Where Sheila's going? the road to nowhere or the road not taken?

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44272)


Dear Reader you may have noticed a change in title from my more common “where’s Sheila been” an “What’s Sheila’s seen” this week.  Today I am thinking more about where I, and indeed many of us in the sector, are going. As usual this is a bit of a half formed post about “stuff” running through my mind, sparked by the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen this week.

On Monday I attended the ALT/BIS Learning and Technology in Further and Higher Education symposium. This was a really positive meeting in terms of “our” community getting the chance to share and talk with representatives from BIS, some of the challenges, models and opportunities that both FE and HE across the UK are facing.

Open policy, practice and badges were all covered by the presentations. Martin Weller (OU) aand  Neil Morris ( Leeds University) shared their respective models of policy to practice. Martin also gave a helpful overview of some of the evidence and international business models around open education. Peter Kilcoyne and Peter Robinson (Heart of Worcestershire College) gave a really inspiring presentation about their Blended Learning Consortium.

This now has almost 20% of the UK college sector as partners. It’s the tried and test model of “if we all put a little in then we all get a whole lot more out.” In these times of FE cuts and restructuring doing a little with a lot is critical.  Bryan Mathers (City and Guilds) gave a beautifully illustrated talk on the power and potential of open badges to help fill the twists and turns that people who fall out of formal education have to take. Bobbie McClelland (BIS) provided a useful overview of the current FE landscaping review in England, stressing the need for strong digital leadership.

The discussion afterwords, was, as ever, wide ranging and ALT will be producing a summary of the proceedings of the day over the coming weeks.  A couple of things have been circling the forefront of my mind since the event.  One is about the move from policy to practice and then business models and the other is around leadership.

The Blended Learning Consortium is a fantastic example of a ground up, sector led approach to addressing funding cuts and mandatory requirements around online provision.  It’s essentially a content creation and sharing club. It’s open in the sense that any college  can join, but the outputs are just for those in the club.  How much more effective could that club be if the funding model was flipped a bit of funding from each college was put into a pot, and the resources were created and openly licensed?  Top slicing isn’t in favour just now,  in case you missed if folks, that’s what I ‘m talking about.   Increased regionalisation shouldn’t lead to more silos of content. We could have a cost effective model based on open content, if only we had the leadership to drive it.  Which brings me to my next point – leadership.

During the discussion I made the point that we need leaders who “walk the digital walk”. By that I mean people who actually use digital technologies, and don’t wear their “I’ve never used twitter, I don’t understand all this social media nonsense” badge with blazing pride. We need people who do understand the frustrations and simple pleasures of using any kind of VLE, who understand the difference between open and freely available software, who know that there is more to open education than MOOCs who you know,  have a bit of digital capability . . .

Maybe it’s because it’s a Friday afternoon and it has been a very looong week peppered with restructuring fun for me, but I can’t help thinking we in our institutions and in the sector in general are in danger of heading down the wrong road.

Open seems to be slipping off the agenda and not being recognised as much as it should as a sustainable, alternative business model. Partly because there are too few people in leadership positions who understand and engage with it. There’s the beginnings of a good debate on this kicking of on the Open Education special interest Jisc Mail group which is far more eloquent and informed than this post.

I’ll leave you with the song that’s been playing in the my head too this week, and hope that , as David Byrne says, “it’s all right”.






7 thoughts on “Where Sheila's going? the road to nowhere or the road not taken?

  1. “Further On Up The Road”? (revenge song). “Roadhouse Blues”? (drinking and debauchery)

    The consortium effort you described can be seen as a win for collaboration, of dealing with diminishing resources. Or it can be seen as a validation of forces trying to defund education.

    Or it can be seen really as a sign of lack of appreciation for the affordances of digital content. I reach back to the protean era of the web, the mid 1990s, when it was like a sea creature that first jumped up on a rock…

    I wanted to get teachers aware that they could create their own content in this space, and they way then was trying to make a case to learn HTML. What I realized (or maybe it was later in hindsight), that the very same effort it took me (or the cost in terms of my employer paying me) to make something available was no more expensive or difficult, to make it available to the world. In fact, I would suggest it was easier, because I did not have to build a system, or logins, to restrict access. It was a zero effort gain, because what happened was, the rest of the world (some tiny fraction) that found it, contributed back suggestions, ideas, did translations for free, because I made the materials openly available (this was years before open licenses).

    I think it’s pretty simple, but the idea of making digital content, putting it on the web, and then restricting access… well it is a proposition that has less potential value despite the notion that it creates more value for the few.

    Here’s a road song, Jackson Browne’s The Road and the Sky:

    When we come to place where the road and the sky collide
    Throw me over the edge and let my spirit glide
    They told me I was going to have to work for a living
    But all I want to do is ride
    I don’t care where we’re going from here
    Honey, you decide

    Well I spend my time at the bottom of a wishing well
    And I can hear my dreams singing clear as a bell
    I used to know where they ended and the world began
    But now it’s getting hard to tell
    I could be just around the corner from Heaven or a mile from Hell

  2. Thanks Sheila for the post and the heads up to the lovely resources.I saw first this poem this week via Open Culture and it took me back to one of the few poems that wasn’t ruined for me by classroom study. I love journey metaphors and your post gave me a rich new perspective.
    I thought about the traveller and the road on Planet Frances (admittedly sparsely populated).
    The traveller chooses between one way or another but each road is made by many travellers and builders. Thinking about Open, it seemed to me that the road more travelled at present is built by megacorps like Google and Facebook and Twitter (and even Amazon) where we send open resources rolling along the road for people to pick up or we stack them in searchable piles for others to find. This seems easy and more attractive for the traveller but s/he may also keep their own open resources in their backpack or their own special places so that they can find them if they take the less travelled road now or in the future.
    A real question for the traveller is whether or not their and their friends’ choice of the road more travelled makes it more difficult to return to the road less travelled in the future.
    Turning the poems’ traveller’s choice on its head
    “Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back. ”
    Should we leave the less travelled road for another day? in case we never come back.

  3. There’s a link that I see now between what I and Alan were saying.The last line of the song was “I could be just around the corner from Heaven or a mile from Hell” captures the idea of not really being sure where we could have been and where we might be in future.
    Maybe it’s realistic to model sustainable practices in our personal realms in a way that is more/too difficult to achieve in sludgy/slow moving/ risk-averse institutional settings. What I am more concerned about is decisions on tech that are made in institutions that make future choices less possible. I wonder if this could be an outcome of hooking up with some MOOC providers.

    1. I think that’s a very real and present danger Frances and not just restricted to MOOCs – every provider can “enhance the learner journey” just so it seems

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