Tag Archives: higher education

Think again, a free online course

I am studying for an online course. This isn’t just any course, it is being taught by professors at the Ivy League Duke University in the US where if I wanted to attend I would have to pay tuition fees of $43,623. I am paying nothing at all.

I have written previously about this new trend in massive online courses (MOOCs) and this is the one I thought I would try: Think again, how to reason and argue. Learning to argue sounds like a good plan if you’re going to blog and criticise, so, how perfect.

The course will take 12 weeks to teach me “how to analyze and evaluate arguments and how to avoid common mistakes in reasoning” through a series of short lectures, exercises and a quiz at the end of each of the four parts of the course.

Time required should be about 2 hours per week watching the lectures, another 2 hours per week doing the exercises, and about 1 hour on each quiz.

There will also be a discussion forum. So far it sounds positive. I have done a few online courses with the Open University and the only thing missing so far is an advance look at the materials. It would have been nice to have it all beforehand but never mind.

There is no required reading or additional purchases but there is an accompanying book which I got excited about. If it had been affordable I would have downloaded the ebook straight away so I could get started but no such luck.

Understanding Arguments, Eighth Edition, by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert Fogelin costs £49.99 from the publishers and £54.99 from Amazon. I found it through an inter-library loan via Birmingham so hopefully that will arrive soon and not cost too much. The chapters are also available individually at £1.99 from the publishers.

The course starts on Monday, 26 November.

Anyone can join in, just follow the link to sign-up.

University Day, 1911

A lifeline for the eternal student

I can’t afford to study with UK higher education institutions (HEIs) anymore. Since the introduction of tuition fees were introduced under the coalition government, undergraduate courses at the Open University have gone up from 200-300£s to around £1200 for a small course. I can’t afford that kind of money now that I work part time and am raising a little girl.

I have instead turned to free courses from overseas universities. Some very good and indeed elite universities like Stanford, MIT and Harvard.

Do check them out – here’s a list of 50 courses, which offer some sort of certificate, from Open Culture.

Update: The Guardian has now also written about this phenomenon in Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?

Paying the price of education

I woke up to Twitter comments about rich people being able to buy places at university and complaints about the Conservatives getting rid of merit based achievement. Damn those Conservatives. I don’t doubt that by the time they leave office the nation will be a bloody mess but when has higher education ever been just about merit?

The system is supposed to look something like this. You go to secondary school and achieve good grades (however you define good), get in to a university and keep showing up until you graduate with a degree. If you do the work you’ll reap the rewards.

It’s nice in theory but the government only funds a certain amount of places. 697,351 people applied to attend a higher education institution (HEI) through UCAS last year and over 200,000 did not get a place. Most of those applicants probably had the ability to complete a degree so it’s not that they weren’t good enough.

The system is already based on money. The biggest predictor of attending university is grades at A level. Students at independent and grammar schools are more likely to get higher grades than students at non-fee paying schools. People who have paid for their education are already more likely to go to on to higher education.

The vision of higher education as a natural progression after secondary school is also not quite right. Only about 60% of applicants were 18-19 years old and not all had traditional qualifications.

During Clearing there are additional places reserved for international students who already pay the full fee for their own courses.

In my view, the best system is that provided by the Open University. Education is made available. That’s it. For a cost admittedly but it is open to all and is of extremely high quality.

The government does not fund all HE places, some funding is provided by the NHS and there are also private HEIs.

As I write this, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has apparently backed down from the idea first reported in the THE that “[u]niversities could be allowed to recruit unlimited numbers of UK undergraduates who are able pay their tuition fees upfront under plans being considered by the coalition government.” He is quoted by THE as saying that individuals will not be able to fund off-quota places. Businesses and charities will, but with “strict conditions”.

We will have to see what the higher education reform white paper specifies for the future but even if off quota places cannot be bought by individuals, this doesn’t mean that it’s all merit based. We’ve still got a long way to go before the system is fair to everyone.

Open University, South West – Open Day

The Open University is holding an open day for the South West region. This provides an opportunity to find out about starting a new course or continuing your studies.

The event takes place on Saturday 4 September between 11.00 – 15.00 at 4 Portwall Lane, Bristol BS1 6ND (opposite St Mary Redcliffe Church).

The contact email address is south-west@open.ac.uk

As they suggest it’s a great opportunity to…

* Find out more about life as an OU student including the
opportunities and support available.

* Talk to an educational adviser about which course to begin
with or what to do next.

* Drop into the library to view a wide range of course materials.

If you would like to find out more about the event you can visit the following link, email them at south-west@open.ac.uk or call on 01179 299 641.

Redcliffe: a church, a tree, some clouds

Open University, South West – Open Day

The Open University is holding an open day for the South West region. This provides an opportunity to find out about starting a new course or continuing your studies.

The event takes place on Saturday 4 September between 11.00 – 15.00 at 4 Portwall Lane, Bristol BS1 6ND (opposite St Mary Redcliffe Church).

The contact email address is south-west@open.ac.uk

As they suggest it’s a great opportunity to…

* Find out more about life as an OU student including the
opportunities and support available.

* Talk to an educational adviser about which course to begin
with or what to do next.

* Drop into the library to view a wide range of course materials.

If you would like to find out more about the event you can visit the following link, email them at south-west@open.ac.uk or call on 01179 299 641.

Redcliffe: a church, a tree, some clouds

The Open University: Free Resources Available for Study

I have been a student with the Open University since 1998 when I first began my Masters in Social Research Methods. I have yet to complete that degree but in the mean time I have also studied courses as part of a Bachelors degree in Information Technology and Communication, a Diploma in Web Development, a Law Course and a Creative Writing Module.

I have studied at three universities with campuses and the distance learning environment of the Open University is not only more structured but more interactive, better organised, always supportive and also provides great quality teaching and learning.

My enthusiasm for the ‘Open University’ way of doing things is shared by other students I’ve spoken to and I often suggest that all universities should be structured in the same way. I don’t mean that all learning should be distant from a campus but that the organisation and structure should be as thoughtfully conducted.

Recently, a new resource has been made available by the university and it provides a great opportunity for more people to benefit from the course materials and the organisation. I was so eager for everyone to know about all the university offers that I wrote about it as my first article for Suite101.

“The Open University provides established degree courses and now has free taster and introductory courses, from Latin to Psychology, online.”

For more information see the following and read more at Suite101: The Open University: Free Resources Available for Study

Somewhere, softly, someone is speaking with a lilting accent (it’s not me)

In a time where global battles with recession are swiftly translated into job cuts and unemployment rates, the government’s news of funding cuts in higher education wasn’t exactly surprising. While science subjects are promoted and at times ring-fenced, the people and institutions involved with the arts and humanities are getting increasingly worried. In Sunday’s Observer, top academics and cultural leaders from these departments, raise concern about the preference for so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths. (A general plug for a report on application trends to these subjects)

A piece on the same subject goes on to say that “[t]he study of history, philosophy, languages and literature broadens horizons and animates minds that go on to enrich society in many ways. The advantages that flow from research into the creative output of humanity might not be obviously financial, but they are incalculable.”

The letter says arts and humanities enrich the country’s quality of life and help people to look at the world from different perspectives: “People’s complexity comes from their language, identities, histories, faiths and cultures.”

So what does it mean to ‘look at the world from different perspectives’? I visited an installation at the Arnolfini in January 2009 where the audience were asked to take a small sticky circle and place it somewhere in the room where it didn’t belong, and then take another one and place it on a map of the gallery to indicate where it was placed. ‘It’s making me look at things I’m not supposed to’ joked a fellow art gallery visitor and he was stating the obvious but it applies to all art.

I see art as a fragment of reality plucked out from behind someone else’s eyes or ears or heart (figuratively speaking). For a second you stand in front of someone’s creation and sometimes you fit comfortably in their shoes or you at least step away from your own little reality just for a moment. All of it involves integration, interaction, empathy, some type of understanding and a little willingness to share.

Bristol has art leaking out of most corners, walls and alleyways but there’s something special about the Arnolfini. It’s hard to oversell it because as they say themselves, it is one of Europe’s leading centres for the contemporary arts and is at a fantastic waterside location at the heart of Bristol’s harbourside. The space inside adds a solid silence that can be specific to room after room according to different art displays.

I visited an exhibition about immigration and the diaspora a couple of years previously and a film was shown in a small room that was all shadow apart from one screen that took up a wall. Something so magical about the Mediterranean seen from Algiers. The water so blue, the goodbyes just as painful but a different language entirely.

In the same edition of the Observer, emigration is noted as being sadly engrained in the Irish culture and it is an Irish composer’s work that has caught my eye in the listing of future art installations. As part of the Lingua Franca series,writer French-Norwegian Caroline Bergvall and Irish composer Ciaran Maher are presenting the exhibition ‘Say Parsley’.

This is a sparse sound and language installation organised across a number of spaces, which becomes a place for mishearings, recognition, assumptions, misattribution. You hear what you want to hear. You hear what you think you hear.

The background to Say Parsley is the biblical ‘shibboleth’, a violent event where language itself is gatekeeper, and a pretext to massacre. The pronunciation of a given word exposes the identity of the speaker. To speak becomes a give-away. Are you one of us, not one of us? How you speak will be used against you.
The most recent example of a large scale shibboleth was the massacre of tens of thousands of Creole Haitians on the border of the Dominican Republic in 1937, when the criteria for execution was the failure to pronounce ‘perejil’ (parsley) in the accepted Spanish manner, with a rolling ‘r’.

Installations such as this are not only about seeing the world in a different way but finding a way to experience, visit and understand it as well.

The exhibition takes place between Saturday 8 May to Sunday 4 July 2010 so it’s not for a little while but it’s nice to have something to anticipate.