William Prescott and Bernadette Robinson
The involvement of the UK Open University (OU) in teacher education may seem surprising in some ways since the United Kingdom is a small country where distances are not great for much of the population, where communications are good and where there is a considerable number of colleges and universities offering teacher-education courses of all kinds (over 90 institutions offer a variety of in-service courses for teachers in the UK). What kind of role can distance education play in teacher education in these circumstances? This case study examines the role of the OU in in-service teacher education.
The OU is a large national distance-education institution which provides multimedia courses and materials in a variety of subjects and at a number of different levels. The OU has three major remits in its Charter: to provide opportunities for adults to study for degrees, for professional and technological updating, and for the educational well-being of the community. It presented its first courses in 1971, with an enrolment of 19,580 students on undergraduate courses only. By 1990 it had 72,622 undergraduate students; 11,574 associate students (on one-year courses); 595 postgraduate research students (Masters’ and PhD); 4,191 taught Masters’ degree students; and 15,817 specialised short course student registrations (Planning Office figures, OU, 1991).
As well as courses, the OU produces packs of learning materials which do not form part of a course and have no learner assessment; 62,174 of these packs, on over 150 different topics, were sold in 1990.
Approximately 6,500 students a year graduate from the OU that is, approximately eight per cent of all first-degree graduates from UK universities; OU undergraduates are 13 per cent of all registered UK undergraduates (Planning Office StatSheet 91/2; OU, Review of the Open University, 1991, p. 8). The median age of undergraduate students is 34 years, that of graduates 39; about 50 per cent are female. The undergraduate programme offers 140 courses; 49 per cent are arts-based, 51 per cent