Connections with COL

As previously admitted, I’m an unapologetic fan of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). I also declare interest, in that I’ve worked for COL on a number of projects over many years, encompassing the reigns of three Presidents (Dhanarajan, Daniel and Kanwar).

Connections-201507So it is unsurprising that I always have at least a quick peruse of COL’s regular news publication, Connections, which highlights major events, people and projects associated with the organisation. A couple of items caught my eye in the latest edition (July 2015, Vol. 20, No. 2) and prompted me to pen this post. Both items brought me pride, but in different ways.

The first made me proud of my country, Australia:

In line with its focus on gender equality and empowering women and girls, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia has made an additional contribution of AUD$500,000 to COL to support skills development among women and girls in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan for a period of one year.

Why did we feel the need to wear ties?

Why did we feel the need to wear ties?

This has special significance, as in 2008, when attending a PNG conference on ODL, I learned to my dismay from Sir John Daniel that Australia had ceased all funding support to COL. It took some years and the sustained efforts of some worthy Australians for this travesty to be corrected.

The second sparked personal pride, when I read the following:

COL’s eLearning for International Organisations (eLIO) is a fee-for-service programme that customises eLearning solutions to address the specific needs of international organisations. Its award-winning Writing Effectively series has been used by eight United Nations, and three UN-affiliated international agencies.

Writing EffectivelyYou see, I was the course designer for the first Writing Effectively course:

The Writing Effectively series was first developed in 2000 for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and since then has been customized in English and French to numerous international agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, ILO, World Bank and the Council of Europe.  It focuses on the principles and strategies that underpin successful workplace communication: clarity of purpose, audience focus and context appropriateness. These principles are explored in a variety of practice activities and applied through a number of practical work-based tasks that need to be performed to a specific standard. Each participant is assigned an e-tutor who acts as a personal guide throughout the course.  All staff who write general office correspondence, reports, proposals etc. can benefit from this eLearning series.  The courses in this series are modular in format and participants select the module most relevant to their needs at the workplace.

It all started in 1998. I was fortuitously visiting COL at the time when Raj (Prof. Dhanarajan, as he is popularly known) was putting together a team to bid for the project with UNHCR. I was on my way to a conference in the UK, and Raj asked to me make a detour to Geneva to talk to the UNHCR team – it seemed that COL was on the final short-list of three bidders, the other two being universities. The visit was very enjoyable: the UNHCR people were open and friendly, and I was able to inform them of COL’s particular strengths, as well as providing feedback on their existing course (an expensive in-house training course). The head of the UNHCR training group had the vision and foresight to see the potential of ODL for the training of remotely-located staff.

A few months later we received the good news – COL had won the contract, its first with the major international agencies. I wasn’t involved in the planning documentation, but it was both thorough and smart, reflecting COL’s superior knowledge of and experience with ODL. The team leader was the mightily effective Angela Kwan, well known to me from my time at OUHK. Amongst other activities, the highly talented course writer (Maree Bentley) and I were despatched to both UNHCR headquarters in Geneva and to country posts to gather source material. This was a vital task, as if our course was to be successful, it had to be based on real reports and reporting requirements. We met with a variety of staff, including those writing reports as well as those who received them. After this exercise, we left for home with a stack of papers at least a metre high.

The course development process took a few months, and was characterised by its smoothness. With a few minor hiccups, the course modules were drafted, sent for feedback from the COL and UNHCR teams, and modified based on their comments. When trialled with a small contingent of participants it was an immediate hit. Such was its subsequent success that it became an exemplar, not only for further courses with UNHCR, but also for amended versions for other international agencies, as revealed in the quote above.

Given the overall high quality of the course materials, the tutoring and course administration, along with its longevity and influence, it probably qualifies as the best ODL course with which I’ve been involved. Yes, the team should be very proud of Writing Successfully.

The Paris Message: Will anyone read it?

‘What Paris Message?’, you may ask.

Well, in June 2015, the Global High Level Policy Forum (UNESCO/ICDE) issued a “call for governments, higher education leaders, academic staff and students to take action now.” The document is titled Online, Open and Flexible Higher Education for the Future We Want, and presents 15 specific aims for practitioners at a variety of levels. Continue reading

I now know more about Gilgamesh, thanks to a MOOC

I’d heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but my knowledge was limited to a vague notion that it contained an account of a flood somewhat similar to that in the Bible. Little did I realise that it contained a whole lot more, deftly revealed in the online course Invitation to World Literature. Continue reading

It’s not so much what was said, but who said it!

… much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. …

The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. …

Our love of “significance” pollutes the literature with many a statistical fairy-tale. We reject important confirmations. Journals are not the only miscreants. Universities are in a perpetual struggle for money and talent, endpoints that foster reductive metrics, such as high-impact publication. National assessment procedures, such as the Research Excellence Framework, incentivise bad practices. And individual scientists, including their most senior leaders, do little to alter a research culture that occasionally veers close to misconduct.

Continue reading

Oh no, not another quality document!

It just won’t go away, will it: the relentless focus and the ever-growing ‘industry’ of quality. It’s right across the higher education spectrum, of course, with its tentacles reaching inexorably into the world of open and distance learning. Please don’t think I’m anti-quality – it’s just that it gets tiresome at times, and some of the procedures and policies can detract us from other more directly teaching-focussed activities (a polite way of saying that quality incursions can be irritating and possibly irrelevant). Continue reading

The world’s best mathematics lecturer

etienne ghysNo, this is not my claim, but that of other more informed persons. I found it in Cedric Villani’s wonderful book (p. 16, if you’re interested). To whom was he referring? His colleague at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyons, Étienne Ghys, who counts among his fans the (probably) best mathematician in the world, Terence Tao (he’s up there, with a Fields Medal, and he’s Australian – good enough for me). Continue reading