Skip to content

Toggle service links
  1. eSTEeM
  2. Category
  3. Theme
  4. Supporting students
Subscribe to RSS - Supporting students

Supporting students

Are virtual insight visits an effective way of engaging learners and supporting student retention in distance learning environments?

Project leader(s): 
David Conway, Christine Gardner and Janet Hughes
Academic Services and STEM

It is accepted that insight visits have wide ranging benefits to students including reinforcing and expanding upon taught learning, improved ability to relate theory to practice, encouragement of collaborative learning and enhancement of motivation. Subsequently this enhances teaching and learning, student support and employability, all fundamental parts within student experience (Universities UK, 2016).

Learners often choose distance learning (DL) due to its flexibility and potential to fit around their circumstances. Typically, DL environments involve large numbers of students across a vast geographical location. Learners often have competing priorities for time such as work and childcare. Furthermore, many have physical or mental disabilities and social economic issues. These issues are clearly seen in the School of Computing and Communications (C&C) at stage 1. For example, in module TM111 24% of students are identified as from deprived areas.

As insight visits can only be offered to a limited number at a specific location, traditional insight visits do not meet the needs of the majority of DL students so inevitably have small impact.

Advances in information and communications technologies mean it is now possible to design and implement interactive Virtual Insight Visits (VIV) at low cost where students online can gain many of the same benefits as attending traditional insight visits. Despite this, the concepts of VIV have not been exploited to their full potential. Typically, virtual insight experiences involve only chat boxes which limit interaction with the environment being viewed. For example, NASA virtual visits are simply a video conference between a presenter discussing a specific topic and the audience.

The aim of this project is to investigate if a VIV to either The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) ( or Bletchley Park ( using the Stadium Live platform currently used in Fieldcast, Labcast and Student Hub Live events is an effective method of exposing students to real world environments. Each location is interested working with us to pilot the concept at its museum.

The objectives of the project are to:

  • Explore and evaluate the design, implementation and delivery process of a VIV (how can the concept be improved?)
  • Investigate the opportunities and limitations of a VIV (how much value do they provide?)

Evaluate VIV’s impact through attendee numbers, associated cost per student and attendees’ feedback.

Conway, D., Gardner, C. and Hughes, J. (2019) project poster (PDF)

Conway, D., Gardner, C. and Hughes, J (2020) Are virtual insight visits an effective way to engage learners? Best poster winner at the 9th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 29-30 April 2020. (PPT)

Can a new OU Study App enhance the learning experience of students on S350, an online only module?

Project leader(s): 
Simon Collinson, Rachel McMullan and Catherine Halliwell

A range of 20 modules volunteered to pilot a new OU Study App in 19J. The aims of the developers are to access the ever-increasing time that OU students spend daily on their mobile devices (eMarketer, 2017) for valuable study within the busy lives of OU students such as while on their daily commute or break at work.

Our research questions are therefore ‘How can OU students best engage with the OUStudyApp to optimise their study? What aspects of the App are critical to supporting the student learning journey and should be developed next/further?’

The impacts and uses will be guidance for other modules (in LHCS and STEM more broadly) for module teams, ALs and students on the most effective use of the OU Study App to enhance the learning experience of students. We will also feedback into the future development by the OUStudyApp project team.

The overall outcomes will be a clear guide for students (and tutors) on how to gain maximum benefit from the App such as what it can and can’t do, how to best integrate it within their study programme, how to keep on track when using different modes of study.

Correct guidance to manage student expectations and use of the OU Study App should lead to an enhanced learning experience for student. In particular, we hope to demonstrate how it can be best used to keep students in contact with the module, not feel isolated or overwhelmed when they have to prioritise other commitments, so that they do not passively withdraw or do the minimum to pass.

eMarketer (2017) in-App vs Mobile Web [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 28/8/19)

Collins, S., McMullan, R. and Halliwell, C. (2019) project poster (PDF)

Learning behaviours and successful outcomes in STEM students

Project leader(s): 
Elizabeth Ellis and Alice Gallagher

Since 2016 the Learning Innovation team has been engaged in a series of research activities designed to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying study habits and learning behaviour of OU students, in order to inform the future development of pedagogy, systems, tools and platforms. Potential student behaviours related to study were tested and validated in 2017, as reported in ‘A survey of the learning behaviour of Open University students’ (Ellis et al, 2018). Through a process of Principal Component Analysis, seven clear learning behaviours were identified.

These learning behaviours are Goal-setting, Time, Focus, Note-making, Digital-preferred, Help-seeking and Elaboration.

Although the 2017 dataset included students from across OU faculties, there was a preponderance of Arts students. Therefore, in Spring 2019, the survey was repeated with a small group of students from Science and Technology modules. Through an analysis of these results, including a comparison against previous samples, differences were observed between the behaviour of STEM and non-STEM students. The causes of these differences could potentially include the learning design of STEM modules.

With this in mind eSTEeM, the STEM scholarship centre, was approached to fund a project to focus specifically on learning behaviours of STEM students. The aims of this year-long project were:

  • To investigate the relationship between the learning behaviour of students and outcomes within the context of modules in presentation.
  • To gather learning behaviour data from individual students and cohorts from selected Level 2 STEM modules, to provide a baseline as well as a triangulation point for determining the relationship between learning behaviours and student outcomes.
  • To conduct an in-depth module mapping of each module using the emerging Learning Behaviour Framework, Learning Design Online tools and Nvivo.
  • To compare the learning behaviours of the 2020 cohort of OU students with their outcomes and establish correlations between these.
  • To rigorously test this by revisiting the 2017 student dataset (Ellis et al, 2018) and re-examining the learning behaviours of that cohort with their subsequent outcomes.

The project reached three conclusions, each of would have an impact on learning and teaching at the OU:

  1. That students who demonstrate learning behaviours could be likelier to progress.
  2. That relationships exists between Learning Behaviours, and that certain behaviours appear to trigger each other.
  3. That Learning Behaviours are present in the learning design of modules and could trigger specific behaviours in students.

Related resource

Ellis, E. and Gallagher, A. (2019) project poster (PDF)