Quality Enhancement and Innovation

The Quality Enhancement and Innovation (QEI) portfolio is a key strategic group in IET that undertakes and implements large-scale interdisciplinary research and evaluation across the four university faculties.

QEI aims to improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment at The Open University (OU) and ensure its leading role in delivering high quality, innovative, open and distance education. In collaboration with diverse stakeholders across the OU, QEI research and evaluation activities target student performance outcomes (retention) as well as wellbeing indicators while they are driven by the OU's Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) agenda.

QEI is comprised of a team of academic and academic-related staff with extensive expertise in conducting research in online and distance education within and beyond the OU in areas such as learning analytics and learning design, assessment and feedback, and accessibility. Meet the QEI team here.

Over the years, QEI experts have led the design and evaluation of significant pan-university initiatives such as the use of predictive indicators to improve student retention which led to the award-winning Early Alert Indicators Dashboard and its use by Associate Lectures across the OU, the development of a virtual assistant chatbot, Taylor, for supporting students to disclose disabilities and find information with easy, now integrated with OU systems, and the development of automatic feedback systems for student assessment, such as Open Essayist a real time learning analytics tool that generates feedback that students can use to improve their assignments.

Responding to Teaching and Learning Challenges

The QEI group is currently leading two pan-university projects sponsored by the OU's Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation (PVC-RI) and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Students (PVC-S).

The first project or “Challenge”, sponsored by PVC-RI, aims to identify the benefits of using Artificial Intelligence, including Generative AI and Large Language Models in the production of new curriculum at the University. The QEI team is reviewing existing approaches and literature in the area, detailing course production processes, trialling an AI solution for producing curriculum elements, and assessing the quality of AI outputs. These activities should inform next steps in terms of how AI can support processes of course production across the University.

The second project or “Challenge”, sponsored by PVC-S, aims to enable positive student outcomes (student continuation, completion, performance) by evaluating technological and pedagogical interventions designed to support tutors early in students’ learning journey. The objective is to help tutors to effectively meet the heterogeneity of student learning needs, motivations, and personal contexts. The QEI team is implementing a number of activities in order to meet this objective, including a consultation with tutors, focus groups with students, a desk review, and the piloting of a learning analytics dashboard with students. These activities should inform next steps in addressing this Challenge. Alongside these challenges, the QEI team is progressing existing initiatives which seeks to improve accessibility and assist with strategic evaluation at the OU.

Accessibility and learning

QEI and IET have a strong history of work on understanding disabled students’ experiences and in designing and evaluating innovations to enhance accessibility. As a whole institutional approach is needed to make study accessible to all, we work in partnership with our students and colleagues from across the OU. The primary vehicle for this is Securing Greater Accessibility (SeGA), which has supported university-wide decision-making and awareness building, knowledge sharing through our intranet site, and quality enhancement activities, for over ten years. Current and recent projects include identifying ways that the university can become more ‘Accessible by Design’, surveys of staff and students on barriers and perceptions, and piloting Taylor, an AI-powered virtual assistant for disability support. These activities link with research projects undertaken in collaboration with organisations such as Jisc, Microsoft and Natspec.

Working with Further Education (FE) Colleges 

The National Enrichment Programme (NEP), led by The Open University in Wales, represents a dynamic and comprehensive effort to enhance the transition experience for further education (FE) students in Wales. This initiative aligns with the Renew & Reform: Post-16 and Transition Plan of the Welsh Government and is deeply rooted in collaboration and innovation.  Collaboration with FE colleges is at the heart of this project, with partnerships formed across Wales. The NEP features on the OU’s OpenLearn platform, offering participating students a blend of self-study, workshops, and guest speakers. Access the NEP OpenLearn hub here.

In 2023, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) funded an enriched version of the programme (National Enrichment Programme Enhanced), which enhances the existing FE curriculum by appointing and training college staff to focus on learner transition, personal development, and wellbeing. QEI led the evaluation of both programmes using a participatory co-design approach, which involves surveying college staff and students and monitoring student engagement on the OpenLearn platform.

Impact of QEI Initiatives

In the past, QEI members made valuable contributions to strategic work across faculties and a range of operational units. More information about this work can be found here. The team has published QEI results in high impact journals in education and educational technology and has significantly contributed to the last two Research Excellence Frameworks (REF) cycles with 3* and 4* publications.  Find out more below.

Professor Christothea Herodotou selected as Associate Director of QEI

We are pleased to announce that Professor Christothea Herodotou has been selected as the new Associate Director of Quality Enhancement and Innovation (QEI) in IET for a three-year period.

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Meet the QEI team

The QEI team is comprised of research-active academics and professional services staff in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) at The Open University. Together they provide leadership in detecting, advocating and piloting future opportunities for educational technology in online and distance learning and supporting the university in responding effectively to current challenges.

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Impact of QEI initiatives

The QEI team has extensive expertise in the fields of learning design, innovating analytics, accessibility and learning, and assessment and feedback.

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Advancing accessibility in learning

IET has led cross-university activities to enhance the accessibility of The Open University study for over a decade and this now operates as a strand of QEI activity.

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Assessment and feedback

IET is internationally recognised as an expert in assessment and feedback for digital and distance education.

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Innovative analytics

IET is an internationally recognised leader in learning analytics, with a rich history of researching, developing, and disseminating new approaches for the use of data in learning.

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Learning design and the learner experience

IET has fifteen years’ experience in the field of Learning Design, identifying challenges to distance learning and providing innovative approaches and solutions to improve experience.

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