For a third year GBSN Member, The Open University Business School hosted two faculty fellows from Strathmore University and the Narxoz Business School. Dr. Ainura Kaldarova from Narxoz Business School in Kazakhstan recently visited the OU after successfully applying through the Global Business School Network (GBSN) faculty fellowship. This offers academics from institutions in developing countries the opportunity to learn about the OU’s approach to distance and online learning. Here Ainura recalls her month-long stay in Milton Keynes as an International Fellow.
I flew into Heathrow together with my mum on Sunday May 12 – the flight to the UK was long but it was pleasing to see the weather was surprisingly very welcoming despite the forecasted rainy, chilly conditions! Fortunately, good weather was mostly with us during our whole stay.
I came to The Open University for the first time the next day and was astonished to see such a huge campus with plenty of buildings everywhere. Knowing that the OU is a fully online university, I was expecting to see just one or two buildings. The reason for this big campus was revealed during a series of meetings over the coming weeks. This was interesting to both me and my GBSN colleague from Kenya, John Olukuru.
During my first day I met with the OU hosting team and received some brochures and maps about the OU and Milton Keynes. I was also given access to the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). My first week was mainly devoted to exploring the VLE and ‘passing’ the online induction module. It was actually very good to know about a fully online university by going through the online induction module – we could feel ourselves as students of the OU!
In the evenings and weekends, we had a chance to go around the city and I really loved Milton Keynes for several reasons. The first is the atmosphere, as it is a very calming, rush-free environment and I found it suitable for living with family and children. Another reason why I loved being in Milton Keynes is the way it was designed as the planned grid structured roads resembles my home city of Almaty. And, last but not least, is the beautiful nature and green surroundings which makes the air very fresh and clean.
The following weeks were intensive with plenty of superb informative meetings which helped us to know more about how the OU system works.
Online Education vs. Traditional Education
Possibly the most important thing I realized is that online education is not something completely different from traditional education. To develop an online module, you as a teacher have to do everything that you do in face-to-face teaching, and even more, to make students experience the same level of involvement in the learning process. The development of online modules require being much more thoughtful and proactive compared to face-to face teaching. For instance, during lectures, a teacher has more control over the processes in the classroom, he or she is very flexible in terms of teaching behavior and methodology. However, in online teaching, all the methodology and the way of presenting information should be considered well in advance which means it requires a lot of work that cannot be fulfilled by just one teacher.
We were informed that the OU development of one module takes about two years and involves the effort of a team consisting of a module chair, several academics, learning design specialists, editors and more. As I found out that the process of module development was so resource intensive, I started to realize why the campus is so big and always full of people, even without having students there.
I can tell that even knowing the processes in the OU, it is impossible to replicate its success because it takes much more than just resources. The most important part there is the organizational culture and management of processes, which makes the OU highly competitive in the education sphere. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity to visit the OU and discover all the beauty of online education.
Ainura Kaldarova is a senior lecturer and quality assurance specialist at Narxoz University, where she teaches Accounting and Finance courses and works on a creation of Faculty Development Programme in the framework of quality assurance. She has successfully accomplished Erasmus+ CACTLE program on teaching and training, she has become a certified university teacher and trainer, which helped her to win the award of “The Best Teacher” in the department. Ainura also has solid experience of working in the financial market as she used to work as investment portfolio manager before entering education sphere.