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Ultralab's track record

by Richard Millwood last modified Friday Dec 8, 2006 11:48

A brief account of the successful track record of innovation, research and development carried out at Ultralab from the late 1980's until the present time (2005).

Ultralab's first projects involved developing new multimedia CD-ROM based materials to support learning. Ultralab coorodinated and produced the CD-ROMS for the Renaissance higher education project sponsored by Apple in the late 1980's and early 1990s. These were amongst the very first multimedia CD-ROMs developed by higher education to support courses and degree programmes.

In the mid 1990s, Ultralab turned its attention to the internet and developed online community projects which explored the success factors for building learning online in schools, higher education, industry and in the home. These projects ranged from longitudinal studies with few partners to substantial projects involving hundreds of schools.

As the internet matured, this experience and know-how allowed Ultralab to help organise the Tesco SchoolNet 2000 project which empowered hundreds of thousands of young learners to publish on the web, winning a Guiness Book of Records award. Many other explorations discovered how these lessons may be applied in health education, language learning and other fields. Meanwhile Ultralab worked with Oracle to develop the free online community service for schools worldwide.

When the call came in 1999 to build an online college for head teachers (school principals), Ultralab responded rapidly, creating the Talking Heads online community for 1,200 newly appointed heads. This was augmented by Virtual Heads - an online community for aspiring head teachers and grew to support all head teachers in England. Subsequently these projects were novated to the newly established National College for School Leadership at which time there were 30,000 head teachers involved.

Throughout this period, Ultralab was busy developing multimedia online resources for learning, continuing the early ventures to create delightful learning. A major project with the Royal National Lifeboats Institution resulted in a web site with audio-visual stories from many of the people who rescue sea-farers as volunteers, designed to make an impact on young learners who don't know about these everyday heroes. In 2003, Ultralab worked with Childrens' BBC to explore the notion of young children as tv producers.  This work was based on the massively successful international Summer School work which developed DVD disks to demonstrate the emerging capability amongst young people to make film.

Assessement innovation has also been a more recent development, with the QCA and Orange sponsored eVIVA project developing online portfolio and formative dialogue between pupil and teacher culminating in examination conducted over the telephone. Ultralab has developed new, graphical and web-based judgement tools to support reflective thinking about learning behaviours for young people.

Much of this work has been applied in our inclusion projects, of which has made the greatest impact. Designed for teenage learners for whom school does not fit, has created an environment which has successfully transformed young lives and rebuilt confidence in learning. The vast majority emerge with certificates due to the project's 'post-hoc' assessment process.

Re-examination of learning in an online context has also led to a close look at the physical environment - Ultralab has completed research into the new opportunities to include ICT in new build projects, sponsored by the UK's Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

Ultralab's current (2006) major project is Ultraversity - a new undergraduate degree delivered through community online, action enquiry, negotiated learning in the workplace and exhibition. Developed in early 2003, Ultraversity has successfully recruited 400 students and so far 140 have graduated with honours degrees. Ultralab's research findings have been communicated directly to stakeholders by involving them in the projects as co-researchers - in addition, personnel from Ultralab have been international key-note speakers at conferences and are published in diverse media, including television, radio and academic journal.

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