University of Nottingham’s “OPAD” group scoops prestigious national award

Posted on 8 Aug 2023 by The Manufacturer

A cross-faculty group made up of students and staff at the University of Nottingham has received Advance HE’s Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE).

Members of OPAD collaborate to create assistive and rehabilitation devices for community and healthcare partners where commercial solutions do not exist. Students with complementary skills work in multidisciplinary teams – supported by research, technical, academic, and administrative staff, as well as clients and representatives – to ensure projects meet regulatory requirements and follow efficient design-development processes that address the needs of end-users.

At the start of each academic year, requests by community and healthcare partners are announced and project teams are formed, ensuring a mix of disciplines, skills, and experience. Weekly sessions are held that include training and team building, followed by breakout sessions for each group to progress their projects.

Currently, the team is working on several projects, including ear defenders for premature babies with vulnerability to noise-induced stress; bespoke instrument controllers for disabled teen musicians; and adaptive design of chemistry lab equipment that increases accessibility for disabled students.

Ruth Goodridge, Professor of Additive Manufacturing in the Faculty of Engineering and OPAD lead, said: “Multidisciplinary collaborations in research environments are common in higher education, but they’re rare in teaching and learning activities – and even rarer when the two are combined. Ensuring students have skills that are attractive to employers is key and so is practical experience, particularly in STEM subjects.

“This is what we wanted to achieve with OPAD, for students from different backgrounds to have the chance to work together to apply the knowledge and technical skills gained from their courses to real life problems. We’re proud to be an environment where students and staff can learn from each other, and where teaching and research activities are deeply linked. For that to be recognised with this award is a real honour and welcome reward for all the staff and students who have volunteered their time to take part in this initiative”.

Although its base is in Engineering, OPAD is open to all students and staff at the university, with current members including representatives from Engineering, Medicine and Health Sciences, Computer Science, the Business School, Physics, and Chemistry. Since its creation in 2016, the group has grown from 17 students and three staff, all of whom were based in engineering, to 93 students and 27 staff in 2023.

Professor Sarah Speight, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience at the University of Nottingham, said: “This is fantastic recognition for OPAD, which brings together individuals from across faculties in its commitment to develop assistive and rehabilitation solutions for healthcare. It seeks diversity of experience and expertise and, by so doing, supports not only our community partners, but also the learning of our students. It provides them with important, real-life settings in which to apply their skills and make a real difference. My congratulations to the team!”

CATE recognises and celebrates collaborative work that has had a demonstrable impact on teaching and learning, with each award recognising a team that has enabled a change in practice for colleagues and/or students at an institutional or discipline level.

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Advance HE, said: “Congratulations to all of the new National Teaching Fellows and CATE teams on this prestigious accolade which recognises and rewards their commitment to teaching and learning and the impact it has on student success.

“It is with great pride that we run these awards for the UK higher education sector designed to celebrate these passionate people who make such a difference to students’ education and to the practice of their colleagues. We look forward to working with the new NTFs and CATE winners and sharing their excellent practice with colleagues around the sector.”

The award ceremony for this year’s winners is due to take place at The Library of Birmingham on 28 September.

OPAD is currently looking for sponsors to allow them to support more community partner requests and allow more students to benefit from this extra-curriculum, voluntary initiative. To find out more, please click here.

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