A Pleasant, Open Face

If we get iTunesU at work there will be many discussions about whether to have a closed and/or open site.  It would be great if the site had a pleasant, open face (apologies for the gratuitous Doctor Who quote there).  But which is most important, pleasant or open? Is it really possible to ensure that what appears openly is perfect, or nearly so?

There are (quite rightly) PR opportunities to having an outward facing presence on the iTunes store, but the real work is centrally hosting all of the material and there are other benefits to providing and encouraging making learning material available to all (engagement, feedback, and if licensed openly too then all the OER jazz).  In the conversations that take place in the many meetings that will now follow, I hope that this is borne alongside the inevitable focus on the PR angle. There’s a worry that if we have lacklustre or out-of-date material showing, we deter potential students.  I wonder if that’s the case, or whether perhaps having nothing at all will be more of a deterrent (obviously up-to-date, professionally produced, cutting edge podcasts and video would be ideal).  If students really are shopping around by trialing resources, or more likely using University resources whilst studying at A-level, will institutions they don’t have this connection with them get less interest from them when it comes to filling in their UCAS form?  Is the best the enemy of the good here?

Obviously we must pay attention to the terms of licences and consent for the material we use, and we don’t want to get sued, but I wonder if we have too strict an approval process (rather than a devolved and lightweight scheme) we will stifle the creativity and immediacy that makes the material appealing.  After all, real learning material can have rough edges, and should change and evolve in response to student feedback and the lessons of experience.  I wonder if not only is it better to have something than nothing, but also if potential applicants are more sophisticated than we give them credit for, and are ready to divine the true value of learning materials that lack that PR polish.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

3 thoughts on “A Pleasant, Open Face

    1. It’s the “don’t start something you won’t finish” argument. Maybe in a department someone makes a podcast, the novelty wears off, three years later nothing else has happened. Visitors looking at that department see out of date material. Bad.

      Problem is, it’s hard to predict what’s going to work and what’s not without trying it. That’s the point about evolution and change (though there’s also a need to commit to supporting something new like this). The question then becomes: who is going to monitor which departments haven’t posted anything new, and remove old material. The housekeeping could become an additional workload. Then people think perhaps it’s simpler to have everything “closed” so because that reduces the severity of the risk…

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