Got to admire a man who, when I asked if he wanted a coffee from the trolley on the train, said “No, I’ll have a can of Stella”! I had a full day with Sir John Daniel, someone who played a huge role in building an institution which I greatly admire - the Open University. In doing so he cleared a wide and open path through which online learning could progress. We had a good old chinwag about the OU.
Unsung hero – Walter Perry
He was full of praise for Scotsman Walter Perry, the first Vice-Chancellor, who had to design the OU from scratch, which he did quickly, with a model that stood the test of time. Perry is rarely mentioned in relation to the OU. It was his son who showed him the advert for the job. His view was that “standard of teaching in conventional universities was pretty deplorable” and he saw this as one way to raise their game. It was Perry, who copied the structure of the NHS with regional offices. Some of these are being dismantled, which Daniel agrees is right. The investment in Futurelearn is more important.
OU and Thatcher
Scotching another myth, he claimed that Thatcher, far from trying to close down the OU, actually saved it. The document to close it down was on another politician’s desk when he collapsed, literally on top of it with a heart attack. Her rationale had nothing to do with education as a social good, merely an attempt to slow down funding for HE in general. She was abrasive but Perry fought back, which she admired. In fact, it was she who insisted that the OU accept 18+ year olds, in an attempt to stem the costs of HE.
Culture of academe a problem
Daniel has taken 10 MOOCs and thinks “they’ve put online learning on the map”. They’re only one strand in the expansion of online learning but they really do matter. The problem, he thinks, lies within academe and the deeply embedded and traditional attitudes towards teaching. He quotes the recent Babson survey where “70% of HE leaders see online as highly strategic but only 28% of staff – there’s a huge disconnect or tension out there”. He’s writing a piece on this as we speak. I recommended Nozick’s ‘Why do Intellectuals oppose Capitalism?’ as a possible causal explanation, which he was delighted to read.
Digital by default
But his most important belief is what I’ll call ‘Digital by default’ , the idea that we must get out of the structural habit of f2f and lecture by default. He quotes Dubin & Taveggia (1968), Bernard (2004) and Means (2013) to claim that there is a law of substitution i.e. no significant difference in outcomes between different instructional methods, which leqads to what he calls the Law of Substituion (term coined by Tony Bates). I disagree with this but we have come to the same conslucion, for different reasons, that the term 'Blended learning' has become excuse for the preservation of f2f and lectures. He bravely recommends digital by default as there is “very little evidence to support f2f teaching therefore substitute for cheaper, scalable digital options… research shows that f2f is NOT superior to online teaching, which is also true of synchronous f2f”. Radical views.