In 1969 radical technological innovations became reality: The Open University was founded on the belief that communications technology could bring high-quality degree-level learning to people
40 years later The Open University continues to promote social justice and equality of opportunity by providing access to tertiary-level education for all who wish to realise their personal and professional ambitions and fulfil their potential. Through academic research, pedagogic innovation and collaborative partnerships The Open University is acknowledged as a world leader in the design, development and delivery of supported open and distance learning.
Since 1969, The Open University has been a pioneer in the development of learning materials which not only support our registered students but are made freely to a wider audience (nearly 17m terrestrial television viewers last year) through its successful partnership with the BBC. Many of our television and radio programmes are supported by internet-mediated activities as well as conventional print materials. The recent launch of the OpenLearn initiative, with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, offers free online education across the full range of Open University subject areas from access to postgraduate level, with state-of-the-art learning support and collaboration tools which connect learners and educators around the world. Over three million visitors have used this prize-winning site since its launch in 2007.
The scale and the experience of The Open University were two significant factors in the development of OpenLearn and it has reinforced our reputation in distance learning where our unique expertise lies in creating and using learning materials designed to be studied flexibly by people who have a range of needs and experience. This model of educational provision, which uses a number of technical innovations developed by our Knowledge Media Institute to facilitate and support the elearning communities, while allowing us to investigate and evaluate their use in the open content environment, is also a cornerstone of our commitment to sustainable educational provision. The OpenLearn model extends our founding principle of taking knowledge to people, and not moving people to centres of knowledge.
An extension of this venture, drawing on the value of OU study is the University?s involvement, along with a host of other world-class universities, in the Apple iTunes University (iTunesU) initiative. iTunes U offers free access to educational content from some of the world?s leading universities and colleges. A digital library of more than 300 video and audio files drawn from current courses across the University?s broad curriculum are now available to download along with transcripts of all the audio and video items offering yet another way to access OU content.
Alongside these innovative developments in higher education, the University supports a vibrant research portfolio with world-leading research teams who make major contributions to the intellectual currency of disciplines, and to the broader debate around key issues affecting the social, political and geographical well-being of individuals, communities, cultures and nations. In the recent 2008 Research Assessment Exercise the University was ranked amongst the top 50 out of 159 UK HEI institutions.
In addition to the transfer of the knowledge generated from our research into teaching and through our longstanding relationship with the BBC, we also extend our ?local? and ?global? perspectives by translating basic research into a commercially relevant technology through the effective management of the intellectual property arising from genesis research.
One such example is the use of planetary exploration to provide terrestrial applications: through an OU/Wellcome Trust-supported project we have successfully modified a miniaturised mass spectrometer originally designed for the Rosetta and Beagle II missions to provide rapid, accurate diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis. Tuberculosis (TB) is a global public health emergency according to the World Health Organization (WHO). TB results from infection by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is the most common cause of HIV+ related death in Africa. The infection develops rapidly in patients that have a compromised immune system, through being HIV+. The average life expectancy for these patients is as short as 54 days. The WHO concedes that existing tools to diagnose TB are inadequate and there is a need for the development of innovative methods to help halt the pandemic.
With the support of the Wellcome Trust, clinical partners from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and medical software engineers at Cranfield University, the objective is to develop and prove the capabilities of an affordable, portable, automatic device which can be deployed in Africa.
Another example of science innovation includes the development of therapeutic agents within the Life Sciences Dept, which may be used as in the early stages of Alzheimer?s disease. Alzheimer?s disease is the most common form of dementia and is currently incurable. An estimated 26.6 million people worldwide are diagnosed with Alzheimer?s disease and this number is expected to rise. The drug-candidate is currently undergoing preclinical trials in collaboration with EUSA Pharma with clinical trials due to begin this year.
Partnerships are a key feature of all that we do and the University has engaged in a new strategic collaboration with the Environment Agency of England and Wales to support the development of new collaborative networks and practices required to move to a low-carbon and climate- adapted economy and society. Through a series of linked initiatives we are working on the mitigation of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases and the adaptation to the warming which is already unavoidable due to past emissions. Mitigation and adaptation are coupled in the sense that delaying mitigation adds to the future cost of adaptation measures.
The use of technology remains central to our mission and a key research focus now is ubiquitous computing and pervasive technologies. Standard mobile devices (eg cell phones) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and more interactive and location-based services are also increasing in popularity and functionality. Our current interest is in the many tracking and monitoring devices being developed that have a range of potential applications, from supporting mobile learning to remote health monitoring of the elderly and chronically ill.
The Privacy Rights Management for Mobile Applications (PRiMMA) team in collaboration with Imperial College London, are investigating techniques for protecting the private information typically generated from these ubiquitous appliances, including both malicious and accidental misuse. The aim is to produce a Privacy Rights Management (PRM) framework that enables users to specify privacy preferences, to visualise them, learn from the user behaviours and to enforce privacy policies.
For more information, contact:
Dr Alison Hardy
Innovation & Enterprise Manager
Research School, Strategy Unit,
The Open University
Added the 27 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1