Margaret Thatcher – called Milk Snatcher because she ended free school milk Image: Wikipedia

I am writing an autobiography, mainly for my family, but it does cover some key moments in the development of open and online learning. I thought I would share these as there seems to be a growing interest in the history of educational technology.

Note that these posts are NOT meant to be deeply researched historical accounts, but how I saw and encountered developments in my personal life. If you were around at the time of these developments and would like to offer comments or a different view, please use the comment box at the end of each post. (There is already a conversation track on my LinkedIn site and on X).

A full list of the posts to date will be found toward the end of this post.

As with most people who decide to leave their native land, there were a multitude of reasons why my wife, Pat, and I decided to emigrate. Here is a very shortened explanation. Where do I start? OK: Mrs. Thatcher.


 I spent my last 10 years in England under Margaret Thatcher’s rule. It was not a happy time: the miners’ strike, neo-liberal economics, and an increasing class and income gap. The poor became poorer and the rich got richer. 

I had served as a county councillor (equivalent to a provincial MLA) for the five years from 1985 to 1989. I got a glimpse of how the political system really worked in Britain. Basically the fix was in. Britain is a deeply conservative country with a small ‘c’, and British Conservatives with a large C are very clever in making sure they retain control. (Tony Blair was Plan B for the Conservatives.) When I last looked the Conservatives in Britain are still at it. Britain has hardly changed in the 34 years since I left – when asked why I left Britain, I sometimes reply: ‘I’m a political refugee from Thatcherism’.


I had been at the Open University for twenty years. The first ten years had been really good. The OU had been an exciting, innovative place to work. I had my own research group, I had produced television and radio programs with the BBC, and was a course author for a number of Open University courses. I was by 1986 a full professor and I had freedom to travel, of which I took great advantage.

However, the OU was becoming sclerotic. It had nearly 100,000 students and an enormous bucreaucracy was needed to support this. The excitement of the early days had faded. I was working myself silly, bringing in mainly European research grants, and getting no support or thanks for it from the university. It was resistant to change as proved by our unsuccessful experience in trying to move to computer conferencing and more agile course designs. A lot of my time at the OU was advising senior management about educational technology and broadcasting policy. I was getting fed up with giving advice; I was beginning to want to make the decisions myself.

My frustration became particularly focused after a meeting of the European Economic Commission’s Educational Technology sub-committee in Aix-en-Provence in France. We were having a drink in a café following the meeting. There was one representative from each of the twelve different European countries that made up the European Economic Community. (This was in 1987, before the creation of the European Union). The discussion (not surprisingly) got around to government cuts in higher education funding. I suggested that we each write down our annual salary on a napkin and convert it to UK pounds. I collected the 12 napkins and ordered them from highest to lowest salary. Although I was chair of the committee, and a full professor, I had the third lowest salary, at just under £19,000 a year (about C$35,000 in those days.). Only the delegates from Greece and Portugal had lower salaries.

It was time for a change.


Politics and the OU were negatives; Canada was the positive. My wife and I had fallen in love in Newfoundland, and since then we had both fallen in love with Canada, and especially Vancouver. Distance education in Canada was dynamic and experimental. Athabasca University and the Open Learning Agency were still relatively new and dynamic. Tele-conferencing was being used extensively in Newfoundland. University of Guelph had developed computer conferencing software called CoSy. TVOntario, Knowledge Network in B.C., and the University of Saskatchewan were using satellites for broadcasting. And Canadians – and not just distance educators – had been so welcoming to me on all my visits (even the bun hurlers). Canada seemed to be a world of opportunity, especially in educational technology and distance education (we know all about distance in Canada).

All the same it was still a difficult decision. We both were leaving behind elderly parents, a network of very close friends, and above all my two sons. However, they were either just through or almost through university, and had their own lives ahead. (As my youngest son said, ‘Dad, you don’t get the concept. It’s the kids that emigrate, not the parents.’) At one time both were working in California, just down the road from Vancouver, although both later returned to the UK.

We were fortunate. We came entirely on our own free will. Many immigrants do not have this luxury, but all immigrants give up a great deal in making the choice. I still support the England football team and Tottenham Hotspur. Loss of close contact with family and cultural roots will always haunt an immigrant, but at least in our case, the choice was the right one. I’m proud we made it, and grateful to Canada for welcoming us so strongly. I feel Canadian and I’m proud and fortunate to be Canadian.

Up next

How I got to Canada – a bizarre series of events

The journey so far

Here is a list of the posts to date in this series:


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