How to set up a successful Impact project from scratch

Blog post by Andrew Smith

No successful impact project actually starts from zero – having nothing behind it. It is all about the community, connections and work that has already been created. Early on, you will need to establish who your allies are when creating an impact project. These are the foundations on which you build to ensure success, and reach out to a broad vocational community.

To put this in perspective, although the UfI-funded Open Networking Lab project started in 2017, it relies on prior projects and long-standing communities of practice – some of which were at least twenty years in the making. However, don’t let this put you off, as all good projects take a little time to develop.

The Open Networking Lab from the Open University (OU) is designed to provide vocational post-sixteen students with an opportunity to learn about network engineering in a format that is engaging as well as enabling. It was designed with the notion of ‘zero to hero’ in mind – allowing anyone to develop practical experience of networking via our cloud-based network simulator.

This could not have been accomplished without the kind and freely-given support of Cisco via their Netacad education programme. This allowed the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute and School of Computing and Communications to collaboratively integrate Cisco’s Packet Tracer Network Simulator into a ‘cloud based’ learning resource, as part of the EU funded FORGE project. For the UfI Open Networking Lab project, the cloud based version has been further improved, and integrated with practically-oriented learning resources to form an online course.

In parallel, the School of Computing and Communications has been working with Cisco to build a community of further education colleges, developing practice, experience and resources for the teaching of network engineering. As a community leader (known as a Cisco Academy Support Centre ) we support at least thirty directly affiliated Further Education Colleges, as well as schools with 6th forms, and apprenticeship training providers. This community gives us the space and the place to test the Open Networking Lab learning materials, and the network simulator, directly with the vocational learners we intend to reach.

The Open Networking Lab project is further enhanced by use of the OU’s OpenLearn platform which hosts a wide range of open educational resources and free courses. The OU also offers OpenLearn Create – a space for any educational organisation to develop and host their content for free. Using OpenLearn Create for the development stage of the Open Networking Lab team enables an agile approach to providing learning resources that can easily be accessed by the further education colleges who are beta-testing the project resources.

The vision is to create sustainable resources that will be hosted on OU open platforms into the future. With this, we go back to the title – How to set up a successful Impact project from scratch. The answer is to have allies, resources and a mind for the opportunity that you wish to explore and exploit. For the Open Networking Lab we capitalised on prior projects and products, and worked with UFI to bring them together, combining the best elements of the OU, Cisco and community of FE colleges.

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