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What a lot of rubbish!

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Monday, 30 Apr 2018, 19:09

The Science and Technology people at the Open University are hosting a 2nd Waste and Resource Management Conference, and calling for submissions from anyone who would like to present. Some of our DD102 and DD103 students over here in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences might consider giving it a go, as both modules include ground-breaking material on waste management - as well as supporting study skill development towards academic writing and presentations approve

I planned this blogpost a while back, to coincide with DD102's week of study on 'Throwaway society? Waste and recycling'. I belong to a Litter Action group on Facebook and, partly inspired by DD102 materials, I thought I would write about litter as art.

(Look! wide eyes what I found on the beach. And when walking in the woods one day, I came across a discarded ladder.)

Driftwood, scrunched up orange and blue plastic fishing line and a blue and orange plastic eyeball   Green woodland with a ladder leaning up against a tree

What if famous artists picked up litter and made it into art pieces? What if we all started to make our own art pieces out of litter and rubbish? Would litter become precious? Would we see it differently and no longer throw it away? I thought writing this up might help show how relevant the module materials on our Level 1 Social Science teaching are.

They didn't need any help! In the last couple of weeks, so many things happened that were relevant to DD102 and DD103 that I could hardly keep up.

People often look puzzled and even disbelieving when academics talk about research. It can sound so blue skies that it has gone round the moon and become loony. However, ten years later you can see how the research has mapped out events which have unfolded in the meantime - except that people have usually forgotten we academics were blathering on about it back then, and we are onto something new now.

The modules at the Open University are informed by this kind of research so that during the eight year lifespan in which they teach out, events often unfold which are uncannily relevant to our studies.

A big example has been the sudden upsurge of interest in rubbish and litter. Not only did DD102 start teaching about this back in 2014 when it was first written. DD103 materials had a whole section devoted to the life of David Attenborough, and his contribution to what we call a developing 'environmental imagination'. We have an exclusive interview with him - made three years before Blue Planet came out and we all suddenly started refusing to use plastic straws (warning - this can give you a serious moustache when drinking an iced frappé).

Screenshot of module webpage with exclusive interview with David Attenborough

Another example: as the injustice towards the Windrush Generation unfolds, we are reading on DD103 about the ways in which political campaigns in 2013 created a hostile environment towards immigration, and towards black British people.

Screenshot of module webpage entitled 'Go Home': public communication about immigration.

We are not supposed to admit that we teach Economics on DD103, in case it frightens the horses. However, the horses need not be alarmed. The Economics we teach is not Economics as we know it, Jim wink. A couple of years ago, I saw an article in the FT Weekend describing how Economics students at traditional universities had engineered a revolution. Fed up of being taught Old Guard Economics in a style which the failure to predict the enormous financial crisis in banking had made clear was irrelevant to our daily lives, these students were demanding an Economics about ordinary people. I wondered if any of this new cool Economics might be brought into our teaching to support the bits of Economics we are doing. As I read, I realised we had already started teaching the whole module on this basis. London School of Economics, eat your heart out wink

Open University module design is mobile, light-weight and responsive to intellectual change - even at the level of paradigm shift. It's done by teams who draw on the latest expertise in the field. 'Bricks-and-mortar' university teaching is often designed by individual junior academics. (Senior academics 'buy' themselves out of teaching to undertake funded research projects.) At the Open University, we use material from the internet and online media: TED talks and clips from the BBC to stay in touch with the zeitgeist. This model allows us to stay ahead of the game and deliver the most relevant learning to our students.

I'm not sure the students realise what a good deal they are getting, especially given that they are paying a fraction of the fee that they would pay at a traditional university. That's OK. We want to give them an edge in life, which most of them have never dreamed of having - coming from the back of the educational queue as our students often do. Because our students have been disadvantaged in their previous education, it's good that we can level the playing field by providing them with cutting edge learning later on.

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light skinned mixed heritage woman writing letters.

Money Money Money

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Sunday, 31 Dec 2017, 08:53

One thing I love about the modules I teach is that stuff we learn on them is always popping up in the news. On DD103: Investigating the Social World, we start off exploring the topic of money and over the holidays I saw some money-related news items so juicy that instead of just sharing them on my Tutor Group Forum, I decided to write a blogpost about them.

In an early module video about the history of money (in 10 minutes), we find out that money is largely based on trust. Early attempts to link money to a gold standard were abandoned in the 1970s when we finally admitted that as long as we believe in it, money works (The Open University, 2017a).

Bitcoin is a recent development which demonstrates this. As long as we believe in it, bitcoin is just as good as any national currency - but there are huge fluctuations in public trust (perhaps manipulated by those who hope to rake in bitcoin while it's at a low point and then cash in when our trust in it rises again?).

Two newspaper articles about bitcoin - one showing a rise in its value, then another two weeks later shows a crash downwards.

In DD103 we also learn about rights, and particularly rights to territory. (In money we may trust, but I think we all feel more secure if we 'own' property.)

DD103 looks at the efforts of indigenous peoples like the Awa (The Open University, 2017b), the Surui (The Open University, 2017c) and the Dongria Kondh (Bhagwat et al, 2015, pp.149-160), to protect their relationship with the land when logging or mining companies seek to exploit local timber and minerals. Our module material shows how Google maps, the armed forces and state laws are all used in support of local groups against multinational commercial agencies over land rights. This article by the anthropologist and economist Gillian Tett describes thinkers about bitcoin looking to tackle inequality and poverty by supporting peoples around the world in online registration of land rights through blockchain databases.

Article in FT Weekend magazine called 'Blockchain, bitcoin and the fight against poverty'

Among the disciplines covered in DD103 is criminology. An article I saw just this morning hints at a murkier side to bitcoin, which has attracted criminal activity in a number of ways. Not only was this bitcoin executive ransomed in bitcoin - presumably harder to trace than used $ bills, but the article here mentions that the e-currency has attracted considerable cyber-crime activity.

Article about kidnapping of a bitcoin executive - whose ransom was paid in bitcoin.

And finally, I saw this video on Facebook. In one minute, Nas Daily explains how, with a 'broken' economy, citizens of Zimbabwe have managed to develop e-money which is faster and more efficient than the systems we use in developed nations.

There are lots of exciting new stories about 'money' in today's world. The combination of philosophy, geography, criminology, economics, sociology, social policy, environmental and international studies which makes up DD103 helps me understand how 'money' is developing in a potentially cashless society.


Bhagwat, S., Jones, N. and Mohan, G. (2015). 'Indigenous lands and territories: mapping the commons' in Drake, D.H., Morris, A., Shipman, A. and Wheeler, K. (eds) Investigating the Social World 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

The Open University (2017a). 'The History of money in 10 minutes'  [Video], DD103 Investigating the social world, Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1050377&section=6.1 (accessed 30/12/2017)

The Open University (2017b). 'Our World: Saving the Awa tribe'  [Video], DD103 Investigating the social world, Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1050399&section=4.1 (accessed 30/12/2017)

The Open University (2017c). 'Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops: Carbon and Culture'  [Video], DD103 Investigating the social world, Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1050399&section=5 (accessed 30/12/2017)

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