OU’s’ Rebecca Ferguson discusses her appointment to Professor of Learning Futures

OU’s’ Rebecca Ferguson discusses her appointment to Professor of Learning Futures

rebecca ferguson now professor of learning futures at the o.u how do you feel about this achievement i’m really excited about this achievement it takes a long time to become a professor i’ve always looked up to the professors in our department and across the university so i’m really pleased about it when you reflect on your academic career what significant experiences come to mind which you would consider to be milestones that have helped you during your career oh there are so many things that come to mind one of the early things that comes to mind is a project i worked on called scom which was exploring uh the futures of education and uh people working on the project had found that if you talk to people about the future of education they either described you something which is a bit like school or they describe to you something that’s a bit like uh learning at home which wasn’t very exciting uh so the project took a whole group of teenagers into a virtual world the virtual world of second life and said right we’re going to develop a whole new learning environment here we’ll build it from scratch um let’s see what you come up with and just immediately uh flights of fantasy took took off yeah we’d assumed that people would start you know building some sort of seating area and they’d all sit around the seating area so immediately teenagers flew up into the air and started building clouds and flying around on the clouds and um we thought well we’re going to have to arrange the learning sessions for them and they said no we’ve got a sense of what we’d like to learn let us arrange some events we’re a group who are very interested in physics right we are going to do some experiments in this world to find out what the force of gravity is in this world uh because of course there’s no point doing that on in the real world because i’ve been can find out what the force of gravity is simply by googling it if they if they haven’t already learned it but in uh this virtual world um they actually had to do the experiments and and and really work it out and then there was another group who said we’re very interested in roman history uh we’re going to uh reconstruct some roman buildings and then we’re going to read up on them and we’ll we’ll give some talks on that and you as academics you can come along and and sit in if you’d like and then somebody else said well what i’m really interested in is sailing so i’m going to build some sailing boats i’ll give everyone some training in sailing and then i’ll set up a regatta um so what we found was was people being very inventive uh reimagining how learning could take place and and very much um showing that people are possibly more capable uh than you give them credit for so usually if you go into a room and there’s a senior professor and there’s a 13 year old you’d expect the senior professor to be explaining things to the 13 year old but in in point of fact quite often in this case the 13 year old be going wow i’ve been and i’ve investigated this and i’ve found all these things out let me show you how to do it and that was really exciting great and it sounds very accustomed to the type of activity that goes on in iet whether that be innovating pedagogy or innovative pedagogy or otherwise um what would you say have been maybe some significant work related challenges that you’ve experienced during your career and more so how have those challenges strengthened you and helped you overcome them to achieve a particular goal i think one of the challenges that i face is through working in iet because that’s the institute of educational technology people tend to assume if you work in something which is named after educational technology uh that you’re a very uncritical um enthusiast and so whenever you talk to them you’re always going to be recommending some technology and uh not seeing the downside of it and uh you know people will say well you don’t realize that in my context we couldn’t do it for this reason or that reason and that that is so much of a misconception because although we explore what what these technologies can do we always do that uh with an eye to well what is practical and what would you want to achieve a lot of the work we do is is not around technology per se it’s around um achieving things thinking about what you want to achieve so in the project i was just talking about what we wanted to achieve was thinking about how education could be different we weren’t saying everybody has to go into virtual worlds we know that that’s quite difficult it’s impossible for many people but it was useful for that project so one of the things that we do every year is we publish a report called innovating pedagogy and uh we including that ten pedagogies they might be new they might be ones which have recently been refreshed they might be ones that you can now apply in new ways because the situation has changed now some of those are very technically based making use of robots or chat bots for example but some of them are don’t involve any use of technology whatsoever they’re just different ways of doing things in the classroom they’re different ways of bringing together the classroom and the home environment their different ways of doing training so i think in every case it’s thinking about where you’re going what your vision is of what you’re trying to achieve and how can you get there and that might involve technology it’s definitely going to involve pedagogy and sometimes it’ll involve a combination and finally looking forward to the near future what does that hold for you working in iet and the ou and what are you looking forward to working on well there are always exciting projects going on and new ones come in all the time um i’m i’m working on a book at the moment about micro credentials which are a new um sort of qualification um but i think the most exciting project i’m working on at the moment um is one with the country of kenya the kenyan government like educators around the world the universities think kenya had to move online very very quickly last year in the pandemic and like so many people around the world they had to do that without the necessary resourcing without the necessary training it was very very tough going but over the last 15 months or so they’ve thought well yes we’d like perhaps to incorporate some of this in our teaching going forward so let’s think about how we could do this better what we need what we can explore so we are working with university educators across kenya to upskill them in online teaching and in blended teaching which brings together the face-to-face and the online and some of that is sharing with them expertise which the open university has developed over 50 years and iet has developed specifically and some of that is bringing them together to talk about what works in their contexts and to develop new ideas and perhaps new ideas that we’ll then bring back to the open university so it is it’s really great to be working with a a different group of educators who’ve got different ideas different experiences and are really enthusiastic to move forward excellent thank you very much for your time rebecca thank you
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OU’s’ Rebecca Ferguson discusses her appointment to Professor of Learning Futures

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