Good news – OU psychology MSc courses to get a reboot in 2016

Good news reaches me from the Open University. After a gap of several years, the foreseeable future has arrived and there are now plans to offer three different masters qualifications in psychology from 2016.

Details are fairly sketchy at the moment, but it appears that they will be offered as two-year, part-time qualifications consisting of a 30 credit foundation module, 90 credits of taught content and a 60 credit dissertation. The degrees are planned to be offered in Contemporary Psychological Studies, Forensic Psychological Studies and Criminological Studies.

There are no plans to have the qualifications accredited by the British Psychological Society, which seems a bit of a shame, but my understanding is that this shouldn’t be a concern if your undergraduate qualification has already given you the graduate basis for chartership (GBC), which the OU degree in psychology (B07 or Q07) does. I expect that this omission will help them to contain the costs of tuition, which are currently unknown but expected to be in line with other OU masters qualifications.

Information for prospective OU students outside of the UK & Ireland

If you’re thinking of studying with the Open University, but don’t live in either the UK or Ireland, you may be interested in this recently launched website for prospective students from the rest of the world.

It’s aim is to make all of the information relevant to overseas students accessible in a single place. The Open University claims to be the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality online degrees and distance learning. It serves students across the globe with highly respected qualifications, including the triple accredited MBA degree.

The OU may not have as many students as it once had, but as a former OU student and graduate I can thoroughly recommend the experience.

The OU announces it is to stop offering PGCE and PGDE qualifications from March 2014

From a press release issued by the OU today:

The Open University (OU) is to withdraw from the PGCE qualification that is available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the associated PGDE qualification in Scotland.

The decision will come into effect following the January and March 2014 intake dates.

… Instead the OU will focus on sustaining and building on the strengths of its education and schools-targeted curriculum. The University will continue to offer undergraduate degrees in Early Years and Primary Teaching and Learning and a Masters in Education. Further developments in the Education curriculum will be investigated as well as the provision of OERs (open educational resources) in the coming months.

More details about the decision and the OU’s plans are available directly from their website. Fortunately, it appears that current students and applicants for the January and March 2014 start dates for these courses from a provider rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted are unaffected.

SD815: Contemporary Issues in Brain and Behaviour: Psychosis and Dementia

News today from the Open University about the launch of a new postgraduate module. Too late for me to be interested, but perhaps it’s an encouraging sign that the social science faculty is re-engaging with people wanting to study at this level after withdrawing all of its masters-level qualifications a few years ago.

The Faculty of Science, in partnership with the Faculty of Social Sciences, is offering a new Masters level module starting in February 2014.

SD815 Contemporary Issues in Brain and Behaviour: Psychosis and Dementia, is particularly relevant to psychology graduates who are interested in neuropsychology, biological psychology and clinical psychology, and may wish to progress to a Science based Masters degree following their undergraduate studies. SD815 is an online module that draws on biological, psychological and social sciences to investigate psychosis and dementia, conditions that are of major health concern and socio-economic impact in today’s global society. It is a core option (60pt module) in our MSc in Science (F12) and MSc in Professional Science (F60) qualifications.

More details are available here.

The business of MOOCs

The Open University’s foray into the world of MOOCs, FutureLearn, is to open for ‘Beta’ students later this month with the first courses due to start in October. FutureLearn is somewhat behind the pace-setters of edX, Coursera and Udacity, but that may be no bad thing. As Sally Roy of the US-based Online Schools points out in her excellent article and infographic, no-one quite seems to have cracked the issue of how these experiments in mass education will find a sustainable business model.

She’s kindly allowed me to reproduce her infographic below. Let’s hope that FutureLearn can manage a successful launch and find a sustainable business model where others still appear to be struggling.

MOOC Money

Don’t forget the print button

FutureLearn seems to be in the final stages of getting ready for launch, as an invitation on its homepage is now allowing people to register their interest for courses that are due to start in September.

The FutureLearn website also hosts an interesting set of articles about the progress being made with the development of the platform to support the initiative. The most recently published article talked about their choice of a responsive design for the site. In simple terms, this is one which works in an appropriate and usable manner for all screen types automatically – mobiles, tablets and the still ubiquitous laptop and desktop computers. Given the difficulties that the Open University online environment has had over the last few years in keeping up with changes in the way students use technology to access content, it’s good to see such principles being designed into the FutureLearn platform.

However, learning is rather different to many activities carried out digitally. For example, learning is not a transactional or transient activity – like ordering a book online or browsing through a news website. For the FutureLearn platform to be successful it will need to cater for prolonged usage and the inescapable need to go back and review old material while new material is being digested.

Having a well thought out and implemented multi-media “bookmarking” strategy would be useful, but the most effective way to cater for this requirement is often still paper. The ability to easily print out selected parts of the material (for example, video transcripts or forum threads) and use them later on was one of the next to impossible things to achieve on the earlier MITx and edX platforms. And if I’m totally honest, I don’t believe that any digital platform, responsive or otherwise, could ever replicate the effectiveness of my dining room table as a study tool – shown below in the midst of revision for DD303 a couple of years ago.

DD303 desktopSo in amongst all of the digital wizardry and pedagogic advances FutureLearn promises, I really hope that the designers have remembered to include a print button!

Writer’s block, sex at the OU and right wing isolationism

I’ve been finding writing difficult recently, culminating in the “Meh” post of a couple of days ago.

I’m not quite sure why. It’s not as if there isn’t lots happening in my own life at the moment, nor are then any shortage of things in the wider world which are either engaging me or frustrating me. The problem is, if I were to start to write on most of these topics at any length, you’d find them a very dull read or I’d simply become incoherent with rage far too quickly – and so be a very dull read.

A few days ago, I couldn’t even manage to string together a whimsical post on the OU coming third in the “University Sex” league table. I knew that the average age of students was rapidly coming down at the OU, but with the scarcity of face to face tutorials and residential schools these days you have to wonder if it all isn’t simply virtual via the medium of Facebook and Skype. Either that, or it’s just students acting in the way that students always have done – making stuff up and shouting it loudly in a hopeless effort to impress.

Making stuff up, shouting it loudly and then killing people is what Eddie Izzard suggested that fascists do when I saw him in Nottingham a couple of weeks ago. Earlier on in his performance, and to an audience which seemed eerily quiet in parts, he’d also equated the rise of UKIP with fascism too. Surely there aren’t people who like Eddie Izzard that would vote UKIP? Yet this would seem to be the case. At least in Nottingham.

I really mustn’t get started on why a large number of my fellow citizens seem to believe that an isolationist lurch to the right is just what we need to get the economy back on its feet again. We all know how successful that tactic was in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Galtieri’s Argentina. (Hyperinflation, anyone? No thanks, I’ll have the cake). But, for whatever reason, large swathes of the electorate either believe that it is genuinely what we need, or alternatively, that UKIP is some kind of lovely, cuddly “anti-politics” party that is a safe home for a protest vote. I don’t know which of these explanations scares me the most.

If you’re from the “UKIP are harmless, cuddly eccentrics” school of thought, you should really read this piece from the Institute of Employment Rights on UKIP in the workplace. It certainly left me speechless and very, very worried about the future if they were ever in a position to enact their policies.

I’m going back to my bunker now. I may be some time.

How have OU student numbers been affected by the £2,500 module fee in England?

Following the news last week that enrolments to HE courses by part-time students had fallen by 26.6% in the year after the introduction of the new tuition fees regime, I decided to do a little bit of digging around to see if I could discover how the Open University had been affected.

All OU students are counted as part-time, even if some brave folk do decide to take on 120 credits in a year – equivalent to the workload of a full-time student elsewhere. I managed to complete 90 credits of study in 2011 alongside a full-time job, which I’m the first to admit now was utter madness. But I did survive!

Anyway, first stop was the Open University’s Senate minutes. Sadly, they’re not particularly helpful in determining the actual numbers of students the OU has managed to recruit or retain – with opaque phrases such as “The outcome had been that new regime students for October 2012 in England were 96% of scenario 1” being used (From minute 4.6, 17th October 2012).

However, you do get the impression from reading the Senate minutes that whatever their planning assumptions were for the first year of £2,500 fees per 60 credits (in England), they must have just about met their recruitment targets. That’s good, because if they have it means that they’ve probably got their fee level about right to sustain the university moving forwards, however unpalatable to potential students it may be.

So my next stop was the OU Student’s Association Central Executive Committee (CEC) papers and minutes. These are equally opaque – at least, until you look in detail at the individual papers discussed – and specifically the reports on the state of OUSA Assemblies.

These would appear to provide an indication of the total number of OU students (as student numbers are used for budgeting purposes) – and better still, these figures are broken down by OU region. This means that it is possible to work out the effect of fee changes (or no fee changes) in the student numbers for England (and its regions), Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Europe. They’re only an indication, as not all OU students are necessarily members of the association (although as it’s an opt-out rather than opt-in arrangement I’m willing to guess that only a very small fraction of OU students ever opt-out) and they do seem to record numbers somewhat lower than the “almost 250,000” students that the OU has consistently claimed for the last few years – for example, in the press release issued on higher education and funding policy issued on 8th March.

In addition, there has been a shift in many OU module start dates from October to February which I suspect also confounds the numbers, making direct comparisons between years rather difficult. But even taking that into account, the trend does appear to be significantly downwards – and more markedly so in England (where higher fees for new students but not continuing ones are now in place) and in Continental Europe (where last year, the OU took a decision to stop directly employing locally based staff).

So as I’m unsure of the validity of the numbers presented in the OUSA CEC reports in determing the precise size of the OU student body, I’m not going to re-publish them here. However, if you’re a current (or recent) OU student, you’ll be able to dig them out for yourself if you really want to. Follow the link to the Student Association Forums from StudentHome, click on the “OUSA information forums” link and then onwards into “OUSA Information”. The minutes, papers and appendices for all of the CEC meetings since May 2011 are available waiting for you.