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Centre for Online and Distance Education

RIDE 2024 - Day 1 Afternoon

Date

Written by
Clare Sansom

The Thursday afternoon keynote session at RIDE 2024 was a very special one. It included two presentations remembering and celebrating the lives of long-standing and well-loved fellows of the Centre for Online and Distance Education: Roger Mills and David Baume.

The eighteenth annual conference of the Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) at the University of London: Research in Distance Education – or RIDE – was, for the second successive year, a hybrid meeting. The face-to-face meeting was held in Senate House at the University of London and every session was also streamed online. This year it addressed the theme of Learning: Anything, Everywhere, but How? The world’s knowledge is ‘increasingly available with the swipe of a finger on a mobile device’: but what does this mean for learning? How can learning online and at a distance be best facilitated for students and those who teach them?

RIDE 2024

The Roger Mills Prize 2024 

The Roger Mills Prize for Innovation in Learning and Teaching is an annual award in Roger’s memory that was first given in 2018 and is always presented at the RIDE conference. In introducing the award, CODE director Linda Amrane-Cooper described it as one of her ‘absolute favourite’ parts of the conference. She then handed over to Professor Mary Stiasny CBE, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) of the University of London for a longer introduction and to announce the winners. 

Mary explained that the prize commemorates the major contribution to supporting innovation in learning and teaching that Roger had made during his many years associated with the University of London. This year there had been six applications covering a wide range of disciplines including digital health, Renaissance languages and cybersecurity. She had been a member of the small panel judging the applications along with Linda and CODE fellows Alan Parkinson and Shoshi Ish-Horowicz. The projects were all excellent and they had not found the decision an easy one. They were all were innovative and student-centred, clearly focused on improving outcomes for students.  

There was only one winner, however. Mary announced – to a metaphorical drum roll – that the 2024 Roger Mills Prize goes to Etheldreda Mbivnjo from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Juliana Yartey Enos from the University of Ghana School of Public Health, for an innovative transnational project entitled Fostering Students’ Personal, Career and Professional Development through Delivery of an Online Mentorship Programme. Two further projects, from Queen Mary University of London and Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt and from Goldsmiths, University of London were announced as runners-up. She then presented the prize to Ethelreda and to Dr Deda Alangea from the University of Ghana who was representing her colleague Professor Enos.

Etheldreda Mbivnjo and Juliana Yartey Enos receiving the 2024 Roger Mills Award
Etheldreda Mbivnjo and Juliana Yartey Enos receiving the 2024 Roger Mills Award

Ethelreda then presented their winning project briefly. The mentorship programme that won the award sits within an online MSc in Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy and Programming, produced collaboratively by their two institutions and awarded by the University of London. It can be taken over one or two years, and most of the students are health professionals from Africa. They are enrolled in the mentorship programme, which is designed to foster their personal and career development, at the same time as their academic work. Students are supported to 

  • Develop practical skills in leadership and decision-making. 
  • Develop their career goals. 
  • Enhance their confidence. 
  • Build networks with other sexual and reproductive health professionals within the global public health landscape. 

Students undergo an orientation when they enter the programme each September, and the information about their background and interests gathered then is used to match them with mentors. Online meetings between mentors and mentees are deliberately solutions-focused, emphasising strengths to be built on (such as finding a way for a student to present at a conference) rather than problems to be solved. The meetings continue throughout the course; the mentors and mentees decide when, and how often, to meet although a minimum of one session a month is recommended. The programme also includes small group discussions and master classes where external speakers present to the whole cohort. All this is embedded in a robust evaluation framework based on records of mentor-mentee discussions; feedback from both mentors and mentees has been almost universally positive.  

Ethelreda summed up the value, impact and transferability of the programme. Under ‘value’, she mentioned a focus on diversity and inclusion, on meeting individual students’ needs and on the scheme’s influence on institutional culture. Under ‘impact’ she highlighted the numbers of graduates moving on to senior professional positions or to PhDs, and under ‘transferability’ she mentioned the high motivation of students and mentors. She thanked the many colleagues who had been involved in the programme and ended the presentation with a quote from a mentee: “I must admit that my mentor surpassed all of my expectations, and it was simply fantastic!” 

The presentation was followed by a short discussion, focusing mainly on the training offered to mentors.  

Please Stop Teaching: Final Provocations from David Baume 

The second session was a tribute to CODE fellow David Baume, who died in July 2023 at the age of 80. It was opened by Simon Rofe, who has very recently stepped down as Deputy Director of CODE; he explained that he had had the pleasure of knowing both Roger and David during many years as a fellow, and that the session would honour David’s huge contributions to higher education in the UK and beyond. He asked Mary Fitzpatrick from the University of Limerick, Republic of Ireland and Helen King from Bath Spa University to join him as facilitators in the room for the first part of the session; Peter Hartley, now an independent consultant, facilitated the discussion online.  

David kept working until the very end of his life. During his last illness, he was working on a book with the tentative title Please Stop Teaching and this session would honour his memory by exploring some of the ‘provocations’ in that book. In 1993, he had co-founded SEDA – the Staff and Educational Development Association, working to enhance and innovate higher education through the professional development in its staff, and once he knew he was seriously ill he set out some of these thoughts – and challenges to the sector – through a letter to the organisation that later formed his own obituary. 

Simon then introduced an exercise that would form the main part of the session. We were to imagine that the next UK government – this is, after all, an election year – intends to completely reorganise quality assurance in higher education. We were to imagine a much more influential Office for Students challenging institutions to respond to a ‘Baume Manifesto’ based on the ideas in David’s book.  Delegates in the room would work in small groups to develop practical ideas based on nine short quotes from the book that they would find there; those online responded to the same questions on a padlet

Delegates were given half an hour to discuss the ‘provocations’ on their tables before coming back into a plenary session to share their ideas. The conversations were certainly lively, and the points shared in the following plenary were thoughtful and interesting.  They included: 

  • People have different ideas about the exact meaning of the word ‘teaching’. For some, including David, it implies a very didactic scenario (the ‘sage on the stage’) but for others it could be more student-centred. The phrase ‘delivery of teaching’ is even more didactic. David considered it much more important and useful to talk about (e.g.) ‘facilitating’ or ‘enabling learning’. 
  • Learning implies failure – if we can’t fail safely, we won’t be able to learn. No-one learned anything by being successful all the time. The phrase ‘pedagogy of failure’ was mentioned in one of the table discussions. 
  • The work of the American educator and culture critic bell hooks on making scholarship accessible to minority students, and particularly her book Teaching to Transgress, was recommended. 
  • Maths might be seen as a counter example to active learning; it is a fundamental subject that must be taught and assessed, and it can be difficult to work out how traditional methods can be improved on. 
  •  An alternative view is that maths students are always asked to ‘show their working’, implying that it is ‘process’ as well as ‘product’ that is assessed. There is much that those in other disciplines can learn in this. 
  • At secondary school we are largely taught to pass tests. When we get into higher education, many of us don’t have the skills we need to learn, to explore, and to read around a topic. HE needs to give students the tools they need to learn independently. 
  • Primary schools and nurseries can do active learning really well, encouraging learning and mapping when and how the children in their care acquire skills. We should be more like primary school teachers! There was a suggestion that HE lecturers should study primary school teaching to learn about (e.g.) formative assessment. 
  • Social and creative education, as taught in primary schools, is as important as formal education at all levels; it is not ‘just fun’, and it should be valued for its own sake. 
  • Students also need to be encouraged to break down barriers between disciplines: not completely, but enough to develop a breadth of understanding. 
  • A teacher (facilitator) is like a conductor with knowledge, an expert voice, passion and interest, but is more like a leader of free jazz who is able to improvise than (with apologies!) a classical conductor. 
  • We should think about what happens where there is no teacher / facilitator, as in a MOOC. These succeed because the learners are, by and large, self-directed and interested in the topic they are studying, so enough of them will stay the course. 
  • There are networks and discussion groups about how to incorporate creativity and play, and ‘gamification’, into the HE curriculum and these do seem to be slowly picking up momentum. 
  • One factor that can work against this is that our students are very time-pressured and many of them have to work. Could we include creative activities that might previously have been extra-curricular into the formal timetable, to give students ‘permission’ to take advantage of them? 
  • The session chairs highlighted a few ideas that had been added to the padlet by delegates online, focusing on opportunities for interdisciplinary education, the importance of the student voice, and the challenges and opportunities offered by the increasing role of AI, particularly in assessment. 

David has been asking us to think and ask questions about what learning is all about, and what the roles of the teacher and the learner should be. Much of this extensive discussion touched on these issues, and even those who disagreed with his broad premise – and there were a few – recognised and appreciated the lively discussion. If it can be summed up at all, it is with the ideas of the teacher as a ‘facilitator of learning’ and of ‘thinking (and learning) outside the box’, where ‘the box’ might be a classroom. And, paradoxically, the challenge of AI might now be pushing us to make overdue changes to our teaching and assessment practices, just as the pandemic did. We could end up completely rethinking the whole experience and treating students as co-creators, or it could go backwards, to traditional teaching with paper-based exams: it is up to us. Looking forward would involve looking at progress as well as process – ‘learning gain’, perhaps from a low background – and this brings us back to primary schools.  

In conclusion, the next few years’ developments. are going to be very interesting and it is sad to know that David won’t be here to see and comment on them.  

The chair then handed over to David’s son, Kit Power, to offer some final comments. His short talk was compelling and deeply moving.

Kit Power
Kit Power

Kit began by thanking all those who had worked hard to put together such an ‘appropriately provocative’ workshop and for giving him the opportunity to say a few words about his father, the man who had inspired it.   Like many sons, he had regarded his father as a brilliant, wise man, but he only realised after reading the outpouring of messages after he died how much that opinion was shared by his academic community: how widely respected, admired and enjoyed he had been. This knowledge was a great comfort to him and his family. 

He explained that the inspiration for Let’s Stop Teaching had come after the devastation of a diagnosis of stage 4 bowel cancer, in April 2023. At that point, he had asked his father what he wanted to do, and to achieve, in the time remaining to him and it had rapidly become clear that distilling his ideas into this book would be his focus. A favourite author of them both, Ian Banks, had come to the same conclusion when faced with a cancer diagnosis after starting his novel The Quarry. In David’s case, as Kit explained from ‘one of the book’s three introductions’, he wanted to make amends. He had spent most of his life as a teacher, first ‘briefly and horribly’ as a grammar-school maths teacher, but most of the time in higher education and as a teacher of HE teachers. He had taught, and sought to improve the quality of others’ teaching, but he now saw this as the wrong quest. Improving teaching was like ‘improving the internal combustion engine in an age of climate crisis’.  

David and Kit worked hard on the manuscript, completing 11,000 words in the first week and over 50,000 by the time of David’s passing on 5th July. Kit described working with his father on the book, as he grew weaker, as a ‘terrible, awesome and wonderful privilege’. He is now working hard to get it ready for publication and he expects to have news of this in the next month or two. 

Finally, Kit emphasised that Please Stop Teaching was not intended as a manifesto. Instead, it is a ‘provocation’ – the beginning of an argument for a revolution in education, which he will need others to take forward. It will be a lasting legacy for Dr. David Baume, ‘brilliant academic, fearless asker of questions… beloved husband and father’ and we, his colleagues, can help to keep this legacy alive.