All about EDEN

June 6, 2016 by Antonio Moreira Teixeira   Comments (0)

As part of the celebrations of the silver jubilee of EDEN (1991-2016), I've invited all the past Presidents to contribute to this blog, in order to share some of their personal recollections and retrospections on the development of the Association and the field. Last week, I published the first contribution of this special series of posts. This was a most inspiring account from EDEN's founding President, Erling Ljosa.

In today's post, we give continuation to the initiative, sharing the reflections of Alan Tait, who was President from 2007 to 2010. Alan was also a Vice-President, NAP Steering Committee Chair, and the editor in chief of EURODL. In fact, it was he who introduced the EDEN President's blog amongst other innovations. Alan's strong connection with EDEN has followed the entire history of EDEN and no one knows the Association and its development throughout these past 25 years better than him.

On a more personal level, Alan has also been a great mentor and a very dear friend. He was the President at the time when EDEN held the Annual Conference in Lisbon, in 2008, and the 7th Open Classroom Conference in Porto the following year, in collaboration with my institution, Universidade Aberta. Then, he welcomed me on the Executive Committee and I became Vice-President during his term. More recently, during my own Presidency, Alan was again a very close and strong inspiration.

In his impressive contribution, Alan shares with us a deep reflection on his personal experiences spanning from two decades and covering very different phases of the history of the Association. At the end of his post, Alan calls our attention to the challenges of communication in multicultural environments. In fact, EDEN is fundamentally a network of people with many shared interests but also diverse cultural backgrounds. As such, the experience of leading in such complex environments can become quite a difficult challenge. But I can assure you this is an art that Alan masters superbly with charm and wit!

António

 


 

 

It is a great pleasure to be invited to contribute in the year of EDEN's 25th anniversary to the President's blog, by kind invitation of President Professor Antonio Teixeira. This contribution brings together a number of threads for me: my involvement as Planning Executive in the founding of EDEN out of the provisional Budapest Platform in 1991, under the direction of Sir John Daniel at the Open University UK; secondly my time on the EDEN Executive Committee and in particular the period 2007-2010 when I served as EDEN President; and lastly in reflecting on the first quarter century, and asking myself what account to make of our hopes and ambitions.

The period 1989-1991 when I was tasked with operationalising plans for the first truly pan-European professional association in our field were as stimulating as they were worthwhile. I travelled the length and breadth of the new Europe, across boundaries that in many cases had been difficult to cross since 1945. This was one of the prime motivating forces in the foundation of EDEN, to freely bring together the professional community of the whole continent for the first time in nearly 50 years. The second core element in EDEN's design was the early realisation, significantly contested then, that open and distance learning represented a much wider institutional landscape than that of the open universities of Western Europe alone. EDEN from the beginning foresaw that open and distance learning would develop not only in the single mode institutions, important though they were, but in institutions that were dual or multi-mode, or blended in their character. Not only this but EDEN also understood that ODL would develop across a wider range of sectors than just higher education, but also in schools, colleges, and companies, and that these sectors could fruitfully meet together. EDEN found a wide response immediately across the whole of Europe, East, West, North, Central and South. The most surprising thing was how quickly respect and affection developed out of new acquaintance across groups of professionals who had never come together before. Europe in all its delightful variety seemed to have a culture in common. None of us knew that concretely when we started.

I returned to EDEN in 2004 with an invitation from the then President, the estimable Ingeborg Bøe of Norway, to stand for the Executive Committee. My 6 years on that body concluded in my three-year term as EDEN President from 2007. This was one of the most satisfying and stimulating periods of my professional life, working intimately with the outstanding Secretary-General, Dr András Szücs and his team in the secretariat in Budapest, and with a creative and lively Executive Committee drawn vary widely from across Europe. There was a mix of cultures and languages, of ideas and arguments, of places and cuisines that was truly formative. My time as President saw the continued revival of one of the jewels in EDEN's crown, its journal EURODL; the introduction of the President's blog as a means of engaging with EDEN's membership of more than 1000 individuals; and the introduction of the Fellowship scheme which has so successfully given professional recognition that is, in my observation, truly valued by our community. We saw continued growth of institutional members as well as individuals, and the successful embedding of the structure of conferences: the annual large conference accompanied by its satellites in alternating years of the Research Workshop and the Open Classroom conferences. EDEN truly owes a debt to those colleagues who take the responsibility, own the risk, and manage the workload in hosting these professional meetings. It goes without saying that none of the achievements in this period were mine alone, although I hope I contributed. The Executive Committee and the Secretariat truly worked as a team in developing, refining and implementing the ideas. I should add that, although we saw the beginnings of the financial crisis in 2009, none of us I believe truly foresaw its duration or severity, or the resultant fundamental challenge to cooperation and partnership across Europe.

But what of the success of EDEN over this quarter century? How many of our aims and ambitions have we fulfilled? The first thing to say is that something must have been profoundly right in the founding concept. Open and distance learning has grown and grown across the institutional landscape. Indeed this is so much the case that some of the open universities have found their place in that landscape challenged, and as we come to nearly 50 years of single-mode distance-teaching open universities in Europe, we can note that they have hardly grown in number nor have they extended outside their original region to other parts of Europe, and that some have not fulfilled their trajectory of growth. EDEN might do well to facilitate a courageous and open-eyed review with them and others of how they could reinvent themselves for the next quarter century.

We should also observe that the partnership in leadership of EDEN between successive Presidents, Executive Committees and the Secretary General has provided resilience which has not been available to many European level organisations that we have seen disappear. EDEN has been wise in the management of its business. We can also sadly note that the hoped for untroubled development of the new Europe has in fact been very challenged. No more so than now, with the continued austerity deriving from the financial crisis, the rise of new nationalisms that propose intolerance, dogmatism and sometimes naked racism, and the youth unemployment in some countries of more than 50%, poisoning the crucial period of growth into adulthood for so many, and with such long-lasting effects into the future. And of course with the refugee crisis, a catastrophe for so many children, women and men. EDEN and its members will be constrained by these negative factors, but I hope will also play an influential part in developing solutions to overcome them. Open, flexible and online education must certainly find ways to innovate for the educational elements of support to the youth of Europe, and to refugees and their children.

Finally let me conclude with some anthropological remarks. My time with EDEN has led personally to a much greater awareness of the ways in which the contributing national cultures of Europe play out in behaviours in meetings. While never bound by stereotypes I have discovered to my amusement that stereotypes exist in many cases at least because they have some basis in fact. I can acknowledge the well known English tendency that is no doubt observable in my behaviour: we are congenitally unable to speak directly, preferring understatement, irony, inference, implication, or even resorting to outright denial. It seems we can only manage a limited amount of truth at any one time. I have been treated very kindly in my time with EDEN, and I am grateful to my colleagues for their patience and tolerance!

 


 

 

Alan Tait is Emeritus Professor of Distance Education and Development at the Open University UK, and has a long record of practice and publication. From 2013 to 2015 Alan was Director of International Development and Teacher Education, and before that was Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) at the Open University UK from 2007 to 2012, and from 2004 to 2007 Dean of the Faculty of Education and Language Studies. He was Editor of the European Journal of Distance and E Learning (EURODL) in 2005-2013, Editor of Open Learning from 1989 to 1998, and was President of the European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN) from 2007 to 2010. He served as Co-Director of the Cambridge International Conference on Open and Distance Learning in the period of 1988-2013. In 2012 Alan was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Moscow State University for Economics, Statistics and Informatics, and appointed Visiting Senior Online Consultant at the Open University of China in 2013. Alan is founding Emeritus Editor of the Journal of Learning for Development (www.jl4d.org), produced from the Commonwealth of Learning; Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Open University of Hong Kong; Visiting Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark; Visiting Fellow of the Centre for Distance Education at the University of London; and transformation advisor for the Commonwealth of Learning at Botswana Open University. Alan is also an EDEN Senior Fellow.