Diagnostic tests are available for students to assess their readiness for study and these cover digital skill levels. Those who may need support are directed to our Access courses (Access Courses | Preparing for Study | Open University) which assume that students will need guidance to get the right equipment and acquire the necessary skills very early on in the course. Skills development is embedded into the course materials and the learning is scaffolded so that the student should have acquired both equipment and skills to enable them to progress. The skills students will have the opportunity to develop are captured within the OU’s Employability Framework and Digital and Information Literacy Skills Framework. These frameworks cover both the skills students need for study and for their career development. A recent survey of our current students highlighted high levels of satisfaction with the support they received with developing their digital literacies. The priority for the University is exploring how we support the development of the basic digital skills prospective students need to study with us at the OU, should they not be ready for an Access course.
There are many materials available for staff and students to ensure digital content is accessible for all. (see, for example, Assistive technologies and online learning - OpenLearn - Open University - H810_1). Guidance is provided for students (Studying on a screen | Help Centre | The Open University) and there is help and support for all students at Computing help | Help Centre | The Open University.
The University is currently piloting innovative approaches to providing in-cell access to digital material for students in secure environments. A recent research project into digital connectivity in rural areas highlighted it was challenging for students with limited/no broadband in rural areas to access online materials and some find it challenging to travel to locations with internet access, particularly if they have caring responsibilities, disabilities or long-term health conditions. The evaluation of the pilot with students in secure environments is showing a positive impact and the University is exploring the potential for these approaches to make online study materials more accessible for students with limited/no broadband (e.g. students in rural areas). There are no specific policies currently in relation to digital accessibility but principles are included in our Accessibility policy (Student Policy & Regulations | Academic Services (sharepoint.com)). There is however work underway to address all aspects of digital exclusion. This work is currently in phase 1 and the expected outputs will include:
1. A more robust evidence-base in place to inform the University’s work on digital inclusion, including an approach to monitoring impact and measuring the benefits of this work.
2. Good practice from across the OU and the higher education sector will be disseminated across the University through a Seminar, special edition of the Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning journal, Jisc Digital Inclusion and Wellbeing events, newsletters and OU Life articles.
3. Principles underpinning digital inclusion at the OU will be approved through the appropriate governance channels.
4. Mechanisms will be established to enhance how we identify students at risk of digital exclusion and to communicate more effectively the support available.
5. Students will have improved access to Information, Advice and Guidance on the digital literacy skills needed to complete their qualification and how the University will support the development of these skills
6. Solutions that will enhance digital inclusion and can be implemented in Phase 1 are embedded for October 2022, following pilots where appropriate.
7. Decrease in the percentage of students reporting difficulties in access to the equipment and/or broadband needed for study
8. Increase in the percentage of students satisfied with how the OU has helped them develop their digital literacy skills
9. Mechanisms for improving digital inclusion in the long-term will be identified and plans developed for Phase 2 to ensure the University continues to remove barriers to learning posed by digital exclusion.