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Barriers and enablers to higher education: the experiences of disabled students from minority cultural backgrounds

Project leader(s): 
Chris Corcoran
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

This project will take an intersectional approach and examine the student experience from the combined perspectives of BAME and disability as many students fall into more than one of these categories: in 2019 there were 10,543 students registered in STEM of which 1,246 were BAME and 2,079 were registered disabled. The aim of the project is to investigate the challenges faced by students who fall into these categories within STEM focusing specifically on the journey from registration to completion i.e. what are the barriers facing students entering HE and conversely, what are the enablers that enable them to complete their journey: the tendency is to dwell on the negatives at the expense of the positive and my previous research in this area has highlighted the the challenges that families are willing to overcome in order to support the ambitions of their family member 

The topics explored for these barriers and enablers will be educational background, the input from the family, influence of culture, economics, the relevance of the topic, motivations and how and why the OU was the chosen university. The project will adopt a ‘students as partners’ (Jenkins and Healy, 2011; Mercer-Mapstone et al, 2017) approach by recruiting disabled BAME student or students which will depend on the number of volunteers, from STEM as co-researcher/s – details of the selection criteria are given in the ‘Student Involvement’ section below. 

The project will begin with a statistical overview of STEM, Enginerring and Innovation before focusing on module U116 and will follow the students’ journeys from year 1 to completion. It will send a questionnaire to all students concentrating on investigating what did and did not impede their journey to HE; on completion students will be asked if they wished to take part in focus groups where key points raised from the questionnaire can be discussed.

It is also hoped that these discussions will challenge preconceptions and assumptions of how and why BAME students come to the OU and also to HE.  The assumption is often that BAME students are first generation HE and they need not be at all; that the parents might not value the OU because of its distance and part-time approach to education; with that in mind they could prefer their children to go to conventional universities as these could be seen to have higher cultural capital.

The outcomes of the discussions will be passed to academic, teaching and administrative staff to inform structure, pedagogy and student engagement from the point of registration to completion. This trickle-down approach will ensure that all levels of the Faculty have access to the findings and can make appropriate changes to teaching or management practice to ensure completion. On completion, stand-alone workshops will be delivered to staff and data shared with colleagues delivering staff development sessions where appropriate.

In summary, the overall aim of the project is to ensure that disabled students from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds are as fully supported as they can be throughout their learning journey.

Chris Corcoran and Hayley Lang poster (PPTX)

Theme: 

Effective support for reflective writing: learning from improvers

Project leader(s): 
Cathy Smith and Charlotte Webb
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

Mathematics Education modules involve reflective writing, a form that applies academic analysis to personal practice and is common in professional disciplines. Students entering our level 3 modules, many with mathematical rather than social science backgrounds, need to develop these ways of thinking and writing to succeed.

The aim of this project is to identify, through the use of semi‐structured interviews, the resources and approaches used by Mathematics Education ‘improvers’: students who have made consistent or significant progress over the series of reflective assignments, identified using assessment and demographic data from four Maths Ed modules. By capturing and documenting themes and practices identified as assisting students’ progress, we will use these insights in planning support for modules in production.

Analysis for a prior cohort (without demographics) found 25% of students met our criteria as improvers, suggesting 115 potential interviewees in 20D/20J. Invitations will be issued in batches, aiming for 12 interviews total, and with the initial goal of recruiting improvers belonging to groups with a performance gap in recent presentations, i.e. for Black students (2% of 20D/20J cohort), Asian students (12%), students with less than 2 A-levels (18%), and students with low SES (11%).  Our assumption is not of deficit in these groups, but of learning from students who have themselves been successful learners. 

We are interested in: whether and how improvers on ME620 have used recently-added module activities focused on reflective writing; whether and how improvers in all modules use the feedback from TMAs to inform future assignments; what improvers themselves identify as barriers and support for reflective writing. This is a timely moment to affect the details of tutorial content and assessment design in new modules where the team has already sought to diversify the ways in which students can demonstrate the learning outcomes.

Cathy Smith and Charlotte Webb poster (PPTX)

Theme: 

Evaluating the increase in student wellbeing brought about by informal online sessions and computer generated worked examples on a level 3 pure maths module

Project leader(s): 
Hayley Ryder and Toby O’Neil
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

Issue: student well-being and anxiety. Accessibility of tutorial type resources.

Many students experiencing problems with abstract mathematics either already experience maths anxiety or develop it. They can also lack self-efficacy and mathematical resilience.

Textbooks and module materials invariably demonstrate `correct’ mathematics, often showing an imaginary student’s thoughts at each stage. These ‘correct’ thoughts are usually not what the real student is thinking and so exacerbate anxiety issues and feelings of isolation. Distance education students rarely see others struggling mathematically; they see tutors, text or screencasts showing perfect mathematics flowing easily, even though in reality ‘first versions’ of  mathematics are often messy and incorrect.  On M303, the module team currently produce planned online sessions (podcasts) presented in an informal, conversational style with the goal of raising mathematical resilience and self-efficacy and increasing student wellbeing. Our sessions use existing hardware that enable us to write maths live, in real time, thus demonstrating how maths appears before writing up. A conversational, informal style helps transfer affective learning objectives (it is okay to make mistakes in mathematics and all mathematicians do it). These sessions are popular with M303 students.

With this project, we intend to:

  1.  continue refining the sessions whilst investigating reuse possibilities (currently most sessions are recorded afresh each year) and developing STACK questions to enable students to generate relevant worked examples and practice questions. 
  2. investigate free software to enable faster and cheaper production of closed captions for these sessions to improve accessibility.
  3. survey the current M303 cohort to pin down what makes these sessions successful, looking in particular at wellbeing and on any additional benefit from the related STACK questions.

Evaluation would be via mixed methods (a questionnaire covering resilience, anxiety and wellbeing completed both before and after sessions are viewed, together with semi-structured interviews with students (selected using the questionnaire data).

Hayley Ryder and Toby O'Neil poster (PPTX)

Theme: 

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