Beginnings(page 2 of 2)
Students and Research
While the University was still developing on campus, some of the intitial research conducted in the name of the OU was actually carried out by the students. In a series of ground-breaking early courses, they were asked to collect data as part of their studies, which was then able to be used in staff research.
On the very first Science course (S100), there was an air pollution survey towards which students were asked to contribute their own data, and also a practical research project conducted by Dr. Peggy Varley. This project – which might today be classed as ‘citizen science’ – involved the collection of information by students who were asked to catch and monitor moths in traps. The data gathered by Dr. Varley in this fashion over a number of years allowed her to publish significant research in this field. In the first clip on this page she demonstrates just such a ‘moth trap’ on an S100 television programme from 1971.
In the image on this page Dr. Varley is pictured alongside the first Dean of Science, Professor Mike Pentz and Professor of Biology Steven Rose on the set of a TV programme for S100. Her 'citizen science' approach was an early forerunner of later such OU projects in the internet age, for example iSpot, which began in 2009 and allows users to post images from nature and interact in order to identify them.
Another such project involving student research saw students on the first Technology course (T100) monitor their local noise levels using a sound level meter which was issued to them by post as one of the early Home Experiment Kits.
At the same time as students were carrying out these ‘citizen science’ projects, The Open University was also conducting research on itself. Included in the Vice-Chancellor’s plans from the very beginning – and officially founded in 1970 – the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) was created to investigate methods of delivering education to distance learners. They have done this ever since, both by monitoring and pioneering new technologies as they emerge, and by assessing current practice to evaluate its successes and areas for further improvement.
In the second clip on this page, IET Lecturer William Prescott describes the early organisational structure of IET and some of the areas it was created to cover.