Robin Mason, 1945-2009


July 9, 2009

Robin Mason, a pioneer of online teaching and learning, has died.

Born on 12 July 1945 in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, Professor Mason studied for her first degree in Toronto, followed by an MA in Madison, Wisconsin.

It was not until 1985, however, when she embarked on a PhD at The Open University while working part time and bringing up two children, that she laid the foundations for her own contributions to academic life.

Hers was one of the first PhDs to address the topic of computer-mediated conferencing (CMC) for distance education.

While others in the field were concentrating on the technical challenges, Professor Mason saw CMC in more visionary terms, as a tool to create new styles of learning experiences, which could enable distance students to fully engage in the cut and thrust of academic debate.

As the technology began to catch up with her vision, she became established as an important authority in the field. By the early 1990s, she was playing a leading role as an evaluator in several large European Union projects on CMC.

Her first book, Computer Conferencing: The Last Word, was published in 1992, and a short while later she began her longstanding involvement in policy matters as an adviser to the EU, the European Parliament, Unesco and, later, to the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Although based at the OU in the Institute of Educational Technology, Professor Mason travelled widely, introducing technology-enhanced learning everywhere from the South Pacific to the Western Isles. In 2003 she toured a number of major universities in Australia, where she was honoured as Scholar of the Year in the same year.

Professor Mason also co-wrote a book entitled Bhutan: Ways of Knowing (2007).

Active in promoting learning technology as a discipline in its own right, she developed the concept of the virtual campus and introduced "virtual graduation" for the first group of OU global online masters students in 2000.

"The key thing Robin brought to her academic work was her directness of thought and expression," said Josie Taylor, director of the Institute of Educational Technology at the OU.

"In every aspect of her life, she cut to the heart of the matter. This was often a source of humour - particularly in more formal proceedings - but people absolutely loved her for it. I don't think the OU would be what it is today without her."

Professor Mason died on 15 June 2009 as a result of complications from a recent illness. She is survived by her children Lydia and Quentin.

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