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Open Educational Resources – assumption about publications.

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Edited by Anita Naoko Pilgrim, Monday, 9 Oct 2017, 12:29

As I work through the material for the latest part of the module, I am struck by another assumption being made about digital technologies in the form of OERs.

There is intense focus on research publication in thinking about using digital technologies for scholarship. There seems to be little about developing better pedagogy through social networking online. Academia has traditionally been dominated by focus on research publication. It seems that this prejudice is continuing in academic networks on the internet, even though Hurley et al (2010) say, scholars in less competitive institutions are more likely to “embrace these publication outlets”. (This would definitely include Associate Lecturers at the Open University, who are not even allowed to name the OU as our institution when publishing research, unless we have applied for special scholar status, and who are much more focussed on teaching than other British academics.)

All the materials in this current section of the module (The Open University 2017), are concerned with how to disseminate or publicise write-ups of research. Harley et al note that, in spite of being tech-savvy, junior researchers are even more wedded to the peer reviewed journal article, because of their need to progress in careers bench-marked by publication rather than teaching or service. Terras (2012) notes how the downloads and citations of her published work increase when she blogs and tweets about it.

Currently in the UK, we are experiencing the impact of a set of political events on Higher Education so seismic that we could call it a paradigm shift (in the full Kuhnian sense).

  • Brexit may cut us off from access to research funding from the European Union, plus cut down our opportunities to develop international collaborative research with European partners.
  • The Labour Party’s call to end tuition fees has proved popular with sought-after younger voters and now all parties are trying to emulate it. (Tuition fees are not really the problem, the problem is making students borrow for much higher maintenance costs and bankers charging compound interest on student loans – but universities are getting the flak. Since tuition fees didn’t cover the full cost of delivering a degree in the first place, this political spin on university fees could spell financial disaster for Higher Education in the UK.)
Screenshot showing set of articles about tuition fees in The Guardian

For decades, UK Higher Education institutions have focussed effort on a series of measures which rewarded not high quality teaching, nor even high quality research, but highly regarded publication records. High quality teaching is supported by high quality research, in quite complex ways. British universities continue to have a deserved high reputation for our scholarship, attracting international students. However, intellectuals have never been as highly regarded by the public here as in other European countries. Research at UK institutions is being undermined by government policy generally, including Brexit. High ranking universities: Oxbridge and the Russell Group, are heavily invested in research. If UK Higher Education as a whole were to switch focus onto teaching, they would lose out to institutions like … The Open University. It would not be surprising, therefore, if they tried to put the brakes on such a move.

As a corollary to the low status of teaching in Higher Education, there is no protocol for acknowledging teaching material. When I have developed something which I think helps my students, I like to share it around with my colleagues so I often see my slides popping up in other tutors’ presentations. I borrow other colleagues’ material too. Nobody in academia would dream of borrowing somebody-else’s writing in an academic paper without rigorously referencing that work. Yet we have to use each other’s power point slides and ice-breaker exercises without any protocol as to how to acknowledge the original work put into these.We often hesitate to 'steal' these useful teaching activities in consequence.

In order to raise the status of teaching in Higher Education, it would be helpful if we could find a means to acknowledge authorship of teaching materials. This might be through using the Creative Commons Licensing system, or just with a copyright notice in the footer of everything we develop.

Screenshot of information on Yammer thread about acknowledging shared materials
(On a Yammer thread I set up about sharing ideas for teaching with Adobe Connect, I have tried to find a way to acknowledge where resources came from.)

You can get credit for developing innovative teaching – if you write up about it in a world ranking journal. Of course, there are not very many journals about teaching in Higher Education which are regarded as world ranking, because teaching in Higher Education is not regarded as a prestigious activity.

The way we write about teaching could be re-considered too. Traditionally, all academic articles start with a little overview of relevant literature. Recently I have been trying to turnaround my writing, so that I provide the case study of how I undertook an innovative bit of teaching first (in this way, anyone who wants to replicate it can quickly and easily grasp how it was undertaken), then I write the pedagogic literature account of where my thinking about it comes from at the end of the paper.

Any thoughts?


Harley, D., Acord, S., Earl-Novell, S., Lawrence, S. and King, C. (2010) Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley, Berkeley [online]. Available at http://escholarship.org/ uc/ cshe_fsc (Accessed 09/10/2017).

The Open University (2017). ‘Section 3.3 Social Networking and Impact’ H818 Unit 3 – Themes and formats. Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1097706&section=3, (Accessed 09/10/2017).

Terras, M. (2012) ‘The Impact of Social Media on the Dissemination of Research: Results of an Experiment’, Journal of Digital Humanities, vol. 1, no. 4 [online]. Available at http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/ 1-3/ the-impact-of-social-media-on-the-dissemination-of-research-by-melissa-terras (Accessed 09/10/2017).

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Assumptions about digital technologies #3

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This is a quick skim through some articles I read over the summer, mainly by economists, in which I explore three assumptions I think people make about computerised (digital) technology.

Digitalisation can replace humans.

Managers often think digitalisation can do human work for no pay. (Except management work, I don’t think there are any managers who have successfully replaced themselves with computers mixed)

A bunch of Cambridge academics were pessimistic about human employment in the face of increasing digitalisation. Noreena Hertz, ITV New's Economics Editor, said: "owners of machines will do well. Those who are replaced by them, won't." Cambridge educated economists generally see a period of stagnation coming, as automation (among other things) leads to lower employment in two ways: less jobs created, many of those jobs at such a low level that people will not feel they are worth doing. Todd Buchholtz, George W. Bush’s White House director of economic policy, added: “We’re in a global race for IQ points, and whoever harnesses intelligence will prosper most.” (Quoted in Marshall, 2017).

Photo of magazine article, with mug

However in an FT report on robots in the trading world (Martin and Noonan, 2017), Beatriz Martín Jiménez says: “It frees people up to do more complex tasks.”

newspaper article with mug of tea

She adds that it will be “several years” before the robots are allowed to execute trades without human bankers first approving them. (The introduction of digitalisation ought to be done very slowly and with many checks.)

Tim Harford (2017) says: “machines have been tools that enhanced human productivity. They automate some routine tasks. This expands output and it also boosts demand for humans to perform complementary, non-routine tasks. This leads to better pay, more interesting work and as many jobs as ever overall.” It’s not automation that is leading to slow productivity, but something else causing a logjam in the economy and a lack of jobs. Harford says the only job that was ever done away with by automation was that of elevator operators.

newspaper article with mug of tea

Of particular interest to me, as the Open University moves to increased digitilisation of our teaching, was an article about robots in the classroom. Those involved in this experiment are very clear that the robots are not supposed to replace human teachers, though. They want to offer kids good early familiarisation with technology in a world with more and more technology – you need humans to teach the kids how to do that.

Photo of magazine article, with mug

Other mums often say disparagingly to me that they will not buy their children iPads or iPhones, regarding these as expensive exotic toys. We bought my daughter an iPad mini when she was about 9. She was photographed with a group of other early digital users at school; she is the only one holding her iPad properly. She learns a huge amount from it, as she consumes lots of material off it – made by humans. I can’t just leave her to it, though. I have to input to make sure her security checks are up to date so she doesn’t download unsuitable material without realising, and explain that just because ‘Pepper’ Potts goes out with a billionaire, a girl who is a scientist doesn’t have to hang out at the Business School looking for a boyfriend. (She can become an Open University lecturer approve)

Most of my daughter’s learning happens at a school staffed by humans, who generously give up their time to run science and digital leader clubs after lessons.


Arnold, Martin and Noonan, Laura (2017) “Robots enter trading floors to lift returns”. FT Weekend 8 July/9 July 2017, p.14.

Harford, Tim (2017) “We are still waiting for the robot revolution” FT Weekend 1 July/2 July, p.9.

Marshall, Alex (2017). “A New Normal: Forget everything you know about how the world works, this is the global economy, 3.0” in CAM, Cambridge Alumni Magazine. Issue 81, Easter 2017.

Vasagar, Jeevan (2017) “My First Robot”. FT Weekend Magazine, 15/16 July, pp.26-31.

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Assumptions about digital technologies #2

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Edited by Anita Naoko Pilgrim, Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017, 10:12

This is a quick skim through some articles I read over the summer, mainly by economists, in which I explore three assumptions I think people make about computerised (digital) technology.

Computers are cheaper

Computers are sometimes cheaper.

Photo of magazine article, with mug

Tim Harford (2017) says “new technologies have polarised the labour market, with more demand for both the high-end skills and the low-end ones, and a hollowing out in the middle.” We can use automation to “unbundle” tasks: give automatic repetitive work to computers, and have humans complete the high-end intellectual puzzle-solving parts or the low-end part that uses fingers and thumbs.

An example of this at the Open University is electronic marking. I award marks for two or three parts of a student assignment, the computerised marksheet automatically adds them up and will even warn me if I mistakenly entered an extra zero and gave more marks than are available. (Sorry, students! sad I tried.)

Computers can mark multiple choice assignments, but not read and assess essays. It might be possible to create a computerised marking scheme which would weigh up whether a student has effectively answered the question, should they get some marks for using the right material – providing an implicit answer rather than an explicit one, have they done the referencing (appropriately for this level of study), did they use good paragraph-writing skills, do they need to be referred to module advice on writing introductions and conclusions – but it would be very expensive.

It’s much cheaper to employ me to mark essays than to invent a software to do so, especially as I will adapt year on year to assess the answers to new assignment questions whereas the computer would have to be re-programmed every time to do this. (By a human who must make sure they get the programming exactly right – a computer will not spot human error in marking guidance as I sometimes do.)

Harford says, “the most influential technologies are often humble and cheap”. The Gutenberg Press revolutionised our lives, but it would not have had any impact if someone had not also invented paper.

We should be cautious about expensive complicated technology. To be taken up and widely used, technology should be easily affordable and it should fit in with the trend of social and cultural development. Technology should enhance human activity, humans should not have to try to adapt to technology.


Harford, Tim (2017) “What we get wrong about technology” FT Weekend Magazine July 8/9 2017, pp.12-18.

"Emma" - Le Trèfle Maxi Feuille (2013), added by Le Trèfle. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbMOLg-2SFw, (accessed 26/09/2017).

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Assumptions about digital technologies #1

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Edited by Anita Naoko Pilgrim, Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017, 10:10

This is a quick skim through some articles I read over the summer, mainly by economists, in which I explore three assumptions I think people make about computerised (digital) technology.

The more complex and exciting technology is, the better it is.

If you are cooking a meal, a potato peeler is useful, although you would of course rather have the Starship Enterprise.

Here we see an unfortunate robot which came unstuck at a task which humans normally take in our stride (literally).

Screenshot of BBC news item: Robot 'drowns' in fountain mishap


BBC, 2017. Robot ‘drowns’ in fountain mishap [online]. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-40642968 (accessed 26/09/2017).

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