bluefluff's blue fluff

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Waking up!

Haven't posted here for a long, long time, but wanted somewhere to park this. I've been trying to  persuade my MP to sign EDM 509 in defence of the OU's regional centres & tonight wrote him this essay in response to his very reasonable queries:

Dear Martin,

Thank you very much for this considered reply. I won't be able to take up your offer of attending the surgery, but I'll try to explain my concerns a little more.

The OU employs part-time tutors who provide both face to face support via local tutorials (my groups meet in the evening at Franklin College) & online support through group forums & email. This is in addition to one-to-one teaching through feedback on students' written assignments. Since the OU started back in the early 1970s, the organisation of student groups, employment of tutors & booking of suitable venues has been carried out by a network of 13 regional offices. Each of these offices has built up a vast amount of experience & local knowledge about its own catchment areas.

In addition, the regional centres provide valuable administrative & pastoral support to both students & part-time tutors. For instance, they host dayschools where students from several groups can learn together, deliver the OU's careers guidance service, liaise with local employers & providers of services for disabled students, act as examination centres & organise local publicity & recruitment events across the region. Tutors visit these centres for job interviews, briefing & training events, & staff appraisals. This is where we meet our managers, who have extensive personal knowledge of how we work & our own likely support needs, & occasionally our colleagues, since OU tutors normally work from home.

The OU is proposing to close most of the regional centres in England, leaving just two of the original ten. Tutors & regional staff are united in fearing that removing this support network will leave the OU unable to deliver the support that students & their tutors need, since so many experienced staff (up to 500) will be lost, along with their local knowledge. The OU closed one regional centre (in South-East England) a year ago, leading to administrative chaos, lowered staff morale & a general decline in student satisfaction. (I also work with some students in national forums & was quite startled to see how those from the South-East were getting a 'raw deal' in comparison to those who still had their regional centres.)

It doesn't entirely surprise me that you haven't heard from any other constituents about this issue. I may even be the only OU tutor in your 'patch'. Sadly, Higher Education doesn't have a very high profile in our constituency (all the more reason why the OU matters here). Precisely because the current arrangements work so well, students themselves are not aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes to support their studies. Students in our area - if they have noticed the proposals at all - may have seen that the Nottingham office is not scheduled to close, but what they may not have realised is that this office will no longer be supporting undergraduate students & tutors in the local area. All the important roles it used to carry out will be transferred elsewhere - to Milton Keynes in the case of my subject area. Effectively the office supporting Cleethorpes area OU undergraduates will cease to exist.

Since I originally wrote to you, the OU's own Senate - the highest academic body in the governance structure - has voted against the plan, concluding that it is 'operationally and reputationally very high risk and fails adequately to support the academic mission of the university'. Despite this, the proposals will be put before the OU Council for approval later this month. That's why my tutor colleagues & I feel this Early Day Motion is so important. We know EDMs directly change nothing & rarely get debated, but they are a valuable way to demonstrate nationwide concern about an issue. We also appreciate that government cannot intervene in the OU's running of its own affairs, but individual MPs can express their disquiet over the way this is being done & the potential impact on their constituents.

Personally, I'm quite saddened by the absence of Conservative Party signatories on EDM 509, as this really isn't a party political matter. Some of my colleagues have received standard replies from their Conservative MPs, quoting the OU Vice-Chancellor's reassurances that these changes are in students' best interests. As experienced tutors, we don't believe that to be the case, as I've explained above, & we're rather puzzled by the adoption of a 'party line' on this. I do hope you'll consider signing, & you're also very welcome to pass on this email to to the relevant minister(s).

I apologise for the length of this reply, but having worked for the OU in Grimsby & Cleethorpes for almost 40 years & seen it transform so many lives, I am genuinely distressed at the prospect of a wonderful institution being damaged by such reckless changes.

Thank you for listening.

- Lynne -
(Dr. B. L.Dixon)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I've recently started using WatchThat Page to track the blogs I'm interested in - blame TU120 with its relentless "you-will-try-new-tools" mantra! A leftover entry from my ECA topic was the Guardian Unlimited Books Blog... don't normally have time for that sort of reading, but hadn't got round to trimming the watch list....
Anyway, today this item caught my eye: Boris Vian: Still spitting from beyond the grave. I hadn't given Boris Vian a thought since about 1970, when I first came across his anti-war song Le D├ęserteur while I was staying with a French family on an exchange visit, heard it on the radio, borrowed my exchange partner's book of Vian poems & learned it by heart. It played a part in crystallising my vague intention to study French at university & thus helped shape my life... What's strange, given how poor my memory is these days, is that the song came straight back into my head & I knew I had to track it down. Google found me this page all about it. (It's one of those pages that breaks all the rules about good website design with glorious panache, but you don't care, because it's the work of an enthusiast & has the content you're looking for - even if it is mostly in Italian!)
Minutes later, I was enjoying this: YouTube image montage with the original 1954, banned from radio, recording. Musially, it has dated, but the sentiments are as fresh as ever.
The other, bigger circle is that we have a daughter, our last to fly the nest, planning to go to the same university we attended, to study - languages. Last week we attended an open day there & it was an odd mixture of nostalgia & sobering realisation of the passage of time.
She's the same age I was when I first heard Vian.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On the meaning of questions

I've just been invited to complete a survey designed "to help the University understand how ALs [Associate Lecturers, ie tutors] feel about their role".
I'm at a loss to understand the difference between these three items, which I'm asked to indicate my agreement or disagreement with:

Taking any one of them separately, I struggle to understand exactly what it means. But moving from one to the next, I struggle even more to see the difference between them.

Is there meant to be a difference between "my personal values" & "the things that I value in life"? I suppose I could take a literal interpretation of "things" as "physical objects", in which case maybe the OU would not be expected to share my fondness for pizza with double jalapeno or my collection of Wildhearts CDs. Does the OU value "things" in this sense at all?

I suppose there might be a distinction between "provide a good fit", "match" & "are very similar to" in that they could represent points on a scale running from identity, via passing resemblance, to complementary opposites (in which case the 3-1-2 ordering of statements could be a ploy to check my consistency of response).

Who knows?

For what it's worth, I decided that my attitude to all three was "disagree slightly". If I'd been thinking more clearly, I would have asked awkward questions about the assumption that the OU & I are mutually exclusive categories.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tony Storey RIP

No, you wont know him, but he was instrumental in introduucing me to computers, almost 20 years ago. I can't even remember why, now, but he & his wife used to lend my son an Amstrad computer over the weekend - one of those early machines with a green & black display, that you booted from a floppy disk. After the kids had gone to bed, I used to word-process my handouts on it & play Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (text-only version, of course).

Tony was always around. He was involved with the village school, the doctor's surgery, the parish council, the village magazine, Neighbourhood Watch... Sometimes unkindly mocked by the local children, he was truly larger than life.

We were all shocked to learn from the village magazine that Tony had passed away suddenly last month, at the age of 64. We'd been away on holiday & missed the news, so I don't know what was said in the local paper by way of tributes. But I found this self-portrait on Amazon, where he'd written a review.

In my own words
I am 57 years old and live in Healing, a village of some 2,200 population, about 3 miles from Grimsby in North East Lincolnshire, UK. I am Chairman of the Parish Council and Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator (are there Neighbourhood Watches in the US?).My religion is Soto Zen Buddhism, with a generous measure of Taoism and a sprinkling of Pure Land Buddhism.My other main interest is Astronomy, with the emphasis on Astrophysics, Cosmology and SETI. I have been married to Anne for 34 years next month; we have no children but six cats with, at the moment four kittens. I retired from full-time teaching in 1993 but still teach regularly on a supply basis, that is, I go into schools to cover for staff who are ill or on courses. I have chosen a picture of a butterfly because of Chuang Tzu, one of the other great Taoist writers, who dreamed that he was a butterfly. On awakening, he thought, ' Was I Chuang Tzu, dreaming that I was a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu'?



Saturday, September 15, 2007

There's a lot of it about

Further to my previous post...

Not to mention:

Become a blogger & get free German lessons!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

We're all Europeans now!

Here's the message Blogger gave me as I was publishing the last post:

Vielen Dank :-)

Ee bah gum!

It's nice to see from this story that the BBC is taking to heart the campaign launched this summer to preserve the Yorkshire dialect.

Nor can this be dismissed as a mere isolated typo. The same expression is proudly used twice on the section's front page:

(I really think it has to be deliberate, as the writer later refers conventionally to "Its learning facilities", so s/he knows the difference between it/its/it's.)

Bluefluff 2.0

Inspired by Martin Weller's slidecast, I've started a new blog.

It's not really a case of "Bluefluff is dead - long live Bluefluff" because I'll still be blogging here, too. It's just that part of me needed to move on :-)

Thursday, August 09, 2007


I'd forgotten this useful term, but it popped back into my head tonight after yet another tour of the OU forums I read, thinking "yes, but where's the substance?" as interminable discussions about discussions unfolded.

These metadiscussions relate to both form & content. As far as form is concerned, they are typically prompted by a contributor's use of a particular font that others find difficult to read, but can just as well be about the message order, or the correct attribution of material quoted from previous posts, or the amount of quoted material, or any number of similar issues. As far as content is concerned, it's often humour that proves to be the flashpoint - a sarcastic remark that's resented, a joke that treads on sensitive ground, a light-hearted riposte that's read literally & interpreted as deadly serious. A common second cause of contention is the scope of discussion, in particular the desirable or permissible ratio of chat & banter to serious course-related debate.

Form metadiscussions usually peter out into conciliatory statements about how we're all different & no single message format can suit everyone. Content metadiscussions tend to flare into high-minded exchanges about political correctness & freedom of speech, & can smoulder for weeks or months.

It occurred to me that the prevalence of metadiscussion is perhaps the single most significant difference between online & face to face discussions. Discussions round a table don't often founder on disagreements about speaking order or voice volume (though those can be factors in formal/official meetings). Nor do they usually need more than a couple of minutes to divert into joky/trivial/anecdotal asides & return - without recriminations - to the topic.

None of this is new of course - either the phenomenon or analysis of it - as this commentary in a study from the early days of Internet discussion groups shows,

The lightbulb joke is as relevant now as it was when I first read it ten years ago!