06 Oct 2008

Live mobile teaching aid shortlisted for prestigious award

Scaling rocky surfaces and wild terrain wasn’t an option for residential school students with mobility difficulties – but a new solution from The Open University has overcome this barrier to learning and been shortlisted for a prestigious award.

The Enabling Remote Activity (ERA) project helps mobility impaired students participate fully in fieldwork activities and is shortlisted for a Handheld Learning 2008 award in the Special Needs category.

The ERA project uses commonly available equipment to set up a wireless network at very remote locations linking the mobility impaired student, who is generally based in a vehicle nearby, to the group undertaking fieldwork. Working alongside a tutor, the student can liaise with a field geologist over the wireless network to obtain photos and videos of what is being examined – these are immediately streamed through to the student’s laptop. The student is able to direct the field geologist to items of interest and complete the same learning activities as the other students at the field locations.

The project has been used to great success for field trips to the Scottish countryside. With difficulties walking, 65-year-old Jackie Wardill knew she couldn’t attend her residential school for her ‘Ancient Mountains’ course without considerable support and was delighted when ERA was offered as an option for her. She said: “The ERA system enabled me to study locations I could never have reached due to my physical limitations. It meant I had the undivided attention of my own tutor, and I was able to be comfortable in my car – which was very important to me. The benefit to my study experience was considerable - I gained an intimate knowledge of the geology of the area and a wide variety of rocks. I think ERA is a wonderful tool. It has certainly given me opportunities for my own exploration, and has enabled me to gain knowledge and understanding virtually at first hand.”

ERA project manager, Jessica Bartlett said: “ERA has been a successful way of ensuring that less mobile students are fully included in field trips. In the past it has been difficult to involve them in these activities but ERA has changed this. We are excited because we can now see the project opening up opportunities for other subjects and institutions to adopt the solution for themselves.”

Votes are cast via standard rate SMS messaging and close at midnight (GMT) on Thursday 9 October. The winners will be announced by Johnny Ball on Monday 13 October.

Editor’s Notes

To vote for ERA, text ERA to +447786 203140

The ERA project is a collaboration between The Open University’s Earth and Environmental Sciences unit, the Disability Resources Team and the Knowledge Media Institute.

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