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Enabling Remote Activities project wins OU Teaching Award

Trevor Collins, Tuesday 29 April 2008 | Annotate
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The Enabling Remote Activities (ERA) project was awarded an OU Teaching Award today at the opening ceremony of the Making Connections Conference. The ERA project is exploring how mobile technologies can be used to support remote fieldwork and involves collaboration between KMi, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the Disabled Students Services office. Jessica Bartlett from Earth Sciences came up with the idea for the project in 2006 when she was approached by a mobility impaired student seeking to undertake the 'Ancient Mountains' Geology residential school. Having heard about Chris Valentine's work on the Extreme Webcasting from Mount Everest, Jessica approached Chris to see if KMi had any technologies that could help make some of the mountainous field locations more accessible. Chris enlisted the support of his colleagues Mark Gaved and Lewis McCann to develop a wireless network suitable for broadcasting a sense-of-presence video stream and detailed digital photographs between a field geologist and the remote student. In July 2006 the student completed the residential school and subsequently passed the course. On the success of the residential school they formed a proposal for a follow on project to explore the potential of using a similar set-up to support collaborative groupwork between students on a fieldtrip and students at home. With the support of COLMSCT and the Office of the Pro Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, a one day trial was run in a Bedfordshire sand quarry in June 2007. The team expanded to include Trevor Collins (KMi), Sarah Davies (Earth Sciences) and Anne Adams (IET/COLMSCT). Eighteen volunteer Geology students took part in the trial spending half the day working in the field and half at an OU base station. Based on the S260 Geology course a set of activities were created that required both field and base students to work collaboratively. The students at the base site were able to start analysing data as it was being collected and they could relay their findings to the field students during the fieldtrip. Through the remote access trial in 2006 and the collaborative groupwork trial in 2007 we have developed a set of tools and teaching methods that can be used to improve access to fieldwork for OU students. The technologies that have been developed in the ERA project are now available from the Disabled Students Office for any OU course to use. This summer we're planning to support two mobility impaired students undertaking the Ancient Mountains residential school.

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Trevor Collins

Senior Research Fellow

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