Research · Editorial

Leading research features among IET projects shortlisted for the OU’s Research Excellence Awards

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Research conducted by academic and professional staff at the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology (IET) has been recognised with seven nominations for this year’s Open University Research Excellence Awards.

The OU Research Excellence Awards (REA) recognise and celebrate the outstanding contributions to research from across the OU’s research environment.

Advancing learning and teaching, citizen science learning, and teacher professional development during and after the Covid-19 pandemic feature among the research that has been shortlisted.

Professor Eileen Scanlon, Associate Director for Research in IET, led in congratulating the nominees, sharing:

“Congratulations to all the nominees for the awards! Their nominations in so many different categories represent some of the strength of our research activity in IET. We should also note the special mention for the IET-Research team. Coming after a strong contribution from IET staff into the recent REF [Research Excellence Framework] outcomes gives me confidence that we will continue to bring kudos to the OU for our research leadership in educational technology.”

Considering the impact of this research, Professor Denise Whitelock, Director of IET, commented: “These nominations illustrate the strength and breadth of IET Research. I am very proud of the work which has been recognised through these awards and I send my congratulations to all the nominees.”

The People’s Choice Award

As a unique addition to the OU’s Research Excellence Awards, the People’s Choice award has been decided by members of the public who have been asked to decide which nominee – be that person, team or project - has had the most significant impact on addressing societal challenges.

We are pleased to share that Dr Saraswati Dawadi, research associate at IET and Dr Margaret Ebubedike, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS), was announced as winner of the award on 11th October 2022.

Saraswati's research draws upon her upbringing in Nepal to explain her and her fellow OU researchers’ mission to improve the lives of human trafficking survivors.

This research is having a direct impact in empowering marginalised communities in Nepal and Nigeria, using the latest technology-enhanced education approaches.

Discussing her motivations to research this, Saraswati shared:

“I am really passionate about making a positive impact about my work in the societies where I work.”

“I am seeking to raise the aspirations of girls who are rescued from sex trafficking by giving them support and skills through training.”

Commenting on the research with human trafficking survivors, Saraswati shared how interviews with survivors revealed what specific skills and tools they wanted in order to help fellow survivors. Adding further:

“The girls and young women who are survivors of human trafficking are motivated to be independent and to help others who have had similar experiences. They told us that they want to learn the English language, better their understanding of technology and improve their digital skills. They also want to reintegrate back into their society, but they are not usually accepted by their family members and community.”

“Following our interviews and findings, we are taking this research forward to raise awareness of the resources required to support these girls. Looking forward, we want to respond to their needs, and work closely with their family members and community to raise people’s awareness and create a welcoming environment for them when they want to reintegrate back into their society.”

Also nominated for the People’s Choice award category was the Digital Badges for Teacher Professional Development in India project, based in IET. Over the last two years, Dr Simon Cross, Project Lead of the Digital Badges project, has worked with colleagues from the OU and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai (TISS) to research how digital badge technology can be used to effectively support teacher professional development (TPD) at scale in India and beyond.

Discussing the project, Dr Simon Cross, shared:

“Our research is focused on how new educational technologies and learning approaches can empower teachers to improve their classroom practice and pupil outcomes.”

“Ongoing Teacher Professional Development is important to raising the quality of teaching in schools yet there remain major challenges with ensuring this is equitable, personalised, and relevant to local needs.”

Simon added:

“It is in this context that we have looked at digital badges as a potential tool to help teachers take ownership of their personal development and learn through practice."

“Our research is making a difference. We have trialled the use of badges with teachers from over 220 schools in the state of Assam and we have organised knowledge sharing events attended by teachers and national policy makers.

“The results have been really positive in terms of both societal impact and the quality of the insights we are gathering. Teachers have engaged in the learning and assessment linked to the badges and have taken great pride in receiving them.”

Simon was joined on the project by fellow contributors, Freda Wolfenden, Professor of Education and International Development (WELS), and Dr Lina Adinolfi, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and English Language (WELS). The three colleagues have been collectively recognised for their contribution to the knowledge generation, knowledge mobilisation and capacity building with stakeholders in India.

Post Graduate Research Award

IET’s Lesley Boyd, PhD Researcher at the OU, was runner-up in the Post Graduate Research award, having been shortlisted for her doctoral research using technology-enabled learning networks to develop internal capabilities for organisational learning at the OU. During the time completing her PhD, Lesley presented her research at well-established University platforms, such as eSTEeM (the Faculty of STEM centre for STEM pedagogy) and Faculty of WELS Post Graduate Research conferences.

Discussing the nomination, Lesley said:

“I am honoured to have been shortlisted, and to have been supported by an extensive network of people across the University.”

“I am thrilled that this collaborative and equitable action research and theory-building PhD project, which has yielded sustained impact in a challenging module delivery situation, has been recognised.”

Best Research Project Award     

The LEARN CitSci project, titled Learning and Environmental Science Agency Research Network for Citizen Science, has been shortlisted for the ​Best Research Project Award. The international research project ran between 2017-2022, led by Prof Christothea Herodotou, Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Justice at the OU, Dr Maria Aristeidou, Lecturer of Technology Enhanced Learning at the OU, and Regius Professor Eileen Scanlon, Associate Director of Research in IET

Funded with £1.7M by the National Science Foundation in the US, Wellcome Trust and Economic and Social Research Council in the UK, academics and practitioners across the OU, Oxford University, University of California Davies have explored how young people engage and learn from citizen science education in museum settings.

Discussing the nomination, Christothea Herodotou said:

“Given the scale [of the LEARN CitSci project], we got the opportunity to explore in-depth what young people do when they take part in citizen science projects about the environment and in particular evidence the positive impact this experience has on young people’s science identity, knowledge, skills, and intentions to support the environment in the future.”

Insights from the research have shown how participation in authentic science develops young people’s scientific knowledge and helps them to exhibit science agency. The project has produced over 35 outputs, including: publications, conference presentations, keynotes, public talks, podcasts and an evidence-based knowledge exchange guide supporting practitioners to design inclusive citizen science activities.

Best External Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange Award

​The Digital Badges for Teacher Professional Development in India project led by Dr Simon Cross, Professor Freda Wolfenden and Dr Lina Adinolfi were also nominated for the Best External Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange Award, progressing the ways that digital badge technology might be used to support effective teaching practice and professional development.

Discussing the future for the technology, Simon commented:

“Our vision is that educators in India will start to deploy digital badges as part of their toolbox for transforming teacher professional development at scale.”  

 Commenting on the impact of the digital badges project for those who participated, Professor Freda Wolfenden said: “There was considerable impact on participants, both short term - through enabling us to directly support teachers struggling with the use of remote teaching in an under-resourced context -  and in the longer term, through generating new ways of thinking about assessment within teacher professional development which offer teachers’ greater agency over their own professional learning.” 

A newly published project report discusses the context of the field study, research approach and early research findings. The report also proposes a three-stage framework for thinking about how digital badges could be used for teacher professional development at scale. The project team are in the process of disseminating their research findings and sharing their insight with practitioners.

Dr Saraswati Dawadi also featured in the shortlisting of this award, with considerations for research exploring marginalisation and inclusion towards improving access to education. Reflecting on her research interests, Saraswati shared:

“I have been working at The Open University for two years, following a period in which I completed my PhD at the OU. I have been interested in EDI [Equality, Diversity and Inclusion] in Education. Being from a developing country, (Nepal) and a female academic, I have seen the real challenges in education and the challenges that people go through.”

Progressing this interest, Saraswati is engaged on a project in Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan, working with school leaders to promote and improve inclusion in  education. Adding further:

“We are developing an open access course, which is informed by our initial research , concerning access to education across the countries. Having produced this resource, school leaders have the opportunity to take part in the open course, providing tools and techniques to promote inclusion in their contexts."

Elsewhere, the Faculty of WELS also features heavily in the shortlist, with twelve nominations including People’s Choice Award, Best Research Project Award and PGR Student Award.

The Research and Scholarship Team in IET, led by Maria Di Gennaro, also received a special mention in the Best Support Team Award category. Their outstanding contribution includes pre- and post-award research management to a number of active externally funded research projects, with the team providing effective research, scholarship, and training management contributing to the success both of IET and the wider OU.

Congratulations to all of the nominees who have made an outstanding effort to the research landscape at The Open University. Find out more about the People’s Choice Awards and gain further insights on the research discussed above here.