The Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) annual conference was held in York on the 6th and 7th of April. The conference themes highlighted the local, regional and international dimensions of lifelong learning. The introductory plenary by Professor Karen Stanton, Vice Chancellor of York St Johns University, highlighted the challenges that adult education faces. In England, mature HE enrolments have fallen by nearly a third since the introduction of the high fee regime. In Scotland, although the policy environment is different, there has been a steep decline in part-time provision through the college sector and major reductions in the opportunities offered through Community Learning Development. However, Karen noted emerging themes in policy agendas in which lifelong learning is critically important.
The presentations at the conference reflected the conference themes and were clustered into four main areas: Pedagogy, partnership, work based-learning / professional development and outreach. Contributions from Scandinavia on innovative, work-based approaches to professional education were particularly interesting. The OEPS contribution was entitled ‘Creating openly licensed courses for use in workplace and community settings’. In it we looked at the pressures on third-sector organisations with an interest in education and training as a result of the decline in mainstream adult education provision.
In the UK organisations that are not part of the formal education sector play an important role in supporting lifelong learning. Third sector organisations and trade unions are prominent in this activity although public and private employers also play a part. For the third sector the last decade has been a time of significant change, with reductions in funding, changes in role and a need to adapt to new educational demands driven by the rapid increase in the availability and use of digital technology. The OEPS presentation drew on evidence from a large-scale project in Scotland that aimed to increase the use of free and openly licensed online courses by non-traditional learners. It explored the ways in which the third sector is responding to new challenges and looked at the advantages that online learning and openly licensed educational resources have for organisations engaged in promoting online learning. We examined the advantages that online learning and openly licensed educational resources have for such organisations and reflected on the nature and value of educational partnerships that work across the informal/formal boundary and explored examples of where such partnerships extend to the coproduction of new educational materials and educational practice. We then outlined the challenges that such partnerships present and outlined how we had incorporated approaches drawn from participatory design in the Learning Design workshops we have facilitated with partners. We noted that as a result, partners develop insight into the learner context at the same time as challenging deep-seated perceptions and assumptions about appropriate practice and pedagogy.
The UALL 2017 awards winner was also announced at the conference and went to the Brighton based community project ‘The Bevy‘. We were pleased that the OEPS project was runner up and highly commended. This is recognition for all those individuals and organisations which have participated in the multiple strands of the OEPS project and shared practice, ideas and creativity.
In April 2017 Pete Cannell and I have a paper at OER17 called Mind the Gap, it is concerned with lifelong learning and the role of free open online resources in filling in and creating routes into learning for those distanced from it, and more broadly reflects on the gaps within those journeys as local authorities colleges retreat from this space and Third Sector organisations look to fill those structural holes as best they can. I selected the title for its double meaning, to be careful, and to remember and keep it in our minds. It was only when I started to listen to Rosa Murray at the recent forum organised jointly by Learning for Sustainability Scotland (LfSS) and OEPS on shared values, my use of to mind’ means ‘to recollect’ and this use is a particularly Scottish thing .
Rosa touched on her work with Rowena Griffiths, asking us to consider whether we “mind enough”; suggesting the need for us to explore what a “pedagogy of minding” looked like (here are the slides). The workshop was about sustainability, and the role of openness and open practices in supporting learning for sustainability. Most attendees were “at home” in this space and looking to learn from OEPS about openness. In the self-organised afternoon discussion groups three clusters emerged:
- How to use openness in teacher education, how to make it meaningful and engaging in ways that align to their values;
- How and/or will openness transform education, and if it does what will it look like;
- How to open up content to use and reuse.
Big questions, questions that often surface when considering open educational practices. However, the focus on sustainability and equity and social justice did draw out some different issues. In particular, there were questions around who is empowered by openness and ensuring that openness and putting stuff online is not used as an argument for withdrawing support for other activities. For me this went back to what Rosa said about shared values, and minding. She suggested there was a particular Scottish focus on sustainability as a question of equity and social justice. For LfSS minding is about learning to care about the world, to mind about inequalities.
Concern about the world, care for the environment, has moved from the margins to the mainstream, to a point where every pupil in Scotland is “entitled” to learn about sustainability. As a movement OER/OEP is a long way from this, more people are using open resources, but do more people care. Is it something to care about, what are the things we ought to care about, and what would a pedagogy of minding about openness look like? An approach to education that plays on the distinctive Scottish sense of minding, of saying “I mind”, a sense between remembering, caution and caring.
Honestly, I have no answers, but I think openness is at the heart of a pedagogy of minding, as both a something that goes in as a value, and is an outcome of caring. If I look at Joe Wilson’s blog post about the UNESCO European Regional Consultation on OER and even further back to the work done on the Open Scotland Declaration, I see the articulation of a particular Scottish approach to openness. As the OER/OEP community looks forward, perhaps it is useful to take a side glance at the work done on sustainability, as the focus on values, and minding, might suggest a way forward.