O this learning, what a thing it is!

The Shakespeare Institute

Last week the biennial International Shakespeare Conference was held at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. With only space for two hundred and thirty, places are strictly limited. Now technology is being used to open this exclusive conference up to anyone who wants to catch the lectures. A number of sessions have been recorded and made available in full online including Kiernan Ryan on Staging the Future: Shakespeare’s Universal Theatre, Dympna Callaghan on Shakespearean Lyric and Richard Wilson on Shakespeare’s Olympic Game.

One day perhaps we’ll get live broadcasting and the ability for people not in the room to interact by asking questions, but I’m probably a bit ahead of the game here!

Recording of seminars from the Shakespeare Institute have appeared on the Backdoor Broadcasting site over the last couple of years. If you like the idea of hearing lectures given by specialists from the comfort of your own home, take a look at their site: as well as Shakespeare there’s a huge range of other material available free.

Another way you can listen to university lectures is via the ITunes U channel, and some universities are posting complete courses there. I haven’t had the chance to check this out properly, but for those of you on Twitter, have a look at @iTunesU where they release information about courses on every subject from The Culture of Ancient Greece to Astronomy.

Daphne Koller

Technology is making the whole world of education more open and democratic. Why should higher education be limited to a few brief years, and to those who can afford to pay for it? This link takes you to a 20-minute lecture by Daphne Koller from Stanford University. It’s her aim to deliver courses to anyone, anywhere, who has the desire to learn, completely free.  What’s really interesting is her discussion about how important it is to move beyond lectures to engage people, and how they are finding ways of building in interaction and mentoring to students wherever they are.

I find the subject of online education fascinating:  here are just a few of the discussions I’ve picked up recently:

  • Melissa Highton from the University of Oxford has reported on some research showing how technology is changing the way people study, in particular how undergraduates and postgraduates are using social media tools. Many students use Facebook to share lecture notes, 25% of taught postgraduates use YouTube to support their studies, and 48% of taught postgraduates keep their own blogs.
  • The recently-published JISC report Researchers of Tomorrow: the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students has been looking at the behaviour of students born between 1982 and 1994. Their findings show that these digital natives are insufficiently trained in using digital information environments so they don’t use technology to its full potential. They find copyright confusing (don’t we all?) and are constrained by the difficulty of accessing resources, which may explain the additional finding that even research students are tending to use secondary rather than primary sources.
  • Great efforts are being made to increase the amount of digitised primary material held in European Museums, Libraries and Archives, as explained in this post. The challenge is not just to digitise material, but to ensure it’s fully accessible.
  • In the USA there’s an initiative to create what’s being called The Digital Public Library of America. The current aim is to “specifically support the creation of the infrastructure for a national open-access digital library,” by working together in regional hubs. It isn’t clear yet what shape the Digital Public Library might take, but it’s interesting that this attempt to open up access is being given significant funding.
  • The Open Knowledge Foundation is dedicated to opening up access to information, and runs a project called Open Shakespeare where you can find an accessible version of Shakespeare’s text as well as lots of material about his work, all of which is available for anyone to use.

In many levels of education social media tools are being creatively re-used. The idea that people around the world, of any age or background can simultaneously follow a free university-level course and feel supported while they do so, is inspiring. Hopefully everyone including life-long learners will be able to “study what [they] most affect”, and suggest:
Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies.

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3 Responses to O this learning, what a thing it is!

  1. Lucy Beveridge says:

    Please excuse my cynicism; but I’ve never forgotten the Institute student who suggested that I should rely upon…immoral earnings in order to pay my fees- and another one who plainly stated that I should not be in education at all if I was struggling for money. As a result; I find it very hard to believe that this project will be anything other than part of a two tier education system; where the recognised academic qualifications go to those who have the money while those who do not are left with a professionally useless substitute.

    • Sylvia Morris says:

      I’ve been keeping an eye on recent educational developments and developing online courses, some of them free, is very active just now. I’m sure that an expensive course at Harvard or Oxford will always be seen as the “creme de la creme” of academic achievement, but as fewer people are able to pay for them larger numbers will follow the online route. There’s a real dilemma for universities here I think.
      And in my own experience I’ve seen professional qualifications are no longer seen as essential or even desireable for many jobs which a few years ago would have required them.

  2. Lucy Beveridge says:

    True; but then again, there seems to be a great deal of expenditure in Universities that could be redirected towards bursaries.