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OpenSTEM Labs wins Outstanding Digital Innovation of the Year award

The Open University’s (OU) OpenSTEM Labs project was awarded the Outstanding Digital Innovation of the Year trophy last night (22 June 2017) at this year’s Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards (THELMAs).

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 OU’s OpenSTEM Labs project enables learners to connect online to technical equipment such as microscopes, robots and robotic rovers, telescopes, lab-bench experiments and analytical instruments. What this means for OU students is that they can study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects anytime, anywhere. This 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 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.

The judges described the OpenSTEM Labs project as a “highly deserving winner”.

“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 panel said.

Commenting on this 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.”

An event to celebrate the inauguration of the OpenSTEM Lab remotely-controlled and robotic telescopes will take place at the OU on 6 July. Find out more and register.

The THELMAs, now in their ninth year, recognise outstanding work across the professional services and administration of the UK’s world-leading higher education institutions. The Outstanding Digital Innovation of the Year title for the OU in the THELMAs reflects excellent coordination across several areas including the OU STEM faculty, Estates, Finance, IT and Communications.

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