The best and worst of the OU

I have been a long-time admirer of the Open University; my mother completed a degree with them when I was a child and another of my relatives was one of the first ever cohorts of OU students. At a recent conference a presentation on the OU’s new “Science Investigations” module* was truly inspiring – the notion of involving novice scientists dispersed across the planet in collaborative experiments shows real vision.

The ERA allows for legal use of TV and radio programmes

At the same time, however, there is something about the OU that I have found increasingly frustrating. As a frequent user of multimedia clips in my teaching, I take advantage of the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licensing scheme that permits educators to hold copies of TV and radio programmes specifically for teaching purposes and provided that they adhere to a number of straightforward rules regarding both the storage and use of the material (I have written about the merits of the ERA licensing scheme).

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For some reason, however, programmes that are produced by the OU fall outside the ERA scheme. To hold and to show OU broadcasts you need a different licence. I imagine the source of this anomaly may be historical – the OU may have set up their arrangement with other institutions before the ERA scheme was developed (I speculate, I don’t have any data on this). Unlike the ERA scheme, there is an annual fee (of about £30) to hold a copy of an OU programme and if you decide you no longer want to use the programme then you need to physically return your copy to them. For a number of reasons, which I will outline below, it strikes me that this arrangement is increasingly anachronistic.

The OU run their own off-air scheme, distinct from the ERA

What brings this issue into sharp focus for me is the increasing number of programmes that are branded as OU/BBC co-productions. If these fell within the ERA scheme I would happily use clips of all of the following co-productions within my teaching:

Bang Goes the Theory
The Cell (3-part series)
The Gene Code (2-part series)
Mental: A History of the Madhouse and Sectioned
Justice: A Citizen’s Guide to the 21st Century (and associated Justice lectures)
Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?
Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life
Inside the Ethics Committee (Radio 4)
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For the most part I would be looking to use a clip of perhaps 2 or 3 minutes in each case, rather than showing a full episode (though there may be an exception here for Adam Rutherford’s excellent series The Cell and The Gene Code).
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The popular series Coast, and Jim Al-Khalili’s current series Shock and Awe: the story of electricity  are also OU/BBC co-productions but don’t really fit with my teaching which focuses on bioethics and/or molecular biology. Continue reading
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  • July 2020
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