Teaching and Learning At a Distance 

This file attempts to move away from the formal descriptions of processes and policies developed in educational technology, to grasp some issues of the actual practices employed by course teams and by students as they engage in their tasks in the peculiar conditions of distance education. There are, however, some methodological problems to be addressed before the discussion can proceed. 

The first problem concerns the difficulty of doing any kind of standard empirical work on 'distant' students and staff. Distance education provides particular problems involving representativeness or typicality, and difficulties for anyone wishing to use 'ethnographic' or 'participant observation' methods (especially on students), for example. Secondly, since critical analysis typically rejects empiricism,  how are the objects of analysis to be conceived if their self-sufficient status is denied? This is a special problem for those theoretical approaches, among them critical theory and Althusserianism, which conceive of the human subject in ways which are quite different to those of empirical sociology or psychology. As Bennett puts it, criticising pleas for audience research, from a 'structuralist' perspective', 1 for empirical social science, human subjects like course writers or students are somehow external to the processes which link them and constitute their roles, and have external and separate 'effects' 'of their own'. For structuralist analysis, however, these effects are not separate empirical phenomena but are determined by the ways in which subjects are themselves formed in social systems. The danger with Bennett's approach, however, is to produce an excessive formalism, to deal with human subjects only as formal 'positions', pre-constructed by a system, with only those characteristics formally permitted by positions in the discourse. 

Drawing upon work in media studies, the focus of attention  in this Chapter will be the conventions employed by participants in distance education to 'code' and 'decode' the course materials in question. 2 Conventions are not individual but collective practices, but they are not completely determined by the formal characteristics of the systems in which they are embedded. Similarly, the notions of 'coding' and 'decoding' imply that the practices of writers and students of courses are not simply identical or congruent. The use of this vocabulary has its own difficulties, though, and the issue of compatability with the concepts of critical theory used elsewhere is one. 3 Nevertheless, the chosen approach seems a possible working device to organize discussion. It remains to reinterpret empirical data, with some caution, to illustrate or reveal possibilities of a critical analysis of practices. 

Discussions of teaching at a distance have opened the conventions and the conditions of production of academic work to a new scrutiny. Teaching at a distance is much more than just university lecturing separated by physical distance, and a time interval, from the students, and operating through neutral media of transmission. As with more familiar forms of communication at a distance, such as news broadcasts or documentary on television, the forms or media intervene and structure the content. There are  also specific conditions of production of academic materials at the Open University, and these must be grasped in their specificity. Finally, the OU also provides an unusually clear case although still not a totally transparent one, for studying a neglected issue - the nature of academic work itself. 

Academic work is in principle no more mysterious or 'creative' than any other kind of mental labour, it can be argued. As with art, academic work too has conditions of production which affect it, and partially determine it. 4 In conventional universities the conditions of production are so familiar to participants, and so little discussed by outsiders, that they become difficult to identify (at least, before the recent cuts drew attention to issues like staff-student ratios). The OU shows that these conditions can vary, and this raises the possibility that many of what had been thought essential characteristics of academic work are nothing of the kind, but are effects produced by certain  traditional conditions of employment and work in conventional universities. 

The OU owes its credibility, after all, to arguments that face-to-face contact between teachers and taught is not essential, for example. As has been seen in earlier chapters, the OU has also been in the forefront of changing pedagogies, curricula, and assessment techniques. As will be explored in this chapter, multi-media teaching also has been pioneered on a much greater scale than before. The apparent success of these innovations has been sufficient for OU spokesmen to argue that the old conditions for teaching can be altered without apparent loss. It becomes important to rethink other assumptions too. Universities have often been seen, with some idealization, as the home of academic freedom, dissent, and critique. It remains to be seen if these functions too are merely the results of the old conditions.

The question can be pursued by an initial analogy, already suggested. The OU teaching system as a whole is much more like the institutions of the mass media, it can be argued, than the institutions of conventional education. Not only the broadcasts, but the correspondence units too fit the usual definitions of mass media products. 5 Seeing it this way enables a range of critical material and analyses from 'media studies' to be brought to bear. 6 Of course, factors specific to an education system and to the OU will have to be addressed to understand certain particulars. Nevertheless, critical analyses of the media as both constraining communication and as enabling it (or even constituting it) can help grasp the context offered by teaching and learning at a distance. 

The arguments that follow draw upon some personal experiences, conversations, and a some preliminary research, largely undertaken some time ago, and supported where possible by other pieces of work. These arguments cannot claim to be particularly authoritative, although it is difficult to specify what would count as authoritative in this area. They stand instead as a series of speculations, awaiting further research and clarification. Nevertheless, it is necessary to begin to raise questions and offer analyses, however preliminary, in this neglected but important area. 

It has been decided to select for particular discussion two courses only, one 'E' course (in Education Studies) and one 'U' course( in Cultural Studies), both chosen as examples of potentially 'radical' critical courses. In terms of the issues above, 'radical' courses would offer  particularly interesting cases:  does the persistence of such courses at the OU show that critique is indeed essential to any academic enterprise, or does the OU system impose such constraints, of a kind well-discussed in media studies, that any radical, critical contents are distorted and blunted? 

This approach is the opposite of the 'activist' stance adopted when studying 'ideology' in education, which typically begins by asking whether students are able to resist any non-critical, 'ideological' contents they might encounter. This perspective has been virtually ignored in what follows. Instead, a theme from critical theory is used as the basis of discussion: to what extent are critical materials defused, incorporated, or 'flattened out' in modern conditions? Seeing the problem this way involves taking a particular political stance, of course, but primarily, it is a matter of choosing a theoretical starting  point suitable for the intentions of this Chapter (pinning down the specific effects of distance education). 

It is best to begin, perhaps, with a discussion of the ways in which the OU system can actually enable the formulation and dissemination of critical materials. The concentration of resources  and power at the centre of the teaching system is used not only to enforce uniform standards in assessment or whatever, but to concentrate resources for the construction of courses. Resources available to courses are comparatively very generous, precisely because of the economies of scale mentioned earlier. OU courses can therefore concentrate skill, in terms of writing and presentation, and the use of electronic media, to produce the impressive and high-quality course materials for which the institution is famous. The OU can afford to commission the leading academics to write units or appear on individual programmes, to produce the best illustrative material, to supply specialist research and editorial staff to provide up-to-date material, and even to cooperate with academic publishers to make available cheaper editions of certain texts. None of this would be possible for most working academics in conventional universities. The splendid resources are made available to critical courses too, of course. 

The public nature of the materials also produces a focus on high standards, so that every student receives, in effect, published material in place of the usual, highly variable, lecture and seminar notes and reading lists. The system distributes its course materials very widely, to thousands of students per course, and to a much wider public in other institutions of higher education who use OU materials directly or indirectly. With such wide distribution, one of the classic claimed 'enabling' or liberating effects appears: critical material could be reproduced, and made available immediately, that is without the usual mediations of academic personnel to impose 'preferred meanings', or, more generally, without a particular 'aura' which permeates (artistic, originally) works with meanings drawn from the work's context of production. 7

Before considering this possibility further, however, it is necessary to begin by asking about the conditions that affect the production of radical materials at the OU in more detail. What are the effects of the particular collective production system at the OU? 

     Collective Production

Officially, OU courses are produced collectively, by a course team. A course team typically consists of a number of people, some full-time academics and some part-time 'consultants', producers from the BBC and an educational technologist from IET, representatives from various administrative services, and, on occasion, external examiners. As has been seen, the course team has been hailed as a significant innovation, offering a new kind of administrative and resource unit, offering a new kind of integrated production of coherent and well-written course materials. 8 In practice, however, this picture of fully integrated and genuinely collective effort can be misleading. 

On at least two courses in Education Studies, in the early years, for example, the course teams were deeply divided about the courses, contents and teaching strategies. The division turned partly upon the status of the 'new Sociology' featured in one course, and on the universality of 'rational curriculum planning' on the other. Feelings ran high enough to produce open splits in both cases. In one case, the crisis took the form of a serious dispute about the External Examiner and his proposed contribution to the course, and ended in the course team voting to reject his view, which led to his resignation as External. In the other case, the quite bitter disagreements among staff led to a managerial solution involving a new level of control being introduced. 

In one case, the disagreements became apparent during the course of some small-scale 'ethnographic' research, originally undertaken to try to establish the 'major points' being made in the course. 9 It was clear, after interviewing four major contributors to the course, that there was no agreement about what these main points might be. In what follows, these contributors have been given male pseudonyms, as is traditional. It is also necessary, perhaps, to make clear that no personal or moral criticism is intended in quoting these respondents, nor, indeed, in quoting the views of students in subsequent sections (who have been given male pseudonyms too). 

One member, Charles, described the 'new' approach embraced by his colleagues as 'philosophically fatuous . . . either trite or literal nonsense. . . verging on the cliche', and saw a need to counterbalance this approach with a different emphasis on 'realities which have been not been constructed by anyone'. One of the advocates of the 'new' approach, Barry, did not see the two emphases as necessarily incompatible, but a third member, Dustin, confirmed that the issue of balance between opposing approaches, had produced much conflict at the course team. 

The disagreements had spread to include teaching style as well, which widened to include teaching strategy. Charles saw the 'new' material in the first few units of the course as a device 'to attract students to sociological thinking', but, partly because of the 'unusually captive nature of our students', he believed it necessary to move on fairly promptly to alternative perspectives and criticisms. In his view, Alan and Barry were 'out to make converts' instead, and had definite, strong commitments to particular educational policies. Dustin agreed with one of the BBC producers on the course team who had said that 'the authors really had a pronounced desire to change teachers, but were fighting with themselves as sociologists'. Alan and Barry disagreed over this, however - one said his aim was to show teachers 'the level at which they operate and then let them make up their own minds about actual practice' while the other  expressed a desire in any remake to 'go even further next time, for example to talk about punishment. . . to draw out the institutional and political imperatives. . to underline the criticisms of the institution. . . to stress the humanistic ethic more clearly'. 

Alan and Barry had felt reservations about OU notions of 'good writing' (see below), and had deliberately avoided writing the student exercises, both 'self-assessed questions' (SAQs) and continuous assessment, especially CMAs, as a protest against the 'massive institutionalization of the Open University'. These materials were subsequently subcontracted out to 'consultants' and other members of the course team, and appeared anyway. This had produced, according to Dustin, activities which displayed a 'glorious irrelevance to the way the units develop. . . they might help make sense of the material. . . but the material doesn't grow from the exchange, your dialogue in the activity'. 

These remarks demonstrate one way in which the conflicts were 'solved' in the course team. It was clear the members concerned could not reach an agreed compromise: their personal regard for each other had faded, and there were genuine disagreements about approaches and work. These could not be allowed to appear in public, however. The solution was to utilize the power invested in the course team. 

At the level of individual unit writing, authors had to be given their head, although it was possible to intervene at a later stage. Thus Charles reported that at the final editing stage, some of the more 'extreme' parts of Alan's and Barry's units had been cut out, on the grounds that they did not represent 'good writing'. Charles and a professional from the OU's Editorial Services were able to persuade, or if necessary outvote, an author at this stage and on these grounds. 

On another occasion, the course team decided on a crucial matter of course presentation. A fifth member, Edward, had wanted his units to be openly critical of the 'weaknesses' of the early units, but the course team voted to 'tone down' the criticism, and the introduction to these later units 'came out much softer and less provocative in tone, and seemed to move fairly gently in the other direction rather than contrasting'. 

The units written by consultants had also led to problems. They had been submitted very late and had been little discussed in draft form by the course team. When they did appear, the majority of the course team found them 'unacceptable' and they had to be hastily rewritten in parts. These units, according to Dustin, accordingly constituted a particularly 'hazy' part of the course. 

On another course team in Education studies, a consultant was used to try to resolve a similar problem of conflict among members with rival perspectives. He was engaged to write an introductory unit which would clarify and locate different perspectives in an overarching 'typology'. Although the unit was written, it did not meet with universal consent as a solution, and thus tended to stand rather on its own, despite appearing officially as an introduction and guide to the course. Here again, though, the intention was to manage conflict for the sake of appearances, to conform to the ideal of integrated production, this time by representing alternatives as acceptable and agreed options within an agreed overall framework. 

Finally, the research revealed that an ability to manipulate the way a course team works seems an important skill for a Course Team Chairman. Charles, placed in charge of another course team later, made sure a named member was given the responsibility for writing student activities, so as to thwart any non-compliance of the kind he had met with Alan and Barry earlier. He had also remembered the technique of intervening to get his way at the final editing stage, and had reproduced and strengthened the practice. Later, other senior staff in the Education Faculty were also given a right to intervene in determining the contents of courses, to represent 'the interests of the University', after the notorious 'Gould Report' had accused certain courses of what amounted to Marxist bias. 10

The implications for students and tutors of these points will be considered below. These incidents also show that collective responsibility for course production has a darker side than the official view of consensus and cooperation. Course team authors have to have their work inspected, criticized, and, on occasion, voted on by the entire course team, and this can be crucial at particular stages of production. Given the composition of some course teams, this could mean that specialists will have to have their work approved by laymen, and 'radicals' will have to submit themselves to a general and not necessarily well-informed consensus. 

Much depends on how this is done, and what criteria are used in coming to a decision, but there are clearly some grounds for suggesting that the course team could present a particularly detailed form of control of radical ideas and arguments in the name of preserving some 'general interest'. Giving each member a vote on content offers a potentially 'malicious egalitarianism' in Adorno's phrase. 11 Academic work in other institutions is also increasingly controlled by non-academics, of course, but these opportunities are so far still limited to fairly gross matters of resources, and still resisted to some extent by the older forms of collegiate management, where they survive. The OU innovation of the course team as the major form of organization of academic work brings new possibilities of even more detailed control of content, presentation, teaching strategy, student assessment and forms of involvement, and relations to other elements in the course. 

     'Good Writing' and 'Good Broadcasting' 

'Good writing' and 'good broadcasting' are determined by a set of conventions that seem to have widespread support, and that offer one area at least where laymen feel able to challenge the right of academics to include what they want to in their courses. Conventions of good writing and good broadcasting are not just neutral, however, although that is often how they are presented. Teaching at a distance involves academics submitting work to these conventions, permitting others to mediate that work through these conventions, and leaving a tangible product that can be further mediated, this time by readers and viewers. Traditional academic work has its conventions, of course, and conventions are not always 'alienating' - but they do have crucial effects. It has already been seen that, in one case at least, notions of 'good writing' had a strategic value in conflicts over content among academics, for example. Conventions can affect content in much subtler ways, however. These notions can also be used at course team level as the 'general interest' which all members share, and which  any radical material has to consider. Given the collective nature of production outlined above, common conventions take on particular significance. 

To some extent, conventions of 'good writing' have been discussed already, (see file). The educational technologists had particular conventions, based on their notions of 'effective communication', it was argued. These ranged from avoiding 'scholastic displays' to operating with strict definitions of 'closure' in a particular discourse derived from general systems theory. Although overwhelmingly rejected by most authors in this 'hard line' form, many of these conventions were common enough in a less precise form, and were preserved in the advice provided by editors, course assistants and media professionals. Even hard-line educational technology  was never far removed from the 'common-sense' perceptions of the 'ordinary consciousness', as Chapter Two argued. This, and the marked division of labour in course production, and the effects of constraints of time and space, made this advice very hard to ignore. 

Thus authors were advised to use 'plain English',  to minimize 'jargon', and to write in a 'suitable' style, especially one which would 'involve' the students. Although some courses were tested on panels of students first, and although some forms of 'feedback' were useful in rewriting materials, all this had to be done largely in the absence of any actual students, and thus in a very abstract and general way. No-one could actually know what was the 'right' amount of jargon, for example, or whether particular terms or arguments were 'too difficult'. The conventions of the course team were likely to offer the most effective kind of advice on these matters, although particularly confident individuals do seem able to resist in certain circumstances. 12 

Further, although other types of mass media products had developed their own characteristic codes and conventions to appeal to particular audiences, or to 'involve' them, none of these could be adopted directly. This was a specifically 'educational' kind of writing, which had to be pedagogic, as well as suitably 'serious' and academically respectable, 13 especially given the early fears about standards. Thus students could not be 'involved'in the same way that readers of thrillers are involved by a particular narrative form in the text, for example, and educational broadcasts could not use the same devices as, say soap operas to keep an audience, or appeal to different levels of knowledge in the audience. 14 

Educational writing and broadcasting, in Arts and Social Sciences especially, face difficult and familiar pedagogic tasks. On the one hand, they have to be 'popular' enough, close enough to students' experiences to be comprehensible, and capable of generating feelings of involvement and interest. On the other, they have to offer a distinctive, 'theoretical' perspective, occupying a different space to popular discourses, developing specialist concepts and procedures, and constructing specialist 'problems'. 15 The usual way in which these difficulties are handled, and a very common one at the OU, involves using certain conventions of a 'realist' narrative. 

There are several pieces which discuss the issue of 'realism' collected together in one of the OU Course Readers, 16 and several course units also deal with the theme. 17. Maccabe's discussion locates the key features of 'classic realism' in the manner in which different discourses are displayed and organized in a text. 18 (and see file) .A number of limited accounts and practices are presented for the reader, and arranged in a hierarchy by the narrative, which thereby leads the reader towards the 'true' interpretation of events. This discussion takes on particular implications for notions of ideology, since a 'realist' discourse pre-constitutes a position for the reader, as 'spectator' or onlooker as the events unfold under the control of the narrative. In Maccabes' view, this process is tantamount to the construction of the subject in ideology, 'interpellation' in Althusserian terms. 19 (and see file)

The discussion has implications for 'socialist realism' too, since Maccabe was concerned to intervene in an older debate about using art to convey socialist interpretations of history and contemporary events. 20 In this and in subsequent interventions, Maccabe was to argue that conventional forms of socialist realism would in effect cancel the critical impact of the radical content. Conventional forms, such as attempts to reconstruct historical settings 'authentically', invite conventional responses, such as complaints about the 'accuracy' of details, or a tendency to view a piece as another 'costume drama'. 21 Similarly, attempts to adopt deliberately 'popular' forms of communication - such as using personal 'stories' to carry a burden of explanation of the course of events and to engage the sympathies of the reader or viewer - run the risk of losing precisely what is central to socialist accounts. (This is, of course, very debatable in itself - for one author, it is a matter of 'key concepts. . . mode of production, uneven development, colonialism and imperialism'. 22) Instead of encouraging active, critical analysis by the viewers, conventional forms constitute the viewer as a passive onlooker using his 'commonsense' to interpret events. 

There are some clear parallels in these debates with discussions of the characteristic forms of educational materials. [NB This is developed later in a conference paper].  In one of the few accounts to address these themes so far, Wexler has argued that History textbooks in American Schools employ 'symbolic methods' which 'create an appearance of completeness and hence of matter-of-factness', and argues for analyses of the 'knowledge industry' that will 'break the spell of realism through narrative'. 23 

More directly still, Thompson has discussed those OU television programmes which employ a 'case-study' approach, using terms drawn from the 'realism' debates. In his analysis, the personal experiences of the unemployed persons interviewed in one programme, and the theoretical commentary which accompanied these interviews,  were ordered by a 'metadiscourse', as in classic realism. This metadiscourse for Thompson was one of 'positivism/empiricism', however, which quietly privileged a 'neo-classical' account of unemployment, rather than the more critical or sympathetic one which the authors had intended. 24 Thompson directs attention to the production techniques and 'filmic codes' responsible for this transformation, and ends with a plea for new 'interrogative' techniques to be used to enable viewers to 'deconstruct' the discourses presented by personal experiences, even if this were to infringe the conventions of 'good television'. 

It is clear that these problems apply to written materials too. OU units typically follow 'realist' strategies in handling academic arguments and personal experiences: a number of different accounts are displayed, analysed, criticized, and ordered, and some 'metadiscourse' is used to integrate and resolve them. This structure applies as much to the radical courses as to any others. The organizing discourse in question need not be agreed between authors, of course. Indeed, there are clear differences of opinion on this matter, in both of the 'radical' courses in question. Some authors believed that a 'committed' stance was desirable, with an open attempt made in the units to privilege one particular theoretical and political discourse. There were recognized dangers in this approach, in terms of accusations of 'bias' or risking 'alienation' from the students who might prematurely reject an openly 'marxist' piece, for example, as Barry recognized. Other authors adopted a different resolution of different accounts - leaving students to 'make up their own minds' (common on the Cultural Studies course) , or offering different alternatives as part of 'an intellectual game' (Charles' approach in Education Studies). These appproaches run the risks identified in Thompson's piece and discussed below - students will draw upon their 'own' comonsense conventions to resolve the different approaches or play the intellectual game. 

Some effort is usually made, in practice, to guide the ways in which students receive the text, however. OU units address 'the student' directly, with instructions in the texts such as 'Before we begin this next section of analysis, I want you to do a short experiment', or 'Write down your answer to the following question in the space below'. There are pieces of advice written in the same pseudo-personal style, such as 'As the article . . . in the  Reader (which you should already have read) shows. . . ', or 'Turn to Reading 2 now' , 'Stop the tape here and answer question 3', and so on. Less directly than these 'tutorials in the text', where the author is allowed to speak in the first person too, arguments and evidence are categorized and sorted, commented upon, and summarized. Further reading is pointed to, and questions for discussion are suggested. While the intention of all this direction is a critical one in the courses under discussion, the procedures run the risk of a 'sad irony. . . students are pushed even more firmly into accepting the programme maker's [or author's] view of reality. 25

'Supplementary materials', supplied only to registered students, address the students in distinctive ways too. Here, specific advice is given about how to cope with the course, take notes, and prepare for assignments: '. . . [the Study Guides]. . . indicate where you can cut corners and. . . help you deal with those aspects of the course materials which previous students have found unclear or difficult' -  for example 'You will probably be unfamiliar with this concept and may have found the discussion of it in Unit 3 a little abstract', or 'Rather than read the set article. . . read instead the short contributions. . . in [the Reader]'. Study guides for one of the radical courses have even briefer summaries of 'difficult' material, 'easier' definitons of concepts (sometimes dictionary definitions), or re-statements of the aims of the different units or the intentions of the writers. In the later courses at least, the 'Supplementary Materials' with the assignments also contain 'student notes', which offer a good deal of advice about what to emphasise in 'your answer', and sometimes recommend further consultations with tutors about details in essay plans. Here, a more 'realistic' stance prevails: regardless of the criticisms of reification or realism in the texts, students are being taught to process educational materials.

In both cases, a position is clearly prepared for 'the student' to occupy, in advance of any actual knowledge of any students. In the case of the student activities in the units, 'the student' is someone who wants to stop reading to reflect and pursue implications and then compare his or her thoughts with the author's, to pursue his or her 'own' interests further with extra reading in more depth, to engage critically with the material he or she encounters in the text, even to seize upon assumptions or flaws in the unit itself - in short, the student of the units or broadcasts is the ideal mature student, challenging, critical, with a certain independence, but still firmly contained within and committed to the framework of the pieces. All this is quite abstract, or even imaginary, of course. 

The student of the Supplementary Materials is rather different. He or she has limited time and has to 'cut corners', he or she wants the core of the argument rather than having to read any unduly 'difficult' material, and he or she has a well-organized and rather calculating approach to assignments. These two  'students' together represent the two sides of a unity, it will be argued below - it is these two kinds of students that have to be 'involved' in the courses, in order to discharge the requirements of both explicit and hidden curricula. These two sides represent the necessary and permitted aspects of being a student in teaching at a distance. 

One alternative mode of address, much discussed in the literature on cinema or television documentary, implies suitably radical forms and techniques for radical contents, with correspondingly different students in mind. Those forms favoured in the discussions include 'avant-gardism' as in the French 'New Wave', or the use of other forms of 'distanciation', such as those employed in radical theatre. 26 These forms require the audience to engage in active work to construct meanings, rather than being passive spectators. They break the unity between realist discourse and the pre-constituted position of the spectator. Equivalents for written materials are less often discussed these days, but they might include styles of writing based on James Joyce, perhaps, or even Theodor Adorno. 27 To suggest these techniques, or to propose a role for Regional tutorials or TV broadcasts as radical theatre would be to invoke a reaction that would only show the strength of the conventions of good writing as educational practice. OU programmes which stage excerpts from plays can do so in an avant-garde manner, but then 'art' in public broadcasting is permitted a certain licence. 

Considered purely as a matter of abstract form, one beginning might be made following suggestions in Maccabe, in Thompson, and in one of the units in one of the courses - to make a television programme about how OU programmes are made, or to write a unit about unit writing at the OU. These efforts would at least 'bare the device of [the piece's] own assemblage. . . force a moment of estrangement and critical distance'. 28

Of course, this too would be idealistic - OU teaching materials are as 'realist' as they are partly because they are written with an interest in future assessment. OU writers have to transmit information clearly and in a readily understood manner, to an abstract audience, since they are also preparing to grade that audience on those writings. This constraint undoubtedly affects the 'style'of conventional teaching too, of course. There is a necessary dualism in all higher education. A necessary contradictory unity between the two aspects of the 'student' mentioned above, is complemented by a similar one for staff. Higher education does pursue knowledge 'for its own sake', from 'interest', as critique, but it also faces the mundane but equally central task of 'getting people through' a public assessment scheme. Operating an assessment scheme involves active and expert participation from the teaching staff too, including the need to offer materials in an assessable form. 

Conventions of good writing or good television can be analysed in the abstract, as a matter of pure form but it has become important, in the literature on film and television, to consider the specifics of production and reception as factors in the debate. In certain specific circumstances, it has been argued, 'socialist realism' can have a radicalizing effect. 29 The specific circumstances of writing and broadcasting at the OU at the production end have been discussed, and may well offer less space for experiment than commercial cinema or television. Because academics do not have much control over the form in which their writings or broadcasts appear, and because this form is 'overdetermined' by an 'educational' context, even radical course materials have to take on the forms of conventional pedagogic discourses, along with all the other materials. Nevertheless, it might still be possible for radical aims to be realized if students could 'decode' materials adequately. It is to the difficult issue of student reactions to course materials that the discussion must now turn. 

     Students: Reactions and Constructions 

Audience reaction to mass media products can be expected to be highly variable in principle for a number of reasons. The messages themselves are 'polysemic', inherently capable of multiple interpretations apart from the 'preferred' ones of the authors. Indeed, some analyses admit an endless number of possible interactions between the signs in the message - the perpetual 'unmotivated play of developing symbols'. 30 Even the older analyses stress the complex social variables which stand between the receivers of the messages and the messages themselves and which affect the interpretations or decodings that the audience can perform - hence the typical findings of complexity and variety in the classic work attempting to pin down actual 'effects' of, say, violent television programmes. 31

It has previously been argued that the conventions of good writing construct positions for students, and so do the techniques in educational technology, and the work of the SRD. Of course, these preconstructed positions might not be the ones taken up by actual students. Very little research has been done on the actual ways OU students do decode the messages they receive from the teaching system, however, and it  was necessary originally to extrapolate from some research on conventional students, and speculate about this problem. Now there is more work available to assist the speculations a little. 

When students read or watch OU materials, for example, they probably do so with a different set of orientations from those of the reader or viewer 'for pleasure', or from the professional academic or critic: OU students know they are going to be assessed (and, as suggested above, OU authors know students are going to be assessed too). 

A concern with assessment and grading can produce a definite 'instrumental' reading of course materials. An instrumental orientation has been found to be common among conventional students, who search materials for 'cues' about the contents of subsequent tests, sort material according to whether it will or will not form the basis of an answer, and decode arguments as abstract recipes or tips to guide the writing of test answers. 32 Although students working at a distance from staff and from each other are not in exactly the same position as conventional students, an instrumental reading of course materials can still occur. 

In the 'ethnographic' research exercise undertaken to test the effectiveness of an Education Studies course in changing the 'constructs' employed by teachers, 33 an instrumental orientation appeared in the reasons given for taking the course, for example. Many teachers chose Education Studies courses because, in those days, they could get maximum 'credit exemptions' if they did. Some also had a particular professional interest in bringing themselves up to date, and had chosen the course expecting it to be rather like an in-service professional course. Others chose the course because they felt they had covered some of the ground already, or because they had no other choice, having taken other Education Studies courses earlier. None of those interviewed had chosen the course because they felt in need of some new thinking about education. Again, there is no intention to condemn these students, of course. 

It was expected that the course in question would cause a conflict with many of the views of the teachers who were taking it. The members of the Course team also expected this, and had deliberately included certain 'points of contact' where critical implications for conventional views were to be raised explicitly: arguments designed to counter commonly-held views, for example; case studies of controversial practice; or exercises in the texts where students were invited to list their views and where the unit would go on to criticize some commonly-held ones; demonstrations of critique, and so on. On the whole, the authors had anticipated the views of teachers very well, and had provided materials that should have engaged critically with the views of all the students interviewed. In one case in particular, an interviewee's views corresponded almost word for word with those specifically discussed in a student exercise, for example. 

The research was initially designed to see how students managed these critical materials, whether they changed their own views as a result (the intended effect), whether they were able to criticize the views expressed in the course in equally rational terms (still acceptable as a response), or whether they used certain less rational techniques to stave off criticism of their views (such as abusive and ad hominem criticism of the course team). One unexpected but clear finding was that many students had avoided the critical implications of the course by not really reading very much of it! 

When students were visited and interviewed half way through the course, for example, the 'points of contact' that had been predicted which should have led to discussion had hardly been noticed at all: the course material had been attended to very selectively, in two main ways. 

First, there were clear signs of classic instrumentalism among students. They had focused primarily upon getting through the assessment burden, and had read the course largely in order to compose suitable answers for the asignments. One case in particular shows how much of a course can be omitted by a highly instrumental student. 

Mr. Wavendon had wanted a degree to consolidate his position as a teacher, even though he believed that degrees were now 'devalued', because everyone in teaching now seemed to have one. He had chosen his first year Foundation course because it most nearly coincided with his interests, but had chosen a second-level Education Studies course 'purely and simply because of an ulterior motive - getting the degree easily': he 'would not dream of following an Education course if there were no [credit] exemptions'. 

Mr Wavendon had omitted parts even of his Foundation course, because he had certain objections to sections on theology, and was not interested in music. At the detailed level, he scorned students who did the non-assessed exercises in the texts as 'not very intelligent', and claimed to have 'got through A100 [the Arts Foundation Course] without opening half the units'. He had every intention of pursuing a completely instrumental approach to the Education Studies course: 'I'll mostly calculate what is required'. When visited during and just after the course, this is exactly what he said he had done. 

Mr Wavendon had focussed exclusively on the assignments, and had approached the first assignment by '[going] through Units 1-7 looking for appropriate headings. I'll take what is required, take some from the Reader, and put it together. I'll tell them exactly  what they want to hear'. He had taken some trouble to establish his tutor's preferences, especially in terms of 'essay style', and had attended tutorials with the main intention of 'psycho-analysing tutors. . . I learned nothing about the course but I learned quite a lot about her [his A100 tutor]'. He had also learned that it was possible to 'frighten [a tutor] with an appeal if it goes against me [if he got a low grade]'. 

At the end of the course, he confessed he had 'given [the course] about twenty minutes before the exam', and had coped by skimming through the set books. He was able to show many of the Units still in their envelopes, unopened. He had made sustained contact with only one block of the course - there had been asignments on the block, and it had covered material which had some particular professional relevance as well. He remembered very little about any of the arguments, and his own scathing and sceptical views about education and Education Studies had remained unaltered. His thoroughly minimalist strategy had resulted in grades of C, C, and B for his essays, and a Grade 4 (bare pass) overall. This was an acceptable result as far as he was concerned: had he wanted a higher grade he would have produced just enough more work to get it. 

The careful sequencing of arguments, the internal links between theory, case study, explanation, debate and further reading, the efforts of the authors, educational technologists and other members of the course team, and all the arguments about how best to sequence the course had all been sidestepeed by the selective neglect of this student. Mr. Wavendon had imposed his own sequences and priorities on course materials, based on the perceived demands of the different assignments. 

Mr. Wavendon will also serve to introduce the second 'main way' in which course materials can be decoded very selectively: his own strong views about education and his part in it also served as a 'filter' to reinterpret the course. Like many other teachers,  Mr. Wavendon held very cynical views about educational theory which served to reduce and devalue it well before any actual contact was made with this course. He had a marked tendency to reduce all theoretical arguments to a matter of 'style' or 'fashion', and connected the display of these views in courses or among colleagues with underlying careerism or hypocrisy on the part of the persons involved. His view of the course team, for example, was that they were 'ridden with guilt. They know what they are doing is completely worthless and they had to persuade themselves it was of great value'. 

These remarks were made without any real contact with the course, and certainly without any contact at all with the course team, and seemed to serve as part of a defensive strategy operated against any arguments likely to disagree with his own. In their way, stances like these are bourgeois variants of the 'penetrations and limitations' 34 of working class culture: there is a certain level of insight there, into the concealed conflicts and pressures behind the smooth appearances of OU courses, but the insight is limited by a personalized and cynical account of academic argument, and, as with several other students interviewed too, an uncritical notion of a 'proper education', with 'proper subjects' taught by 'proper academics', which serves to devalue OU Education Studies (or, one suspects, any other actual courses if necessary). 

Mr. Wavendon, like most of the others, also saw the course as simply advocating 'progressive' methods and other fashionable causes, and this helped to locate it in a familiar 'professional' discourse, complete with standard responses, equally valid 'opposite points of view', suitable compromises and so on. 

Other students did not display instrumental orientations quite as clearly . Most of the others seem to have read a lot more of the early course materials, and several claimed to have read all the early units and follow up articles in the Reader, and to have watched all the TV programmes. Radio programmes and set book readings were more usually omitted, however, and several students reported being increasingly selective as the course progressed. A common approach was to read course units fairly quickly and superficially at first, making notes or underlining passages, then going back over the material when assignments arrived. This looser form of instrumentalism is ambiguous, however - some felt that gaining grades should not be the main concern in a 'proper education', but others simply did not know what to leave out, and complained about having to 'wade through. . . irrelevant material', with insufficient guidance, until the assignment arrived (Study Guides are now much more explicit, perhaps). 

When it came to writing assignments, many employed the same sort of strategy as Mr Wavendon, sorting course material to assemble a safe answer, while keeping their personal views to themselves. Most students had learned to do this from previous experience at College, or from earlier courses at the OU. Some tutors had been helpful to students, showing them how to put arguments into 'all this academic language', for instance. 

The second interviews, half way through the course, asked students to report what they saw as the 'main points' contained in the materials they had read, and whether anything they had encountered had conflicted with their own views about teaching. Answers varied considerably, from a student who could not remember a single 'main point', although he had just submitted two (fairly successful) asignments, to a student who remembered the basics of the arguments in the first two course units - apparently, one of the local tutors had stressed these as the main points. This student was also able to draw some implications from these basics, and illustrate what he meant with some examples from his own school. Most other students fell between these two extremes described above. None could draw any implications for areas other than those discussed in the course - each was asked, but none saw any implications for teaching at the OU, for example. 

The third interviews, at the end of the course, elicited no further 'main points', and few students had really read the later units. (The Course Team, it will be recalled had spent some time discussing the relation of these later units to the earlier ones!) No student reported any direct conflicts with their own views. 

Only one student reported that reading the course had produced any change in his opinions: Mr Gibbon reported feeling more convinced that 'progressive methods. . . could work', and, after watching a TV 'case-study' programme, had concluded that progressive methods were not as 'wishy-washy' as he had believed. Another student had felt the course had helped explain his own personal career and the failures of his fellows in a 'working class' area, but he accounted for those failures in terms that the course itself had strongly criticized. 

Perhaps the most dramatic effect was reported by Mr Bedford, who had become interested in the work of Goffman, featured in the course and dealt with on the Social Science Foundation Course (D100), which he had also taken. Mr Bedford had been the least instrumental of all and had cheerfully accepted a low grade overall as the price to be paid for having 'done his own thing'. He had analysed his marriage using terms he said he had read in Goffman, and had concluded the marriage was an inauthentic 'presenting of selves'. This analysis had persuaded him of the need to end the marriage - and indeed the Bedfords did separate during the course of the research! Mr Bedford used the same analysis in his own teaching too, seeing the need to break down false relationships between lecturers and students in the College where he worked. Even here, though, it is clear that Goffman had been mediated through an existing 'existentialist' ethic, and, if anything, it had been D100 which had produced the personal implications. 

Most others read the course in terms of their familiar 'professional' discussions of 'progressive' versus 'traditional' methods. Some reported that the course had suported their faith in 'progressive methods' (described variously as 'not shouting at the children', organizing multi-disciplinary work, or developing 'open-plan' teaching). One couple supported progressive methods during the taping of the interview, but expressed negative stereotypes of pupils ('subbies', 'less intelligence than my dog'), and talked with relish of the benefits of corporal punishment, when the interview was concluded, and the tape recorder switched off! One student recognized himself as 'the sort of teacher the course was criticizing', but dealt with any critical implications by advocating 'balance', a toleration for both progressive and traditional styles, and a pragmatic intention to use 'whatever worked' according to 'the personality of the teacher', a widespread defensive approach. 

It  is worth recording that few academic critics of the course, and only one of the actual authors, saw the course as simply supporting progressive methods. Indeed, the authors included material criticizing progressive methods in ways which should have complemented the hostile views of many of the students. The authors also intended to introduce a theoretical level of discussion about progressive methods, which would proceed in a much more reflexive way than is usual in normal teacher professional discourse, aiming precisely to see both progressive and traditional methods as 'social constructs', as equally 'ideological'. 

The course team in fact were very disappointed by what they had been able to find out about student reactions. Charles and Dustin had concluded, largely from asignments received, that students had not 'read the material properly, had not read it in depth', at least among the 'bottom 90 per cent'. Students had 'done dreadful violence to even simple ideas. . . They translated the ideas into very conventional understandings of the classroom'. Barry reported : 

'a very docile reaction. . . A lot of students were not disturbed very much, they saw it as another view. . . A lot of students are able to go through the course without grasping what it's all about. I used to believe there'd be a substantial impact, that the force of ideas were enough to do that. . I'm much less confident [now]. . . it looks as if these views can be incorporated within existing sets of attitudes within schools, and can be seen [even] as. . . enabling manipulative strategies and so on. ' 
Some staff members saw this result as a design problem, a result of trying to flout the conventions of good writing, a matter of pitching the course at the  wrong level, or making it too complex. Others raised the more interesting possibility that the OU system itself might be responsible too, especially with its absence of face-to-face contact 'where [a Sociologist] can really disturb them'. This point wil be discussed below in more detail. 

It might be expected, perhaps, that the case of teachers taking Education Studies courses might produce a particularly concentrated form of both instrumentalism and reductionism (to 'professional' perspectives). Of course, many OU students are teachers, and many others do take courses for instrumental or 'professional' reasons. Further, the anti-theoretical stance of many members of the teaching profession has been well-documented 35

It seems reasonable to expect anyone with previous educational experience to bring their abilities at coping with assessment to their OU studies though. Any capacity to 'play the game' with assessment will  probably be applied unevenly, towards the ends of courses, perhaps, or in particularly pressing circumstances, or when the course material happens to be less interesting but still compulsory, but that capacity will always be there, latent, as an option. 

In the absence of a student culture at the OU to 'wise up' newcomers, 36 previous experience is likely to be the only source of such capacities. With no collective subcultural efforts devoted to refining the techniques, considerable variability in their use might be expected. Perhaps this also explains the advantage possessed by the well-qualified, discussed earlier. Perhaps an ability to decode OU courses in ways which permit the efficient pursuit of desired grades is a particular kind of 'cultural capital' necessary for success. 

This is one way to grasp the advice given to students in the Study Guides, mentioned earlier. Advice about coping with assignments can be given in conventional education (where it is certainly as important) in all sorts of subtle and discreet ways, by the provision of a range of 'cues' for  example. 37 In the OU system, although individual tutors might be able to provide general advice, the only definite 'cues', from the persons who designed the assignments, must be provided in a written and relatively public form. 

Nevertheless, drastic selective neglect would be an activity going beyond even the frank advice to 'cut corners'. Activities like the ones engaged in by Mr. Wavendon seem to be well beyond what was anticipated by the designers of the teaching system. The student, in a 'telling' system was expected to be a relatively passive 'receiver', rather than one actively imposing meaning on the materials received. Even as a passive receiver, a certain complexity was considered - certain levels of knowledge or different learning styles were part of the apparatus of educational technology. All other student characteristics were considered irrelevant, merely subjective or personal. There was no interest in patterned deviant responses likely to be generated as 'unintended consequences' of the teaching system, and no research strategy was designed to examine them. 

Yet although it is tempting to follow the classic analyses of student instrumentalism and see these activities as a romantic deviance, or even 'resistance', another interpretation is also possible. Radical, analytical course materials are being 'managed' by these strategies in this case. Student 'subjectivity', or student subcultural responses (including class and professional subcultures) are capable of being used as a resource to reduce and defuse potentially reflexive knowledge, to refuse an engagement with critique, or to immunize 'practical ideologies'. 

Finally, for instrumentalism especially, what is striking is the convergence between student strategies and the reductions and operationalisms of educational technology. Both approaches have the effect of reducing academic materials to objects which are organized according to largely strategic considerations; both pursue an 'efficient' approach to their given ends; both operate with an indifference to anything that can not be operationalized as a means to those ends. Student instrumentalism as an orientation is thus a kind of deep conformity to the logic of the system after all. Far from being deviant, it is almost openly encouraged by the Study Guides as a necessary approach for survival in the teaching system, and is often implicit in discussions of 'study skills'. It is a complement to the official ideology of course production, rather than a deviant response. 

Instrumentalism is not confined just to students as a strategy or orientation. Staff instrumentalism in higher education is little researched, but as usual OU studies have shed some light on this neglected area too, as the 'Discussion' shows. Finally, given the reported demoralization in the British education system as a whole, following rationalization, cuts, and mergers, perhaps there is another parallel to be drawn: with instrumentalism as an orientation to the demands placed upon assembly-line workers. 38 These parallels suggest social contexts for instrumental behaviour, and help to move away from too specific or too subjective a level of analysis. 

Finally, it is possible to reinterpret work on instrumentalism as a matter of conventions, again, in 'coding' as well as in 'decoding' practices, guiding the production of staff and student work. 'Essay production' at a distance, as a rational exercise, might even reproduce, at least in its most efficient practitioners, reciprocal notions of 'good writing' to those discussed above (with the exception of actual exercises to involve the reader, of course). Perhaps the hidden curriculum of essay writing in an open distance system of higher education emphasises not so much the playful 'aristocratic distant' style of the conventional system (in France anyway), 39  but more the solid skills of educational realism. Perhaps the most successful students are the ones who have the 'textual competence' to recognise the requirements of different 'genres' when processing educational materials. 40 Textual competence here would show a non-radical side, of course, instead of acting as a kind of popular resource to resist preferred meanings in media products. 

To the student instrumental, course materials are stripped of their attempts to engage students in discussion, interesting but non-assessed case-study broadcasts are ignored, and any attempts to invite open participation, any self-critiques, witty contradictions, ironies, parodies, or other rhetorical 'signals' which survive in the texts are simply skipped. Radical and 'ideological' course materials are all alike: many students seemed unable to distinguish between courses in Education, especially if they were taking several at once. At the level of the  hidden curriculum, they are indistinguishable. 

OU students are left very much to their own devices in the system. This is sometimes celebrated by students themselves as a desirable outcome, as a compliment to the students' 'maturity', for example, but it can also encourage 'immature' behaviour, such as switching off a television programme because of an objection to the dress or nationality of the academic presenting it. It is possible for students to remain isolated in the system, and, for some, this is a most desirable option, helping them avoid any of the risks of academic encounters. The system for its part has always been indifferent to the 'private' side of the OU student's life, much as the uses to which products are put are of no real concern to the manufacturer. This is some sort of guarantee against any undue influence of the OU system, any 'bias', for example, but it also delivers course materials into the hands of pre-existing orientations which can decode them in the most conservative ways. 

This result has always threatened radical courses, especially those which attempt to include 'popular' material as a common resource and then try to 'go beyond' this material into a more critical level. If Education Studies courses run the risk of students staying at their 'professional' level and reducing or ignoring the critical discussions of that material, Cultural Studies courses seem likely to encounter a parallel difficulty. Experience with Media Studies courses in schools, for example, has shown some pupil resistance to the 'theoretical' parts of the course which try to locate media products in some sort of social context. Pupils find sociological or historical analyses 'boring', it seems, and find ways to omit them if possible. 41. Part of the problem might indeed lie  in the ways in which these areas have been defined as 'cultural enclaves', but redefining the 'theoretical object' to emphasises 'struggle' is not enough. 42 Critiques of ideology, however defined, are not likely to be 'popular': trying to smuggle them in on the shirt tails of a programme of already popular material is not likely to solve the genuine difficulties. Indeed, radical critiques might well find their toughest opposition with popular materials - a pre-exisitng, widespread, sophisticated and conservative 'knowledge' which will seem self-sufficient and adequate. 43 Against it, theoretical analysis will seem irrelevant, unnecessary, a distraction, dilletante or ambivalent: if popular knowledges are considered important as sources of genuine insight, as genuine resources for analysis on some occasions, it is difficult to render them problematic, limited, or incomplete in general. 44 

To expect course materials to be able to somehow 'break through' the everyday ideologies lived by students immediately, by the sheer 'force of ideas', or by more effective design, is naive and idealistic, especially when those materials are written in such a familiar style, and enmeshed in the familiar academic game. The course teams of both radical courses were well-enough acquainted with radical ideas, after all, but even they failed to break the grip of the hidden curriculum at the OU. As a result, although student essays might look competent enough in handling radical arguments and 'applying' them to contemporary events, they too could be seriously misleading, a gloss, concealing as much doubt and conflict as 'well-written' courses. As has been argued, the professional analysts of student assessment had decided long ago to abandon any claims about the validity of the exercise. There is thus a sense in which communication at a distance can become deeply insincere, and mystified, on the part of both teacher and taught. 


More recent work, conducted by newer members of the OU's Institute of Educational Technology (IET), sheds some further light on the speculative possibilities discussed above. The work is conducted from perspectives and with intentions which are different from the ones deployed here, so the two sorts of research can not be just added together. Nevertheless, a brief review of this later work is worthwhile, to see if it contradicts (at least) any of the above speculations. 

At the level of course teams and the dynamics of collective production, a substantial ethnographic piece of work by Riley provides some support, in fact. Riley has discovered a considerable amount of stress and anxiety behind the official 'rational planning' model of the course team, especially 'when the course team commented on a member's draft work'. 45 Defensive strategies to cope with these tensions varied, from playing a 'proper academic game of getting in 999 different. . . pieces of work [into the draft]' to 'losing interest'. Relations between members and the team were seen as matters of 'negotiation and power', but the ability of course team chairmen to have their way seems more variable, especially once writing tasks have been assigned and individual authors allowed to proceed with them. 46 Authors have a range of fascinating public and private 'strategies and tactics' for dealing with any conflicts, including the defensive strategies above, and  other ways of forming alliances or devaluing criticisms. It is clear that criticism can be taken personally, and that it does affect some individuals very deeply, nonetheless. 47

Chairpersons can exercise considerable control in certain circumstances and with some individuals, like the author who, faced with a meeting of Chairman and editors like the ones described above, 'felt near to tears in his isolation'. 48 Members of the Educational Faculty did find the constraints of the OU system more binding than members of other Faculties, however. 

Writers can be replaced 'when an author holds fast to a conception of a unit which is radically different from the team's view', but this usually involves the author's agreement. Chairmen's comments often refer to matters of 'good writing', and it is easy to see the old principles of 'closure' in warnings about 'faulty arguments, incomplete arguments, omissions, obvious redundancy. . . structure. . . sequencing and coherence. . . general signposting'. 49 However, there is no particular focus in this study on conventions or collective practices. Riley chooses instead to explain these events in terms of 'transactional analysis', and as an interplay of fourteen individual 'factors', apparently distilled from the results of an intentionally descriptive orientation. Despite these limits (see file)  it is a thorough and illuminating study. 

Other, less systematic, insights are provided by the occasional discussion of course team politics, as in the debates in the columns of Teaching at a Distance. 50 Individual academics have also reported problems with conventions of 'good television' in particular cases, 51 and educational technologists have begun to discuss these issues too. This work is also assessed in the next file

For students, more intensive, small-scale interview-based studies have been done, including some by a special Study Methods Group within IET. These have been aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of particular courses, and have drawn upon the work of the 'Goteborg Group' in Sweden. 52 Thus reactions to courses in Social Science have been examined, and surprisingly similar results to the ones cited above have been found. Students are capable of keeping intact their own 'common sense' conceptions of phenomena such as 'power' or 'social class' even after having progressed satisfactorily through courses designed to criticise these conceptions: about half the sample were not affected at all, and even those who had 'improved' their conceptions often lacked 'analysis' and 'understanding'. 53 Most passed the assignments, however! 

The Study Methods Group also reported a certain level of student instrumentalism, following some research on student responses to 'in-text    questions'. 54 Other small studies confirm instrumentalism as a possible orientation, again without specifically researching it. About 25 per cent of the sample of students on a Materials Science course made their overall grade their 'top priority', for example, 55 while self-assessed questions, 56 or even computerized tutorials on 'non-essential' aspects of courses, 'assumed a low priority'. 57 Tutors too have reported significant amounts of 'plagiarism and regurgitation', and have connected these behaviours (rather loosely) with assessment. 58

This work covers enough students on enough different courses to offer some sort of support for the view that instrumentalism is not an isolated phenomenom nor an artefact of the original research. It is impossible to make any further connections or inferences, however, since these newer findings arise in very different circumstances: instrumentalism in the later work is seen largely as a cognitive or even a moral matter, not a matter of convention or textual competence, and it is still largely confined to student behaviours. Nevertheless, these findings do help to break quite convincingly the official and formal descriptions of teaching and learning at a distance, and address the reality 


1  Bennett, T. (1980) 'Review of S.Clarke et al. "One-Dimensional Marxism"' in Screen Education 36, pp. 119-30. 
2  Hall, S. (1980) 'Coding and Decoding' in Hall, S. et al., (Eds) Culture,Media,Language: working papers in cultural studies, London, Hutchinson. 
3  On the general level, see Dews, P. (1986) 'Adorno, Post-Structuralism and the Critique of Ideology' in New Left Review, 157, pp.28-44. On the specific issue of media analysis, see Held, D. (1980) Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas, London, Hutchinson, especially Chapter Three. 
4  See Wolff, J. (1981) The Social Production of Art, London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 
5  See, for example, Halloran, J. (1970) 'Introduction' in Halloran, J. (Ed) The Effects of Television, London, Panther Books. See also McQuail, D. 'Television and Education' in the same volume. 
6  A number of authors have noticed the parallels, but have not developed their analyses very far into the specific circumstances of educational settings. The debates about pedagogy in Screen Education, for example, remain within the problematic set by media studies - Althusserianism (with bits of Lacan and Metz) followed by a rediscovery of 'struggle' via an 'activist 'reading of Gramsci, neither of which particularly invite analyses of the practices considered important here. See, for example, Williams, R. (1979) 'Television and teaching' in Screen Education, 31, pp. 5-14,  which mentions the OU rather critically as a teaching medium, and is also discussed (briefly) in Donald, J. and Mercer, C.(1982) 'Conclusion', Units 31,32  of 'Popular Culture' (U203), Milton Keynes, Pindar Print; the Editorial and several other pieces in  Screen Education 31; Masterman, L. (1980) Teaching About Television, London, Macmillan ,and the discussions about the book, such as Alvarado, M. (1981) 'Television Studies and Pedagogy' in Screen Education, 38, pp. 56-67, and Masterman's reply - Masterman,  L. (1981) 'Television Pedagogy' in Screen Education, 40, pp. 88-92. (And see Note 40 below). Wexler approaches the problem from the other way around, so to speak, pleading for sociologists of education to consider the work done in media studies. But he too dismisses the work on the 'hidden curriculum' on 'discourse-theoretic' grounds, and thus misses a chance to combine useful insights - see Wexler, P. (1982) 'Structure,text and subject: a critical sociology of school knowledge' in Apple, M. (Ed.) Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul. An excellent analysis of the effects of examinations on media studies courses, and of the 'real closures they effect in the discourse of our teaching' is provided by Donald, J.(1978) 'Examinations and Strategies' in Screen Education, 26, pp. 3-12. 
7  See Benjamin, W. (1978) 'The Author as Producer' in Arato, A. and Gebhardt, E. (Eds) The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, pp. 254-70. The same volume contains Adorno's piece 'Commitment', pp. 300-19,and Arato, A. 'Introduction' (to Part II), pp. 185-225. 
8  Bates, A. (1975) 'Obstacles to the effective use of communication media in a learning situation' in Baggaley, P. et.al. (Eds) Aspects of Educational Technology VIII, Bath, Pitman Press. This paper argues for a wider adoption of the course team principle to break the perceived hold of the Faculties and the Regions at the University level. (The paper reflects a recent struggle for resources). Bates also describes some of the ways in which the media are perceived,as 'one means of distributing information', with separate 'functions', and sets the background against which Thompson's piece was to launch a very different analysis - see Note 22 below. 
9  This work was undertaken as part of my thesis, and is further explained in Harris, D. (1985) 'Open-ness, Technology, Individualism and the Open University; A Sociological Critique', unpublished, London University. A panel of fifteen students were selected in the local area, and interviewd before, during and after taking an Education Studies course. The panel included two married couples. A total of forty three interviews were conducted in all, lasting about an hour each on average, during 1972-3. Four course team members were also interviewed. It is slightly embarrassing to have to cite this work still, but none of the later work seems to replicate it or to contradict it. Nevertheless, much needs to be done, to supplement the inevitably speculative discussions partly based on this highly limited research. 
10 Gould, J. (1977) Attack on Higher Education:  Marxist and Radical Penetration, the report of a study group of the Institute for the Study of Conflict. My own contribution to the debate is Harris, D. (1978) 'On Marxist Bias' in Journal of Further and Higher Education, 2, 2, pp. 68-71. 
11 Adorno, T. (1978) 'Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda' in Arato, A. and Gebhardt, E. (Eds) op.cit. 
12 See Riley, J. (1984) 'The Problem of Drafting Distance Education Materials' in British Journal of Educational Technology, 15, 3, pp. 192-204. 
13 Some of the authors were acutely aware of the public nature of their activities, as this passage from an internal memorandum, written by a senior author on one of the Social Science Courses, shows: 

'...it seems to me you have made serious strategic mistakes. . . In particular in making the course too easy. . . Personally, I think the right answer is to bash them with something difficult, although the main justification for that is simple academic credibility. . . and it might be as well to think of the kind of attacks you might get [from other academics] in the educational journals and magazines'. 
14 See Geraghty, C. (1981) 'The Continuous Serial - a definition', and Jordan, M.(1981) 'Realism and Convention', both in Dyer, R. et.al. (Eds) Coronation Street, London, British Film Institute. 
15 For the disappointments commonly encountered by Sociology students on realizing that the discipline is not really about 'social problems' or 'helping people', see O'Neill, J. (1977) Sociology as a Skin Trade: Essays Towards a Reflexive Society, London, Heinemann. 
16 See Bennett, T. et.al. (Eds) (1981) Popular Television and Film, London, British Film Institute, in association with the Open University Press, especially pp. 197-353. 
17  See especially Donald, J. and Mercer, C. (1982) 'Reading and Realism', Unit 15 of 'Popular Culture' (U203), Milton Keynes, Pindar Print. 
18 Maccabe, C. (1981) 'Realism and the Cinema: Notes on Some Brechtian Theses' in Bennett, T. et.al. (Eds) op.cit., pp.216-36. 
19 Ibid. The best-known discussion of 'interpellation' is, of course, Althusser, L. (1977) 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)'in Althusser, L. 'Lenin and Philosophy' and other essays, 2nd ed., London, NLB, pp.121-77. (and see file for a reeading guide)
20 The debate was dominated by 'Frankfurt School' writers - notably Brecht, Benjamin,  Lukacs and Adorno.The Benjamin-Adorno exchanges have been cited already  (in Arato, A. (1977) op.cit.). One key text for the debate is Bloch, E. et al. (1978) Aesthetics and Politics, London, New Left Books. Several important commentaries include Stevens, T. (1978) 'Reading the Realist Film' in Screen Education, 26; Hebdige, D. and Hurd, G. (1978) 'Reading and Realism' in Screen Education, 28; Thompson, J. (1979) 'Up Aporia Creek' in Screen Education, 31. 
21 These remarks refer to the debates about the television series 'Days of Hope' - see Maccabe, C (1981) 'Memory, Phantasy, Identity: Days of Hope and the Politics of the Past'; Caughie, J. (1981) 'Progressive Television and Documentary Drama'; and Tribe, K. (1981) 'History and the Production of Memories' all in Bennett, T. et al. (Eds) op.cit. 
22 See McArthur, C. (1981) 'Historical Drama' in Bennett, T. et al. (Eds) op.cit., p. 296. 
23 Wexler, P.(1982) op.cit., p. 282. 
24 Thompson, G. (1979) 'Television as Text: Open University "Case-Study" Programmes' in Barrett, M. et al. (Eds) Ideology and Cultural Production, London, Croom Helm, pp. 160-97. This is an excellent analysis, but has a rather restricted focus on the television case-study programme per se. Nevertheless, it raises all the crucial issues about realism and the way it positions the viewer - and does suggest showing the effects of the filming process '. . . so it can be made clear under what conditions the social actors were being filmed and interviewed' (p.184).Compare this study with the remarkably similar points made by Adorno in his analysis of a television programme - in Held, D. (1980) op.cit., pp. 96-7. 
25 Brown, D. (1984) 'Case Study 10: Case Studies on Television' in Henderson, E. and Nathenson, M. (Eds.) Independent Learning in Higher Education, New Jersey, Educational Technology Publications Inc., pp. 211-20. 
26 McArthur, C. (1981) op.cit. has a good deal of admiration for the work of the 7:84 Theatre Company,and for J. McGrath's television film of their play 'The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil'. Television Programme 4 'The Politics of Drama', for the OU course U203 contains much interesting material, including an interview with McGrath. 
27 Adorno's style has been described in the Introduction. See Rose, G. (1978) The Melancholy Science An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno, especially chapter two. The suggestion that this style be adopted for OU units is itself ironic, of course! 
28 Wexler, P. (1982) op.cit., p. 283. Closing units of U203 invite this, in fact, but in a rather restrained manner. 
29 As argued for 'Days of Hope' in McArthur, C. (1981) 'Days of Hope' in Bennett, T. et al. (Eds) op.cit., and more generally in several 'activist' commentaries on the 'realism  debate', such as Hebdige, D. and Hurd, G (1976) op.cit.
30 The phrase is Derrida's,quoted in Culler, J. (1975) Structuralist Poetics, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, p. 248. Culler's discussion of the  'post-structuralist' theorists is particularly clear . 
31 See Halloran, D. (Ed.) (1970) op.cit., or, from within the tradition of effect analysis, Belson, W. (1978) Television Violence and the Adolescent Boy, London, Saxon House (and see file). 
32 This list summarizes the main findings of the classic work on student instrumentalism, notably Becker, H. et al. (1964) Making the Grade: The Academic Side of College Life, New York, Wiley and Sons; Miller, C. and Parlett, M. (1976) 'Cue Consciousness' in Hammersley, M. and Woods, P. (Eds) The Process of Schooling, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul in association with the Open University Press; Rowntree, D. (1979) Assessing Students: How Shall We Know Them?, London, Harper and Row. 
33 The original research employed Kelly Grid procedures to elicit the 'constructs' teachers used to construe their teaching. Any effects of the course could be measured in a number of ways - changing the polarity of a construct ('slot rattling'), adding new constructs, developing new 'levels' of 'implication' and so on. For a fuller discussion see Harris, D. (1985) op.cit. 
34 The phrase was coined by Willis, P. (1977) Learning to Labour: how working class kids get working class jobs, Farnborough, Saxon House. Willis's 'activism' seems to have prevented him from systematic consideration of the ideologies of the 'successes', the 'earoles'. 
35 This is usually discussed in the extensive literature on 'professional socialization'. For a critical review of this tradition, see Mardle, G. and Walker, M (1980) 'Strategies and Structures: some critical notes on teacher socialization' in Woods, P. (Ed) Teacher Strategies: explorations in the sociology of the school, London, Croom Helm. 
36 This is Becker's phrase - Becker, H. et al. (1964) op.cit.. 
37 Miller's and Parlett's piece introduces a definite note of staff complicity in 'playing the game', since staff must provide the cues for the students to seek - Miller, C. and Parlett, M. (1976) op.cit.. Perhaps staff vary in a reciprocal way to students in terms of the intensity and consciousnesss with which they offer cues? Staff attitudes to the frequent assessments that they receive (in the Public Sector at least), from Inspectors, CNAA visitors, NAB spokesmen and others show that, in their way, staff 'play the game' on these occasions too, of course. 
38 As in the classic studies of 'affluent workers' - see Goldthorpe, J. et al., (1968) The Affluent Worker: Industrial Attitudes and Behaviour, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 
39 See Bourdieu, P. (1971) 'Systems of Education and Systems of Thought' in Young, M.F. (Ed) Knowledge and Control New  Directions for the Sociology of Education, London, Collier-Macmillan, pp.189-207. 
40 Eco, U. (1979) 'Can Television Teach?' in Screen Education, 31, p. 20. Eco goes on to talk of rhetorical devices such as irony, parody and so on to signal to the viewer or reader the need to switch genres. These textual ambiguities need a certain 'textual' as well as grammatical competence on the part of the viewer. It is argued here that 'textual competence' has a regressive side too, however. Eco argues that critical television programmes which identify these ambiguities are best used as resources for teachers to engage in face-to-face contact with students subsequently, rather than as a direct invitation to viewers to begin 'deconstruction', and this does seem more promising. 
41 This finding and its implications for pedagogy is one of the issues that divide Masterman and Alvarado (see Note 5 above). It is also confirmed in one of the rare examinations of pupil responses to media studies courses in O'Shaughnessy, M. (1981) 'Watching Media Studies' in Screen Education 38,  pp. 80-5. 
42 See Bennett, T. (1980) 'Popular Culture: a "Teaching Object" ' in Screen Education, 34, pp. 17-30. 
43 Alvarado, M. (1981) 'Television Studies and Pedagogy' in Screen Education, 38, pp. 56-67. 
44 In a review of the Course Readers for U203, Thompson argues that the new 'theoretical object' under-represents tensions between the different approaches, especially between the tendency to want to defend aspects of popular culture, and the general 'gloom' of the bits on hegemony - Thompson, J. (1982) 'Popular Culture: the Pleasure and the Pain' in Screen Education, 41, pp. 43-52. (The criticism is similar to the ones levelled against some feminist analyses that simultaneously want to analyse the meaning of terms like 'patriarchy' and then use the terms as if they were unproblematic in later 'applied' pieces - see Adlam, D. (1974) 'The case against capitalist patriarchy' in m/f, 3 .) Thompson thinks OU students will be constructively 'puzzled' by these tensions - but he seems not to have considered that the reading offered by a student, facing assessment, is not like that of a critic. 
45 Riley, J. (1984) op.cit., p. 193. 
46 Ibid, p .203. 
47 Ibid. Riley refers to academics who feel 'desperation, agonies, and depression'. 
48 Riley, J. (1984) 'The Problems of Revising Drafts of Distance Education Materials' in British Journal of Educational Technology, 15, 3, pp. 205-26. 
49 Ibid, p. 210. 
50 See for example Drake, M. (1979) 'The curse of the course team' in Teaching at a Distance, 16, pp.    50-3. 
51 Marwick, A. (1985) 'History on TV: the Open University series "Britain and America - some visual evidence"' in Journal of Educational Television, 11, 2, pp. 107-13. 
52 Gibbs, G. et al. (1982) 'A Review of the Research of Ference Marton and the Goteborg Group: A Phenomenological Research Perspective on Learning' in Higher Education, 11, pp. 123-45.
53 Taylor, E. et al., (1981) The Outcomes of Learning From the Social Science Foundation Course: Students' Understandings of Price Control,Power,Oligopoly, Study Methods Group Report No.9, and Taylor, E et al. (1981) Students' Understandings of the Concept of Social Class, SMG Report No.10, both available from The Institute of Educational Technology, Open University, Milton Keynes.
54 Gibbs, G. et al. (1982) Student Learning and Course Design 1: In-Text Teaching Devices in Open University Texts, Study Methods Group Report No.12, Institute of Educational Technology, Open University, Milton Keynes.
55 Nathenson, M. (1979) 'Bridging the Gap Between Teaching and Learning at a Distance' in British Journal of Educational Technology, 10, 2, pp. 100-110.
56 Gale, J. (1984) 'Self-Assessment and Self-Remediation Strategies' in Henderson, E. and Nathenson, M. (Eds) op.cit., pp. 99-116.
57 Lockwood, F. (1984) 'Computer-Assisted Tutorials' in Henderson, E. and Nathenson, M. (Eds) op. cit..
58 Hill, B. (1979) 'Regurgitation and plagiarism' in Teaching at a Distance, 15, pp. 59-62.

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