Who we are:
The Open University is the UK's leading and largest university; we have c.200,000 students each year
and over 2 million alumni. Since our foundation in the late 1960 the OU has pioneered the idea of
open education and, as our mission states, we are "open to people, places,methods and ideas". Perhaps
the most revolutionary aspect of this openness is evidenced in the OU setting no entrance criteria for
students. Through us hundreds of thousands of people have gained a degree who would have been
refused entrance to traditional universities.
Our openness to methods and ideas has lead to the OU being known as pioneer of many new
technologies for educational purpose. Over many years we have gathered experience in delivering our
content via various channels and tackled and understood many of the technological and legal
challenges associated with this.
Early in our life this innovative nature led to a partnership with the BBC (which still exists and is
strong to this day) allowing the OU to screen course study programmes late at night for students.
These programmes were much loved in the UK and you will be lucky to find anyone from the UK who
has not seen one (let alone one who can't give you a good description of a stereotypical 1970s OU
academic with big hair, leather elbow patches and sandals! Check out the Stephen Fry and Hugh
Laurie sketch if you don't believe us http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2un9rO2ZF4g)
Fast-forward to 2009 and the OU is still at the forefront of using latest tools and technologies for
learning. Today of course the internet plays a huge role in teaching but also in enabling OU students
and alumni to come together as a community.
Why We Love Boxee!
We love Boxee for many reasons. Principally it gives us the opportunity to act according to our
founding mission, to be open to people, places, methods and ideas and enables the OU to once again
make educational content available to everyone through their TV set. For many years people have had
to sit in front of their PC or laptop in order to consume multimedia content streamed from the web; this
has been great in some instances, but Boxee offers users the opportunity to watch such content in the
way it was initially intended - through a TV whilst sat on a sofa with a cup or glass of something nice.
Even better though are the social aspects of Boxee. At the OU we know that learning best takes place
within a social context and with the support of fellow learners.
The OU is active and engaged in many online environments (more on this below, but briefly they
include Qik, Youtube, and iTunes U) and the OU Boxee app enables us (and hopefully many others in
the future) deliver this content, via Boxee, in a more coherent and interactive way than via existing
services. The OU boxee app itself pulls OU content from our YouTube channel and our podcast
directory (which feeds iTunes U) and combines it under three three headers, OU life, OU research and
When browsing the app an alphabetic list of content within a section is shown in the left-hand column,
and a categorised view (e.g. Science, Technology, Languages) is shown in the right column to help
filter content by interest. One a user has found the particular item they wish to view a description of
the item will appear in the right column.
In order to effectively and easily manage this process the OU has built a Boxee Drupal module which
scans all of the OU content on YouTube and all of the content on OU podcast directory and controls
the RSS feeds that the Boxee app consumes. One of these feeds dictates the content and the other
controls the navigation in Boxee. This module sits within the OU's student and alumni community site
Platform (www.open.ac.uk/platform) enabling us to promote our Boxee presence to our students and
This Drupal module also play a vital role in allowing us to editorialise the material that appears in the
'Featured' primary navigation of the boxee app (in order for example to match international or national
campaign weeks or the global news agenda). Through the Drupal site that has this module enabled we
can easily choose which items appear in the featured section and we can also editorialise both the
content's title and teaser text for added impact / relevance.
Going forward we would like to develop our Boxee app to serve content to users based on their
viewing habits on other Boxee channels, and would also like to make a wider variety of free
educational or passion-based content available to Boxee users. For example in 2006 The Open
University was funded by the same charitable organisation as funded MIT to make some of its course
materials available online for free. This project is called OpenLearn www.open.ac.uk/openlearn and
makes available thousands of hours of material under Creative Commons licence. This material is
available in a wide variety of formats including XML/RSS and might make for interesting extra content
within the Boxee environment.
The OU Community Online
Because the OU is a distance learning university our students and alumni are used to engaging with us
online and through a variety of formats. Accordingly The Open University has the largest number of
followers on its Facebook profile page of any UK university, and also has more Twitter followers than
any UK university. Our recently-live student community site Platform has c.100,000 registered users
and will soon be communicated more comprehensively to our current 200,000 students and 2 million
The OU was also one of three UK universities to be the first to have an official iTunes U presence
(accessible via www.open.ac.uk/itunes). In the first year since our launch the OU iTunes U presence
has had over 4 million downloads and nearly half a million users (87% of whom are from outside the
UK). Currently we are averaging 80,000 downloads a week and have delivered over 45TB of data in
our first year.
Similarly the OU was also one of the first UK universities to have an official YouTube channel
www.youtube.com/theopenuniversity. So far this channel has delivered nearly 1.5 million video views
and attracts c.20,000 unique users a month (70% of whom are outside the UK). We hope that the early
success of our education and passion-related content in these two environments demonstrates a desire
for such material. We aim for a mature OU presence on Boxee which, effectively communicated to our
student and alumni communities, can deliver wider awareness of Boxee in the UK and internationally,
allow the OU to continue to equalise access to educational resources and allow us to continue to deliver
on our mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.