples of learning

Open University has 340,000 free downloads a week of content available through iTunes university.  Opportunities are not just for showing lectures of videos but so much more.

Open University also has OpenLearn free resources online.  People are motivated to find out about things they’ve not had access to before

[JJ’s comment: while people have had access to libraries, they are not always comfortable places or even open at the times people want to access knowledge]

Bean says the power of open is in providing improvement of quality of life.

Traditionally we have had education made available as a fixed granularity at a set price.  But now we are developing informal learning with smaller milestones, exploring a multitude of resources at the lowest price possible.  Bean says the ultimate is to have an open, social cloud environment of educational offerings.

18:54 Questions from the floor

Question: NIACE staff member asks what is it the OU is accrediting when it gives a qualification to people.  On what basis do you claim to award something?

Bean: shift is away from defining oneself through content, to the student experience and credentialling.  From an OU perspective there is a deep passion and responsibility to assessment.  But to give people the belief and the interest in further education.  So much of current assessment techniques are extremely outdated.  It’s all completely useless in a modern workplace.  Web gives opportunity to access content, now need to facilitate analysis.

Question: How do we fund all this.  If you’re giving learning to the world what does OU get?

Bean: OU has as its mantra social justice and access, but to be able to do that, have to run an economically viable institution.  In ever constrained financial environments, need to be careful with running institutions.  But if you talk to students, the value of the student experience is in access to tutors moreso than content.

Question: Does this mean that the OU is atthe forefront?  What does America do that is in any way similar?

Bean: Of course OU is at the forefront.  Need to have scale – many insitutions don’t.  1 in 3 higher ed students are in private institutions.

Question: How much emphasis is being placed on appropriate interaction design for education content?  Academics not really terribly good at tech mediated UX.

Can get too focused on the technoogy and the UX, but there again, OU courses were already desigbed for distance learning, so it was perhaps easier to progress content with the technology.

Question: Do you have any tips for people to overcome techno-fear among older people?

Andrew MacKintosh says grandchildren are very effective.  Martin Bean says the best teachers are those who are not afraid about their kids knowing more about the tech than the teacher.  But for older people, the killer app is what entices older people to respond.  Need to have a reason to connect.  The rest can somewhat take care of itself.  But mentoring (through UK online centres for instance) is also extremely useful.  Life has taught me that we can be overly judgemental about age and access – it’s really about motivation to participate.

Question: How do you fund mobile-mediated learning? Is there a policy unit at the OU that is looking at the funding for mobile mediated communications?

Have entered in to partnerships with philanthropists and carriers to provide low cost mobile subscriptions.  We also havethe opportunity to download content during low traffic periods at a lower cost.  OU doesn’t have a direct policy unit but do have researchers and publications that feed in to policy debate.

Question: How can we forward the innovations to other parts of the sector?

OU being funded to assist other universities and lifelong learning institutions.  The more OU helps the sector the more they drive up demand for higher education.  So Bean sees the OU as a change agent.

Question: Resourcing of education in various levels affects the barriers to access.

Bean says he is frustrated by the differences between secondary and tertiary institutions.  Baby steps can be taken by developing cross-media journeys where learning can be facilitated at any stage in life – even among more junior students.  Need to develop more flexible pathways from secondary to tertiary.

Question: It is the nature of the assessment which so frequently shapes the way learning is constructed.  Please share your innovations.

Bean says about 30% of all content is project based (rather than exam based).  Sometimes that is done as an individual project, sometimes a group project.  Feedback on these portfolio projects is very positive from students.

Question: Who is responsible for ensuring digital legibility of students.

Bean: Got to give people the skills to make their mind up about truth and legitimacy of content.  Don’t know whether the web has necessarily changed the conflicting opinions of media, but it has made many more views accessible.  Higher education needs to step up and give people the skills to distingusih between content sources.

Question: Interested in the relationship between open source methodsand business.  How do we facilitate that in higher ed?

Bean says there needs to be a level of maturity and ensure we are sharing content.  Economic austerity will force universities to share more through necessity but need to do it anyway.  Good news is the technology is enabling sharing more effectively.

Question: How do you balance the tension between intellectual property and creative reappropriation and creative commons?

Bean says we’ve run out of time! [Joke].  Actually Creative Commons give us a legal instrument for sharing and licensing content.  Difficulty is converting existing IP into CC or delivery via multiple platforms.  iTunes probably wouldn’t have come about without Napster because it challenged existing structures.  As such, he’s confident that we’ll find new ways to overcome IP issues of pay to access.

Question: Secondary education is dominated by state sector.  How will changes to digital change that?  How will you avoid political influence over educational content?

Bean says there’s nothing new about education being controlled by government.  Higher education and technology and democratisation of content will make efforts to control a foolhardy exercise.  It may work in the short term, but it won’t be effective about.  Technology creates the ability to access content where there is connectivity.  We’re going to see a situation where those who think about transition between secondary and further education and the flexibility of learning access will be the most successful.

Question: Social interaction with formal interaction was important in the history of science.

Bean says there is no substitue for personal experience.  OU creates very intense social experiences via distance for students and staff.

Question: Is there any difficult social implications in the generation gap between digital literacy? Are there any other drawbacks from digital revolution?

Of course there are downsides to the digital revolution.  Always on status has changed the way we comunicate.  But it’s probably unstoppable so it’s probably better to see how to best manage access.  WIIFM – What’s in it for me – there are ways now to be able to get access to technologies.  Only 9% are active resistors to technology access so that’s probably acceptable.  However, there are some problems with those who want to access and can’t.

19:50 Andrew closes the formalities of the evening and notes just how powerful the conversation has been.  Great lecture and great Q&A.

I’m closing up here for drinks here.  Thanks for joining me.

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