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Technologies for STEM learning

Infinite Bandwidth Zero Latency - IBZL2

Project leader(s): 
Steve Walker

IBZL is a thought experiment. It starts from the question: what if bandwidth (and latency) in networks like the internet didn't matter any more? What would become possible?

The capacity and speed of the internet and related networks has increased exponentially over the last 20 years but the change has come in steps, steps that have unleashed waves of innovation.

First generation broadband technology gave millions of users an ‘always-on’ connection to the net for the first time. This led to unforeseen, unanticipated and disruptive new applications like Wikipedia and YouTube.

Next generation broadband may similarly trigger a wave of disruptive applications, with the potential for almost unlimited bandwidth and radically reduced latency.

Can we imagine? Can we anticipate the sort of new applications and services that might develop? More importantly, what new technologies will become possible? 

The IBZL project has sought to identify new possibilities through positing a world with effectively infinite bandwidth and zero latency. IBZL tries to create the conditions to start that imagining process, and can contribute to thinking about the OU’s own work in such a world.


Related resources

Walker poster 'introduction' (PDF)

Walker poster 'how' (PDF)

Walker poster 'what' (PDF)

Walker poster 'outputs' (PDF)

Walker, S., Bell, S., Jackson, A. and Heery, D. (2012) Imagine real avatars and flying shepherds: involvement and engagement in generating innovative project ideas. In: 12th Participatory Design Conference, 14-16 August 2012, Roskilde, Denmark. (PDF)

Thomas, E., Walker, S., Richardson, P. (2012) What did the Romans ever do for us? 'Next generation' networks and hybrid learning resources. In: 8th International Conference on Networked Learning, 2-4 April 2012, Maastricht, Netherlands. (PDF)

Walker, S., Bell, S., Fensom, S., Straughan, K., (2011) The ‘Infinite Bandwidth, Zero Latency’ Project: inventing a digital future. In: IADIS International Conference: ICT, Society and Human Beings , 24-26 July 2011, Rome. (PDF)

S. Bell., S. Walker, Futures (2011), doi:10.1016/j.futures.2011.01.011 (PDF)

Geospatial technologies in distance learning and teaching in Science

Project leader(s): 
Tom Argles and Sarah Davies

Geospatial technologies (that underpin services such as Google Earth™, ArcGIS™, remote sensing and GPS) can be used to help students grasp difficult or threshold concepts, such as 3D visualisation, and improve their spatial thinking skills, or ‘spatial literacy’. These technologies are mostly fairly new to OU teaching, but have the potential to enhance the student experience, particularly for distributed students who can share geolocated data, images and representations online.

Spatial literacy and GIS techniques are skills that are very much in demand from a wide range of employers and need to be enhanced in a modern environmental and geoscience curriculum. In this project, we developed a ‘Geology Photo Blog’ tool, based around a Google Maps™ interface, to enable OU geology students and tutors to share pictures related to their studies and encourage discussion. Each posted picture was linked to its location on the map, and accompanied by a brief description. Other students and staff could post comments on these images on the blog page, generating discussion. This tool was developed for S276 Geology, and finally embedded in the replacement, 60 credit module S209 Earth science.

A parallel strand to the project analysed the experience of a 6-week ‘Remote observation’ topic in the Practical science module, S288. This topic required the students to use an open-source GIS software application to pursue practical investigations from very diverse science disciplines. The bulk of the analysis was conducted by collating data from the intense online forums that supported the students during the 6-week topic, across three presentations (2012B, 2013B, 2014B).

Perhaps the primary finding of this project was the value of peer support in distance learning communities, and the various strategies for promoting and encouraging this. In the current (2015) trend towards more fully online modules, peer support is a very valuable asset not just for students, but also for the module teams designing online materials.

Related resources

Argles, T. and Davies, S. (2014) Geospatial technologies in distance learning and teaching in Science eSTEeM Final Report. (PDF)

Argles and Davies poster (PDF)

Creative Climate Learning: common resources on environmental change

Project leader(s): 
Joe Smith

Creative Climate is a long-term online environmental communications initiative that gathers accounts of people’s understanding and action on environmental change issues. These accounts have been drawn together in TV, radio and web media, all of it appearing on the OU’s main public service site OpenLearn. This report covers both the achievements of the project as a whole and the work supported by eSTEeM & EDIS over the last 18months that has been more focused on sharing resources across the OU learning system.

The project is inspired by considering what the pioneers of the Mass Observation movement would have made of environmental change issues and the Internet. Mass Observation (still ongoing) catalysed the documentary movement and transformed public and professional understanding of the social sciences in Britain. This feels like a similar moment of opportunity at the point where scholars, media and public meet. This is a territory that the OU’s social scientists and media commissioners might be expected to lead in.

Unusually we can afford to take a decade long approach to building the project because the materials are being used in OU modules that will last that long. Creative Climate offers a space within which to experiment with new practices made possible by digital scholarship. It grew out of a conviction that there are some deep failings in the dominant ways in which environmental issues are being communicated, as well as some great opportunities opening up with the web to address these.

For the OU the project offers an opportunity to experiment with the blending of broadcast and web-based content and the holding of professionally produced and user-generated content side-by-side. Another side-benefit is that it offers a chance to test new ways of holding qualitative data ‘in public’. One of the goals is to express interdisciplinary environment and development research and policy as unfolding processes rather than a body of finished results. We think this helps to take some of the unproductive conflict out of, for example the 'climate wars'.

Creative Climate was commissioned as a means of piloting the thinking expressed in the 2009 Open University Broadcast Strategy Review. That review concluded that the OU must find means of splicing together investments in broadcast, learning and outreach more effectively. The project remains the only initiative within the University that has sought to do this on a substantial scale in one area of the curriculum. Its innovations have included: 

  • The first OU-initiated commissions on BBC World Service (9x28 mins) and BBC World TV (6x28mins), with advertisers accepting viewing figs of 70m on the TV transmissions in those slots
  • Use of full OU/BBC co-production broadcasts directly in OU modules (for the first time on this scale since 2000)
  • The first combined professional and public posting of content on openlearn (including over 200 video items produced via micro-commissioning on a budget of £70k)
  • Micro commissioning of web video shorts by students at leading film schools. These sit on three web platforms and also in use in an OU module.
  • Piloting of a shared teaching resources site for the whole OU teaching community (held on the VLE).

Related resources

Smith, J. (2012) Creative Climate. eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

Smith and Fawssett poster (PDF)

Scholarship Shorts - video highlighting the activities, findings and impact of Joe's eSTEeM project.

Video length: 2 mins 33 secs


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