25 Apr 2018

“Game-changing technology” brings a double win for the OU at Guardian University Awards

The Open University is celebrating after winning two awards in the Guardian University Awards 2018 for Teaching Excellence and Digital Innovation.

Acting Vice-Chancellor of the OU, Professor Mary Kellett said: “This is fantastic news. To win not just one but two prestigious national awards – teaching excellence and digital innovation – is an amazing tribute to the OU. I am so proud of the brilliant team effort across the OU, STEM, Learning & Teaching Innovation, and IT.

“The Open University is always striving to find new ways to improve the experience of our students and make learning even more accessible, so having the judges describe our work as game-changing is a great accolade.”

The Internet of Laboratory Things, which enhances the experience of around 7,000 STEM students each year, was awarded the Teaching Excellence Award, with one of the judges Khalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice at the University of Birmingham saying: “The application was inclusive, innovative and creative, it developed inclusive pedagogy which enables individuals to access state of the art equipment at their fingertips.”

The project, part of the OpenSTEM Labs, connects Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students to instrumentation and equipment for learning and research over the internet 24 hours a day, so that distance is no longer a barrier. It significantly extends earlier provision of online tools for practical teaching and enables access to an unprecedented level of detail for research projects.

Commenting on the OU’s success in teaching excellence, Professor Nicholas Braithwaite, Associate Dean (Academic Excellence) said: “The project builds on an earlier initiative supported by The Wolfson Foundation, developed further through a HEFCE capital award for teaching practical subjects at a distance. We’ve used the inclusive affordances of the internet and some sophisticated laboratory kit to offer a wide range of opportunities for active learning.”

A project which has improved online course delivery was the winner of the Digital Innovation Award at the Guardian University Awards 2018.

The winning project is the Accessible Interactive Media Player (AIM). This project delivers highly accessible audio and video content with exciting new options to support learning for all students. It runs in all modern web browsers and devices, and has advanced accessibility features, such as interactive transcripts and full keyboard control, and options for innovative navigation tools, like chapter markers, playlists and in-video annotations. It was rolled out for all modules from late 2017 and the AIM player is now available for many students.

Andy Youell, Director of Data Policy and Governance at HESA was one of the judges of the award and said: “The winner has addressed real world issues of accessibility and inclusivity to develop a new technology that we think is potentially game-changing in the delivery of online learning.”

Dr Steve Rycroft, Head of Learning and Teaching Environments, said: “It’s fantastic to be recognised in this year’s Guardian awards. The OU has always used a variety of technologies to deliver innovative teaching and distance learning. We’re particularly proud of creating digital tools that can improve the learning experience for disabled people, but we’ve also seen that all students can benefit from these kind of developments, in the spirit of universal design.

“This accessible media player project was a great collaboration between the LTI Learning Systems team and our amazing IT developers – skilled educational technologists and experienced developers working closely together, with a strong culture of creativity and continuous improvement, and a genuine passion for accessibility. This shows the OU’s continued commitment to improving accessibility for our students.”

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