The Open University (OU) was established in 1969. It is a distance learning and research university founded by Royal Charter in the United Kingdom. The university is funded by a combination of student fees, contract income and allocations for teaching and research by the higher education funding bodies throughout the UK.

It has an open entry policy, i.e. students' previous academic achievements are not taken into account for entry to most undergraduate courses. The majority of the OU's undergraduate students are based in the United Kingdom and principally study off-campus. Many of its courses (both undergraduate and postgraduate) can be studied anywhere in the world. There are a number of full-time postgraduate research students based on the university campus as well as more than 1000 members of academic and research staff and over 2500 administrative, operational and support staff.

The strength of the Open University lies in its expertise in distance education and language pedagogy and its experience in the use of new technologies for collaborative learning. Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale.


Qian Kan, PhD

BA and MA in English Language and Literature, PhD in Linguistics, is a senior lecturer in the Department of Languages and Head of Chinese at the OU. Her current research interests are mobile language learning, eTandem learning and using online forums to support intercultural learning. She led the development of OU’s first learning mobile app ‘Chinese Characters First Steps’ (first release 2011). Building on the success of the iOS version, she secured further funding and coordinated the development of a full Android version and upgrading of the iOS version (released August 2014). Research of the user profile of this app (30,000 downloads for iOS version) has been carried out. She also set up and led two eTandem Chinese-English learning projects in collaboration with two Chinese universities. She was responsible for the communication with Chinese institutions, and jointly designed the tandem learning guidelines and activities, as well as conducted the evaluation of the projects and analysing the data. The findings from the two projects have been published.

Maria Luisa Perez Cavana, PhD

BA in Philosophy, PhD in Education, Dipl.Psychol. is a lecturer in the Department of Languages at the OU and subject leader for Modern Foreign Languages at the programme fo the Postgraduate Certificate in Education. Her research focus is on e-portfolios, language awareness and learner autonomy.

She has jointly researched and published on supporting ‘learning to learn’ languages through a reflective and diagnostic tool, the Language Learning Support Dimensions (LLSDs). She has coordinated the OU researcher team in the ERASMUS Multilateral Project: Modularising Multilingual and Multicultural Communication Competence at BA and MA level (MAGICC). Within this project she was in charge of producing a module of pedagogical multilingual and multicultural scenarios that are now available on the website:

Chris Edwards, MSc

BSc(hons) Physics, MSc Science (Science Communication), PGCE, is a lecturer in the Open University’s Institute for Educational Technology, IET. He leads the University’s Masters module on Openness and Innovation in elearning ( that teaches on a range of learning technologies. This 30 ECTS credit (60 UK credits) module is within the Masters in Online and Distance Education, MAODE, programme and devotes a quarter of its study time to open education and its pedagogy: with a focus on MOOCs. IET is a close community of academics and the pedagogy of FutureLearn (, the MOOC platform for UK universities, has been shaped by senior members of this community.

Chris’s research interests include supporting students in their transition to study in an online and distance learning environment, and in learning to be more effective learners. His work includes the conceptual development of the Language Learning Support Dimensions and their initial trialling with students, and has jointly published this work.

Alessia Plutino

Associated Lecturer of Italian at the Open University as well as FHEA Teaching Fellow of Italian at University of Southampton. Her background includes L2 teaching and further education. Her current research interest relevant to this project are i) she has been running a telecollaboration project on interculturality for two years now, involving both synchronous (Skype) and asynchronous (blog) telecollaboration between the University of Salento (Lecce) and University of Southampton. This has now been successfully integrated into the module curriculum; ii) designer and project manager of ITALLO > 10 learning objects which are now available online as Open Resources. The aim of this project was to create, trial and evaluate a suite of asynchronous online resources to consolidate and enhance independent learning support for students of Italian: can be accessed here: