Open Eye: Serving the Parts That Other Universities Cannot Reach the OU Provides a Vital Resource for One of Britain's Most Remote Regions. Yvonne Cook Reports on the Impact of Distance Learning Techniques in Britain's Far North
Cook, Yvonne, The Independent (London, England)
Shetland has more OU students per head of population than anywhere else in the UK. In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, where moving away has been the only other option open to many would-be university students, the OU has been the mainstay of higher education since the 1970s.
The Open University's mission includes a commitment to be "open as to place".
This means that the 2,000 OU students in the Highlands and Islands can expect to study any course available to students elsewhere in the UK. But when you have one student on a small island where the only way to the nearest library is by boat, special measures are needed. Paddy Maher, OU senior counsellor in Scotland, told me how the OU reaches the places others don't - and how higher education in the Highlands and Islands is poised for its biggest changes since the OU's launch. In remote areas teaching materials and home experiment kits arrive through the post as normal - though sometimes a little later. But what about the support? "One of the problems is providing a tutor in an area where you have only one or two students," says Paddy. "For example, we have one tutor-counsellor for arts in Orkney, and one for social science in the Western Isles. Under those circumstances we try to look for alternatives to face to face tuition that provide the same level of support. Since the 70s the key tuition medium has been telephone - and it remains so, despite the encroachment of new technology. Group tutorials are held by conference call. As Paddy explains: "If you're a student, what happens is you're sitting in your home, the phone rings, the operator comes through and says 'your conference call' and you find you're automatically connected to maybe half a dozen other people in the same tutorial.. Telephone tutorials require special techniques perfected by OU tutors over the years. They have to be more tightly structured and focused than your average face-to-face session, says Paddy, as free-for-all discussion is less easy to manage on the phone. The tutor generally sends out an agenda prior to the session and, if it's a course such as science, relevant diagrams. Experience has shown that the intense concentration required means people can cope with only about one hour of telephone tuition, so there's little time to waste. There are regular training sessions for telephone tutors in the tricks of the trade. "For example, it is easier for people on the phone to stand outside the discussion, so the tutor can get round this by addressing people individually 'Claire - have you got any views?' Diagrams may have grids on them so the tutor can say : 'Now everyone go to square A2 and you will …
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Publication information: Article title: Open Eye: Serving the Parts That Other Universities Cannot Reach the OU Provides a Vital Resource for One of Britain's Most Remote Regions. Yvonne Cook Reports on the Impact of Distance Learning Techniques in Britain's Far North. Contributors: Cook, Yvonne - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: February 4, 1999. Page number: OE12. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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