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.

It’s less than three pages: read it yourself.

All worthy aims, I’m sure you’ll agree. It also integrates with existing accepted resolutions, such as UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030″.

Qian Tang, UNESCO ADG for Education, opened the Forum

Qian Tang, UNESCO ADG for Education, opened the Forum

As UNESCO reported it, the “aim of the forum was to build on the Bali message, Incheon Declaration and Qingdao Declaration to turn statements into actions to ensure equity, access, and quality learning outcomes. In particular, this was to respond to the scale and urgency of need for higher education in the period 2015 to 2030 due to the expected massive growth of the number of students. The purpose was to develop the Paris message – a clear set of actions for the participants to commit to and take back to their countries.”

So who will read the Paris Message and to what effect? When I first perused it, I worried that this was just another motherhood statement that will be shelved and ignored. But that is the wrong response, as I realised on further reflection.

First, there will be follow-up activity, principally a planned follow-up Forum in Durban in October (alongside the 26th ICDE WOrld Conference). More importantly, it’s worth recalling the old adage that ‘plans are worthless, but planning is everything’ (Eisenhower). About 150 people from 50 countries, most influential senior officials and policy-makers, have spent time together discussing matters related to the future of ODL. Issues have been debated, alliances forged, arguments resolved and friendships made. Alongside the resultant message, no doubt specific projects between and among countries have been mooted and championed.

Clues that such projects are emerging are found in the Paris Message, such as the specific mention of doctoral student programmes. Representatives from universities may have already agreed on exchange and similar programs across national borders.

And you may just be able to use it yourself. For example, if you are in an educational development unit in a university which is seeking support for the development of OER, quote and reference it in your submissions. As the Paris Message contends, academic staff should:

Be encouraged to create, develop, adapt and share high-quality accessible digital resources, taking into account local needs and diversity of learners. Continued and enhanced access to a growing inventory of quality OER represents a cornerstone for online, open and flexible learning worldwide.

I’m thus a supporter. So should you be.

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

Teaching with technology: the grim reality

The US has the Ivy League universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.), and in the UK it’s the Russell Group (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, etc.). In Australia we have the yawningly-titled Group of Eight, deemed as the top research universities.

So it was that the medical faculty of one of these esteemed institutions invited my daughter to give a lecture on aspects of her medical specialty, oncology. Continue reading