Assistants to the Disclosure and Management of Information about Needs and Support


ADMINS investigates administrative process, assessing the accessibility issues which affect students within higher education


The Open University is a pioneer in making learning accessible to all. For over 50 years we have provided opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people, with a focus on overcoming barriers to study. Harnessing new technologies effectively has always been core to achieving this mission through the Institute of Educational Technology (IET).

The ADMINS project was inspired by our recent research that identified how forms and administrative processes create barriers to getting the right support for study and independent living. For students, this can have a variety of impacts, including reducing the chance of success and having a detrimental effect on their wellbeing.

With a population of over 20,000 students with declared disabilities at the Open University, the ADMINS project is creating a chatbot assistant that can enable more effective access to support by providing an alternative to filling in forms. By supporting dialogue, the assistant can both guide the student to provide information that helps the university understand their needs, and allow them to ask questions and understand more about the support available.

Working with the participation of students and staff, we are iteratively developing and evaluating the assistant. Students with disabilities and disability advisors have been involved at each stage.

Over 130 students took part in our recent trial and compared the experience of using the ADMINS assistant to completing the current form-based process. The results are encouraging with the majority of these participants preferring the chatbot assistant to the form. They also provided valuable feedback to direct our next steps.

The OU provides a great testbed for this project, but the potential is far wider. Assistants such as this could improve processes of accessing support for people with disabilities around the world. To explore this, we are engaging with other educational institutions to investigate how assistants like this could be adopted to serve different contexts.

ADMINS is funded by Microsoft, through their AI for Accessibility program. This $25 million 5-year program is aimed at harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities.

This project is also aligned to the Learning Futures research programme in IET.

The role of IET

IET leads and manages the ADMINS project. The Learning and Teaching Technologies (LTT) team (McLeod, Greenwood, Freear, Devine) are responsible for the development of the virtual assistant.

The research team (Tim Coughlan, Kate Lister, Francisco Iniesto) have responsibility for informing the design and guiding the project. This includes participatory design activities with staff and students, research to inform the accessibility of the virtual assistant, and trial evaluations.