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Archive for October, 2012

Open Education

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The past couple of weeks have given me the opportunity to immerse myself back into the world of open education, and to reflect on what it may mean for KPU, since the wave of interest seems to be gathering strength.

You can come at open education from many directions: mine was originally through distance and online education while at the BC Open University and at Athabasca University. Beyond the issue of distance, openness towards the recognition of (and respect for) learning that takes place both inside and outside the academy is a powerful way to support non-traditional learners, and to personalize learning for each student and to connect it to the rest of their lives and the community.

It was also the root for the development of collaborative degrees across BC and the evolution of pathways from diplomas to degrees in areas such as Fine Arts and Design, Business, and many areas of Allied Health.

[Point of personal pettiness:  in these and other respects, the former Open Learning Agency (parts of which are now at TRU) was way ahead of its time, enduring the sneers for decades of those in the traditional institutions who of course are now giddy with excitement because they want to copy the likes of Harvard, MIT and Stanford who are getting into the open arena.]

More recently, it has attracted those who see emerging digital technologies and the use of social media as catalysts of change, where everyone is connected to everyone else and to everything, and can collaborate effectively. Read Stephen Downes to get a good shot of this thinking.

Others look at openness in the context of the sharing of knowledge, whether teaching materials, the results of research and scholarship, data and all manner of reports from government and industry. October 22 to 28 is the 6th annual Open Access week, a global celebration of freely available research and reports, and all the benefits that this provides.

The open source movement in software enable developers to freely use applications, adapt and improve on them, and then share back their results.

Lastly, open education can be seen as a philosophical approach that links to the advancement of social justice and democracy itself. The ideas of the great educational philosophers of the 20th century: John Dewey, Paulo Friere and Ivan Illich have never seemed as relevant as we are increasingly able to break down the iron triangle of quality, cost and access.

David Porter, Executive Director of BC Campus came to KPU on October 9 to discuss global trends in higher education, and focussed mostly on open education. He drew quite a crowd and engaged with KPU faculty and professionals in a great Q and A session. He alluded to a major international conference on Open Education, which was held for the first time in Vancouver last week. Several KPU people were there, and I shuttled between a related event in Calgary to join a special panel organised by our Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology on Open Educational Resources.

At the Open Education conference, Minister John Yap announced BC’s intention to sponsor work to create free and open texts for the top 40 introductory courses in colleges and universities. BC would be the first province in the country to do this, and it continues a tradition of leadership for the province: we wait with baited breath for central Canada to pass judgement.

There were some heavy hitters with me on the panel: David Wiley, Cable Green and Brian Lamb, and I think between us we were able to stir up some good conversations about how open educational resources could impact how we teach and learn, and what would be needed to do that right.

The Calgary event was the fall meeting of COHERE: a group of universities that explore issues related to blended learning, where online and face to face methods are used to create flexibility and access and also to enrich learning. Tony Bates, one of the important voices in the open learning world was not only the keynote (twice), but also stayed to interact with participants and to provide closing comments: his recent blog explains more.

There were some KPU people there: Meg Goodine, Panteli Tritchew, and June Kaminski, who is now the CASN 2012 Nursing Faculty e-Health Award winner.

KPU is going to join COHERE, and we will host the 2013 fall meeting on October 23 to 25. Stand by for more news on that.

Installation & External Events

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My schedule is starting to fill up as every event opens new doors to new opportunities to meet with departments across the university and with external groups.

This week we had my installation, which was huge success and which attracted colleagues from across North America, and we can say it was trans-continental because my daughter Hilary surprised us all by coming in from London. I am very fortunate to have such a supportive family, and they shared my pride in the day. Two days later was our fall convocation here at KPU, and this was equally magnificent. I have also attended a couple of great Eagle women’s soccer games.

I thought I might feel awkward or out of place at KPU, given that I have recently worked in a highly distributed institution where I was not with students every day, and even when I was, the average age was 35 or so. While KPU serves students of any college age, the average is much lower, and I wondered if it would be hard to relate to a younger crowd. I find instead that all the students I have met to be courteous, hard-working, very focused, and engaged in their studies and in KPU affairs.

My external events have included events hosted by the Foundation Board in Tsawwassen and down town Vancouver, a presentation to the Surry Board of Trade, the wonderful Council for Aboriginal Business awards gala, and a number of meetings with my colleagues in the “new university” and related sectors. In our sector, there is a good mix of people I know well and have worked with over the years, and plenty of new faces with new perspectives and ideas.

A group called the New Western Universities met at Mount Royal University which allowed me to connect again with David Atkinson, to appear as part of a panel to discuss how we are different and the same as the “old” universities, and to see in action one of our recent graduates, Brooke Knowlton, and KPU faculty member Steve Dooley who were there to talk about community research. They were great, of course.

I made the point when I spoke there that our consortium may get sued by the University of Western Ontario (UWO), which now officially calls itself “Western University Canada”. I am not sure if they have legally registered the name as a brand, but it now appears in job postings and press releases, so they seem to be serious about it.

“Western” has been the shorthand for UWO forever of course, as it has for other universities in the US and Australia (which really are in the west of their respective continents). Having an abbreviation as a nickname is one thing; to miss-use it is another.

It raises at least two tricky issues. The first of course is what, in Canada, “west” means. In the case of UWO, it obviously means anything west of Toronto, even though there are at least 2 other universities even in Ontario that are further this way (Windsor and Lakehead). I wonder what the Geographers at UWO think: are they embarrassed? UWO is such a great university, so this cartographic error is all the more problematic.

One sees the “South West Ontario-as –the-centre-of-the-universe” attitude on the part of UWO, and true western Canadians would have every right to be annoyed.

The other issue is one which faces all of us in post-secondary education who, on the hand, stand for truth and integrity in all human endeavors, and on the other hand increasingly need to play the game of branding/positioning/marketing/promoting in order to recruit students for growth and/or selectivity, or to improve in some artificial ranking or other, or to convince others to give us money.

As an average consumer of all manner of goods and services and politics, I am keenly aware of what “truth in advertising” means: one feels too often taken for a sucker when products or promises do not live up to their claims, and you’d hope that at least universities would be above all that, no?

However, we find ourselves always focusing on predominantly good news, positive statistics, the successful student s, and the slick (though sometimes inaccurate) tag lines. If we were really honest, we’d talk more openly about things that go wrong, or students who leave us disappointed. The imperative to always be “on” and “positive” about absolutely everything is draining, I can tell you, especially when you are arguing just as often for more funding.

Bob Rae, when he was heading up a commission on higher education in Ontario made the point to institutions that it was hard to reconcile the constant gripes for better funding with the equally constant bragging about how unarguably great we all were. We all want our cake, and to eat it to.

The University of Manitoba took a different tack once: it published a coffee table picture book of arty photos of decay and various fungi in the basements of their buildings as a way to bring attention to their infrastructure woes. I am not sure if that approach worked either.

The bottom line: in any field of research, what we do when we brag would be unacceptable, and we all claim to breed graduates who are critical and healthily skeptical. This is certainly evident in our governance, where we are (and are expected to be) hard on each other. However, some of this academic integrity is suspended when we brand and advertise, where fudging of the truth, or not telling the whole story, is assumed.

Now I will send this to my Director of Marketing and Communications to see what she thinks!