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“Highly deserving” OU OpenSTEM Labs win at Higher Education awards

The OU’s OpenSTEM Labs project has won the Outstanding Digital Innovation of the Year trophy at this year’s Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards (THELMAs).

This incredibly exciting project enables OU science students to connect online to technical equipment such as microscopes, robots and robotic rovers, telescopes, lab-bench experiments and analytical instruments. This means that our students are able to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects anytime, anywhere. At a time that suits them, students are also able to remotely conduct experiments in environments including a mountain-top observatory, a cloud chamber and a “Mars landscape”.

Being able to study science remotely is not unusual for the OU, but what is impressive for any university is the level of detail that our students can now access as a result of our pioneering technology.

The judges described the project as a “highly deserving winner” and said.

This innovation has far-ranging implications, not only for distance learners but also in maximising the use, impact and return on investment in specialist equipment.

The project was funded by a £2.8 million grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which was matched by the OU. Several hundred hours of use have already been logged, and new courses in electronics and space science are due to start utilising the OpenSTEM Labs next year.

In the future, the OU plans partnerships with other universities and outside organisations to maximise use of the technology, dubbed an “Internet of Laboratory Things”.

Commenting on the award, Professor Nick Braithwaite, Associate Dean (Academic Excellence) in the Faculty of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics said:

Our mission in all of this is to put our students first and one of the ways we can do this is to ensure that we provide them with the tools, in effect, an “Internet of Laboratory Things”, which are completely accessible in a remote setting.

The OpenSTEM Labs demonstrate how the OU is at the forefront of making teaching facilities available in a true distance-learning setting. This builds on the award-winning base of The Wolfson OpenScience Laboratory (itself a Times Higher digital innovation award winner in 2014).

The THELMAs recognise outstanding work across the professional services and administration of the UK’s world-leading higher education institutions.

About Author

Rebecca works in the Media Relations team at The Open University. She has a wide range of experience including teaching English as a foreign language, working as a museum and gallery curator and doing media relations for food and drink producers. She has a degree in History of Art and Philosophy from the University of Birmingham and a Masters from City University London. Rebecca specialises in stories from the OU's Faculty of Business and Law, the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education, and Language Studies. She also works on publicity for the OU's activities on degree apprenticeships. One of the loves of her life is her little jack russell.

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