John Coopey, MSc with distinction,1986
In 1986, whilst working for Esso Africa and just about to complete Birkbeck’s part-time MSc programme, I volunteered for early retirement within a separation scheme for all Esso employees in the London area. This suited me fine, torn as I had become between a drive to get a top Employee Relations job and my increasing uneasiness about the company’s underlying attitude towards employees, especially union members. Ironically, I received my first monthly pension payment in September 1986 on the very day that there was a letter from Birkbeck College telling me I had been awarded an MSc with Distinction.
Meanwhile I had decided to work without pay for the Department of Occupational Psychology, assisting in a recently launched project to convert their MSc programme from one based on weekly face-to-face sessions to distance learning mode. This involved the use of an early version of computer conferencing in order to maintain regular contact between staff and students, supplemented by face-to-face weekend sessions held at regular intervals at the college. I was delighted when, at some point during this period, I was appointed as lecturer in the Department.
Immediately, I became deeply involved with colleagues who had recently been my tutors in writing a series of self-study modules intended to compensate for the less frequent direct staff-student contact possible within the new programme format. At that point I argued quite strongly that the material used on the course to date had been too heavily skewed towards Occupational Psychology, whereas Organisational Behaviour tended to be somewhat neglected despite the fact that this was the title of the MSc awarded to those students who did not have first degrees in Psychology. So, part of my motivation in agreeing to draft some of the texts for the proposed course was to redress this imbalance.
In the event, I was sole author of two of the texts, one an introduction to Organisational Culture, the other a simple historical sketch of the development of the two academic domains of the department, Occupational Psychology and Organisational Behaviour. In collaboration with colleagues I was also involved in writing four texts on different aspects of organisational analysis. The total set, of which I still have copies, were printed and bound in soft covers within the College.
When, later, David Guest became head of department, he made some minor modifications to the material and arranged for it to be printed professionally in text-book form, with his name added to the list of authors where appropriate. Unfortunately, I was never sent the set of publications, despite my heavy involvement in the initial preparation of the material. Nor have I been able to trace copies of them. Perhaps when in London, I’ll go to the British Library to see if they have copies for me to see!
The rudimentary computer conferencing was cumbersome to operate, even though solely text based, but eventually we became quite adept at using it to support students in making good use of the material, and in producing their own responses to issues raised.
However, it was probably the residential weekends that helped them maintain their motivation. Students revelled in the face-to-face contact with members of staff and the opportunity to get to know their fellow course members. In the evenings they relaxed and let their hair down in ways that must have helped them to cope with the difficulties of this mode of teaching. They sat in small groups, drinking together around typical bar room tables. Some kept the others entertained with jokes and stories, whilst one affable man who seemed to find the course work more difficult than his colleagues, bemused them with his card tricks. Even at close quarters he could deceive those gathered around him as to which card or set of cards he had in his hand. He was a great favourite within the group.