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Changing the way the game is played: transforming postgraduate curriculum praxis and workplace capabilities

Project leader(s): 
Martin Reynolds and Ray Ison

Research question: what are the opportunities and challenges for re-visioning the role of postgraduate distance learning provision and curriculum design in shifting from a conventional emphasis on developing ‘competencies’ based on learning outcomes (playing ‘the game’ better) towards  enhancing ‘capabilities’ thereby creating innovative space for redefining occupational, professional, and social roles and practices amongst stakeholders in the workplace (changing the way ‘the game’ is played)?

The inquiry would have three objectives, all centred on using the experiences of developing the postgraduate systems thinking in practice (STiP) suite of qualifications at the OU as a case study:

  1. To explore systemic governance issues of curriculum design and implementation in relation to supporting part-time postgraduate study for enhancing workplace capabilities
  2. To develop a learning system associated with progressing a new Trailblazer Level 7 apprenticeship standard involving multiple stakeholders including employers and professional bodies as well as other HEI providers
  3. To leverage experiences of the L7 apprenticeship for postgraduate curriculum design and implementation

This research inquiry will focus in the first instance on the successful provision of postgraduate studies in Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) at The Open University. Against a backdrop of four significant developments during the course of the inquiry, viz: (i) the development of an Employer Trailblazer Committee (for a Level 7 Apprenticeship Standard for the Systems Thinking Practitioner) initiated through ‘managing for emergence’ by the OU; (ii) reporting of the outcomes of an earlier research initiative given support by the STEM Faculty and arising from previous eSTEeM work (described below); (iii) OU support for the renewal of two core STiP modules (TU811 and TU812) for 2020 in support of renewal of the core PG STiP curriculum and (iv) investment by the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) in a programme of research and case study development around systems thinking in the public sector -

A systemic inquiry associated with these four developments provides a unique opportunity for tracking the experiences of curriculum development in the context of significant institutional changes and challenges presented for distance learning organisations.  Opportunities exist for reconfiguring relationships with employers, alumni, professional bodies, associate lecturers (who may be associated with previous named stakeholder groups), and providers of training and HE outside of the OU.  Together these initiatives can be understood as the design of new ‘learning systems’ but it is unclear that this conceptualisation is widespread, or that arrangements and institutional arrangements will be conducive to effecting the desired capabilities of work-based professionals. This proposed eSTEeM project will critically examine how these reconfigurations are played out and what opportunities present themselves for developing innovative space(s) for new curriculum development.

Martin Reynolds and Ray Ison poster


Assessing the effectiveness of the induction process for novice Associate Lecturers in the School of Life Health and Chemical Sciences in preparing them for the Associate Lecturer role

Project leader(s): 
Janette Wallace and Hannah Gauci

Background and issues to be addressed

Prior to the closure of regional centers Associate Lecturer (AL) induction often took place face to face allowing managers and ALs to meet and form connections. Since AL induction comprises an on-line (on-line meaning email, forums and online conferencing) AL Essentials module (which is not grounded in the module, completion is not monitored and parts are out of date) along with any online module specific induction deemed appropriate by the cluster manager or lead ST on a module. This recent ad hoc approach results in variable induction to new to the OU ALs perhaps equipping some with more skills and confidence than others. In addition, it might be more difficult to form communities between ALs, their peers and managers in this online context. Indeed anecdotal evidence suggests that some new to the OU ALs (here on in called novice ALs) feel unsupported in their new role due to lack of development. Online induction The impact of inadequate induction may result in negative outcomes for students such as ineffective tutorial provision, inadequate TMA feedback, poor academic support and ultimately students losing confidence in their AL and the OU. Therefore, supporting Novice ALs to develop the necessary skills and knowledge required to support their students confidently is critical in ensuring a good student experience. This is in agreement with Knight (2002) who reported that the quality of the induction process can influence confidence in new lecturers.

SK299 is a new module in LHCS with the first presentation in 17J. 52 tutors were recruited to the module and around half were new to the Open University. These novice ALs come to OU with variety of backgrounds and experience. Some have much previous experience of supporting students and working in higher education, others have very little and may come from a practitioner background (e.g. nursing). Boyd (2010) noted that practitioners coming to higher education tend to hang on to their practitioner identify and find the transition to higher education sometimes challenging thus the implication of this should be considered in induction.  Experience of working online to support students could vary within Novice ALs. The online recruitment, working practice and induction may contribute the feelings of isolation and lack of confidence in these Novice ALs. 

Barlow & Antoniou, 2007 state that ‘induction needs to be multi-dimensional, and must include orientation to the university, the academic school, and to teaching’. Indeed, Boyd (2010) suggested new staff can find the new institution-related systems and language confusing and challenging. We would support this idea of a multi-dimensional induction in the context of working for the OU. Currently, compulsory induction for the novice ALs included Adobe Connect training, and attendance at a module briefing, they were also advised to complete the AL Essentials module on TutorHome. AL Essentials covers many of the key systems, and skills required.  Skills deemed as essential for the AL role, as highlighted in the generic job specification, include (among others) the ability to promote learning through correspondence tuition, the ability to use ICT in teaching and supporting students, an appreciation of study skills, ability to work with students with disabilities, and working in a team. 

Boyd (2010) highlights the value ‘newcomers’ working alongside ‘old-timers’. This suggests that the delivery of induction activities by experienced AL peers might be beneficial.   To complement AL Essentials an ongoing module induction programme to is being offered to novice SK299 ALs over the first 6 months of the 17J presentation.  This program comprises seven one hour on-line sessions delivered by staff tutors and experienced SK299 AL peers. The sessions include general OU knowledge,  module specific knowledge and more informal guidance. These components of induction were deemed as important by Boyd (2010). Session titles are: Adobe Connect and the first tutorial; Getting started; A.L. Essentials; Supporting nursing students; preparation for TMA01; TMA01 reflection and looking forward to TMA02; TMA02 reflection, TMA03 and exam preparation. In addition, a generic tutor moderators course focusing on forum moderation and facilitating on-line groups is being offered specifically to this group of novice SK299 ALs  and there is a forum for new tutor queries and support that is moderated by staff tutors.

Barlow & Antiou (2007) explain how a tick box approach to induction (akin to completing AL essentials) can be superficial so it is hoped our multifaceted approach which includes synchronous, asynchronous and interactive components should provide a more complete and in-depth induction to allow novice ALs to feel supported and confident in their new role.  

As part of the evaluation we will investigate the effectiveness of the types of induction we have provided and their timing.

Aims and methods

This project aims to assess the confidence of novice SK299 ALs in their new role before and after they have completed their induction and their perception of the effectiveness of their induction in preparing them for their AL role.

The project will be run over two presentations. 20 novice ALs will be recruited from SK299 17J, and then it is hoped a minimum of 10 ALs from 18J. As we cannot predict the number of novice SK299 ALs in 18J we plan to open this to all novice ALs in LHCS rather than specifically SK299. We would hope to gain a similarly sized cohort of novice ALs in the second presentation.   

There are three stages to the proposed evaluation

  1. Evaluate 17J induction programme

    • Describe and catalogue induction events

    • Audit novice SK299 AL forum to identify induction related questions, context, how they were addressed, level of anxiety expressed by AL

    • Create and administer an open and closed question questionnaire at the end of the induction that asks ALs to reflect and evaluate each induction event they attended and identify those willing to participate in focus group.

    • Focus group with questions designed to identify what was deemed to be most useful and what other events or support might have helped their confidence and skills.

    • Outcome: identify changes to make for 18J that could be implemented for ALs on a range of modules in LHCS.

  2. Implement amended induction programme for new to the OU 18J tutors across LHCS and evaluate outcomes using same methods as in stage 1.

  3. Develop generic set of induction recommendations that can be applied to LHCS/Science/more broadly


The outcome of this project is to understand the induction process for novice ALs and the impact this has on their confidence in their role as an AL. It is hoped that we can learn from novice AL feedback to create a specific, timetabled clearer induction process which contains addresses key needs timely during a module presentation. This could be shared though LHCS and Science. In addition the outcome from 17J ALs taking part in the induction and evaluation would be to build peer support and community as well as impacting on novice ALs in 18J to increase their confidence.

Increased confidence in novice ALs should allow them to support students more effectively in creating effective tutorial provision, enhanced TMA feedback, increased forum support and greater academic support. It is hoped this will result in greater student confidence in their AL and the OU and therefore in the students own abilities. This factor could enhance students retention and therefore progression

Overall impact would be increased effective correspondence tuition and therefore consequently student progression and retention.


Barlow, J. and Antoniou, M. (2007) Room for improvement: the experiences of new lecturers in higher education Innovations in Education and Teaching International Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 67–77

Boyd, P. (2010) Academic induction for professional educators: supporting the workplace learning of newly appointed lecturers in teacher and nurse education. International Journal for Academic Development 15:2, pp155-165 [Online] Available at DOI: 10.1080/13601441003738368 (accessed 06/02/2018)

van den Bos, P and Brouwer, J. (2014)  Learning to teach in higher education: how to link theory and practice. Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 19, No. 7, pp772–786, [Online] Available at (Accessed 06/02/2018)

Janette Wallace and Hannah Gauci presentation



Research and Education in Product Development for 2040

Project leader(s): 
Claudia Eckert


Industry is going through a period of tumultuous change due to rapid advances in technology, such as industry 4.0, nano engineering, artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing. Other new technologies are already on the horizon and will have a major impact on industry in the next 20 years.

Aim and objectives

To identify industrial trends to 2040, and establish the responses required by academia and the OU specifically to equip students for the new world. From this a road map for OU teaching in engineering and design can be derived.

Relevance to the OU

The relevance to the Open University lies in the input to long strategic planning of engineering and design courses and qualifications. The benefit to students lies in up-to-date and relevant courses.

Due to the long life of Open University courses, and the effort put into course preparation it is critical that the courses will remain relevant in the long term. A road map of trends and skills can become a valuable input to planning the content and schedule of updates for the Open University courses. The anticipated mix of skills required by engineers might also open up new opportunities for qualifications that can be marketed to potential students and their employers

The OU usually conducts its market research in a highly structured way with traditional OU employers asking them. This type of trend analysis can be used to triangulate marketing findings.

This project can act as a test case for long term research led trend prediction as an additional input to curriculum planning.


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