When course materials fail to deliver in their educational intent it is highly likely that such occurrences will not only be far reaching but unlikely to be rectified. The internal O.U. system for the improvement of course materials is lethargic, if operational, and the student participation under such circumstances is highly unlikely even though various facilities exist for their participation. This has already been shown to be a pars pro toto study with detrimental effects to education, student capability, and the credibility of all parties involved.

The Ubiquitous Case
On attending one particular tutorial, students were informed by the tutor that the course would become hard going in the middle of the course. We were told that we should try to keep going as the course would become easier. The tutor could not be specific as to the exact problem within the course as students who leave do not give feedback. The information also came with a story about a student who happened to be a prisoner.

The tutor had observed that students would leave the course at this particular point, and on one particular year he had informed a prisoner of these details. The prisoner reached the very same point and he too left the course.

I also had difficulty at the stated point in the course. Having read through the problem area I had very little idea about how to use what I had been given. Rather than go over this again it seemed a better option to continue and come back to this section at the end of the course.

Under circumstances such as these one becomes suspicious of the entire course to which the only available remedy becomes an end of course test. A test applicable too and encompassing the intended scope of the given course. I concluded that there were a couple of areas that needed greater explanation including the pre-specified aspect of the course. However, this assumption is based on the notion that education is about learning to read and comprehend clear information rather than, for instance, learning to read tealeaves.

I never did re-read the section of the course as the topic was not what I was looking for with regards to my own interests.

Attitudes from the anointed seem to range across a variety of inactivity. Firstly, a retrospective sort of slap to the forehead while wishing some form of information exchange/action had taken place. Another attitude observed a culture that had undergone trials of hardship and concluded, with the culture moving on with their life, that this situation should be accepted and all parties should likewise move on - or presumably off. While the ‘fittest’ seem to want a greater selection process to take place and want courses to become even harder.

One might imagine that I played an active role in this situation, but I did absolutely nothing. I suspect the reason why to be the most common of attitudes within the O.U. I was told by the O.U. that I was nearly 50% stupid. That means that nearly half of my course comprehension was missing, with such a large gap in understanding how is it my place to speak? Besides, if there really are any problems within an educational system they would be identified and reported by students-who-are-told-they-are-clever [statement illuminated quite correctly].

Overall, Course-Authors are presumed to be fully competent and any peccadillo will be in the bailiwick of tutors and students-who-are-told-they-are-clever. Yet, here is a case that has certainly affected me and was acknowledged by a tutor, and students leaving the course.

I have depicted a cross-sectional-view which I have described as it was handed to me. The normal response to a prisoner leaving a course would be that they probably are not up to the intellectual requirements of the course, yet the tutor has noticed the educational deficit as have other students.

The O.U. line is that the course materials change every two years, but here I have an example that has occurred over three consecutive years. The first year that a student left the course was noticed by the tutor, the second year the problem was relayed to the prisoner who also left, and the third year I was handed the story – I was affected too. Is it that the course-materials changing every two years, is an excuse? What about the errata mechanism?

One could argue that it is up to the tutor to rectify this situation, as they have noticed it, but for this situation to occur there is the suggestion that there is some sort of impediment between their action and the materials changing. However, students also have the capacity to give a feed-forward review of the course or feedback so any problems, such as this one, have several avenues of rectification – theoretically speaking. If these avenues exist then why has the stated situation occurred? Wouldn’t students-who-are-told-they-are-clever have rectified the situation?

One could of course state that this is a very unique situation, a one-off. However, my all-time favourite tutor comment is: “I don’t know how it works, I don’t even know why they put it in there.”

I could continue with a statement made by a student along the lines of tutors being the worst breed of mankind, but this was mere expiscatory duplicity, and I see no reason to continue with that line of thought. I have always found that tutors are most helpful and often trying to be my best friend. The only exceptions being: course-authors and the systems-dorkenstein.

The frequency of such circumstances is on a course-by-course basis, and the variety of educational warping is something that surprises me every time, so I do not have a complete nomenclature of what I will, laughably, term ‘communication problems’. The real question is, for me at least, how bad can education get before anyone will speak? – The magnitude.

I have only ever noticed two or three, out of thirty or so, students at any given tutorial so how does this case affect those students who are not present? Given that tutors are helpful for pointing out the bumps in a course shouldn’t these tutorials be full of students? I have noticed, from myself, that I feel more despondent having gone to a tutorial than I would have having hacked my own way through a course. Which generates another question in that - how much does Transference play a part in learning?

To touch on the significance of transference: I know Bion stated that the neurotic and psychotic groups exist by the transference of neuroses and psychoses (and would make any neurotic or psychotic a real honey in a group situation, not that anyone gives a shit), and that female teachers’ transfer their inability to do maths to female students. How about tutors transferring some sort of ‘the O.U. is incompetent’ statement?

What then of the possible outcomes? Well, in the same way that a game of chess will, by way of each individual trying to find the best move to make, end up gravitating towards a particular pattern the same notion can be observed here. For example, the O.U. now wishes to consider delivering its courses to those who will most benefit from an education such as prisoners. There are several lines that could occur from such an activity:

The O.U. Bandit variation – The O.U. invades prisons under the premise that they are going to help these ‘now’ disadvantaged individuals. The government pays the O.U. for its activities (non-refundable) and any individuals that leave are deemed, by all parties, to be intellectually weak. All of this occurs within a survival-of-the-fittest cult so no educational delivery or rectification is required or will be given. Terms of ‘obligation’ and ‘duty’ are non-existent in both meaning and action.

The Systems-Circus Variation – The systems-circus does the systems course travelling down the conformity-funnel, in a grind-to-the-death, eventually reaching an analysis of the Criminal system. The students conclude that to prevent offenders from [offending/re-offending] that [prisoners/particular sectors of society] should be given an education. However the O.U has already managed to create the above case with student participation in such circumstances already under scrutiny. Students conclude all is well and exhort ‘survival of the fittest’ or return to their marks based obsession - all the time remaining immune to their own links into this systemic failure. Never mind, it’s meant to be ironic.

For further investigation
I believe that I have shown the student-tutor-materials relationship with this case study. Various questions require an answer or further investigation: what are the students-who-are-told-they-are-clever doing? This question has to be high on ones list of priorities because they are the fulcrum of any and every argument concerning education, intelligence, credibility, societal structure etcetera.

Do the mechanisms of the O.U. have operational integrity, and if not what are the forces that impede it? Clearly, from this case-study, attention should be focused upon the feed-forward reviews and likely feedback, so what are the comments going to be? What if a course contained not only students leaving but also mismarked assignments for some, and generously marked assignments for others? Obviously, under such circumstances I would expect to find evidence of this ‘elephant’ [as a comparative ideal] in both feed-forward and feedback mechanisms.

Suppose, by serendipity, a glass-box system occurred whereby a faulty conceptual device was given. Which individuals, and under what circumstances, would overcome a very typical O.U. fudge-up? What would be the implications of just such an outcome for other courses and education as a whole?