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Technologies for STEM learning

Blended tutorials in Mathematics: simultaneous F2F and online learning events

Project leader(s): 
Andrew Potter and Colin Blundell
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 
 
In most undergraduate Mathematics & Statistics modules, tuition takes place as either face-to-face (F2F) events or as online events using Adobe Connect. Experiments within the School with tutorials which take place as F2F events whilst simultaneously being broadcast on Adobe Connect have been rare, and lack an evidence-based approach to evaluation. Whilst remote access to F2F events have been used in other Schools and in other contexts (e.g. internal staff meetings), there is a lack of evidence of the efficacy of such events being used in a mathematical learning context.

This project seeks, via a pilot study, to explore the possibility of using “blended” tutorials (i.e. tutorials which take place simultaneously as F2F and online events) on the Level 3 Pure Mathematics module M337 Complex Analysis. The project leaders are a staff tutor on the M337 module team and an experienced AL on a number of M&S modules, with a current contract on M337. Our research question is: “What are the barriers and opportunities of using blended tutorials in a mathematical learning context?”

We propose holding two blended events during the 19J presentation of M337, and then evaluating the success/barriers of such an approach via a number of research methodologies. The tutorials will be held at a F2F venue, and co-facilitated by the project leaders – one based F2F, and the other online. Technologically, the tutorial will be conducted using a Microsoft Surface Pro. This technology allows mathematical content to be written by hand on screen by the F2F presenter, and so can be screen-shared to both a data projector in the venue AND to an Adobe Connect session. The chat box and other online features such as polling will be maintained remotely by the other project leader.

To evaluate the sessions, two experienced ALs will be employed to conduct observations. They will be given an instrument of assessment, and asked to evaluate the learning interactions, both in the F2F space and in the online space. The two project leaders will also keep a reflective journal of their experiences before, during and after the sessions. We will also invite 10 students to interview, to explore the student experience during a blended tutorial. We will invite an equal balance of students who attended F2F as attended online.

It is hoped that this research will lend more insight into the potential problems and potential opportunities of using blended tutorials in the context of mathematical learning. The intended impact of this research on the student experience is a better understanding of how students can learn mathematics in a blended context.

Potter, A. and Blundell, C. (2019) project poster (PDF)

Implementing quantum mechanics visualisation tools in a distance learning context

Project leader(s): 
Calum MacCormick
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

The aim of the project is to analyse a trial run of some carefully selected quantum mechanics visualisation tools within the 19J presentation of SM358, and to use the analysis to inform the development of the level 3 physics curriculum.

As a mathematically abstract and profoundly counter-intuitive subject, quantum mechanics (QM) is notoriously difficult to learn - and teach. One successful approach to improving QM teaching is to include lab-class based visualisation activities which allow students to better understand the abstract and counter-intuitive concepts of QM. Of course, the OU is not a classroom based university, so adapting these modern methods to the OU may not be straightforward.

The OU’s SM358 quantum physics course is now 12 years old. SM358 has always received very good student feedback (>90% positive), but in recent years a small decline in student satisfaction has been noticed. It is hypothesised that the changing expectations of our evolving student population is driving this trend. An objective of the new QM course will be to improve student engagement, learning outcomes and satisfaction by using the latest QM visualisation tools.

A notable development at St Andrews is the QuVis quantum visualisation project (https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/physics/quvis/) which has also been adopted by the IOP as their recommended QM library.

Our plan is to offer three QuVis activities in parallel with the existing course materials, and to ask the students using QuVis to answer conceptual questions and record their impressions on the activities in a questionnaire. Student participation in the trial is voluntary. We are looking to see what challenges/difficulties arise when QuVis are employed outside of a classroom, and therefore what additional support is required.

QM is not the only mathematically abstract, conceptually challenging STEM subject and so the integration of visualisation tools into our teaching is of wide interest both within and beyond the Open University.

Using technology-enabled learning networks to drive module improvements in STEM

Project leader(s): 
Lesley Boyd and Rob Janes
Faculty: 
WELS and STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

This scholarship research project investigates how technology-enabled learning networks can be used in STEM to achieve practical organisational improvement outcomes. The project is a collaboration between the PhD research work of Lesley Boyd and the STEM faculty. It builds on the previous eSTEeM project on Tricky Topics. A learning network is defined in this research as a technology-enabled and structured way of collaboratively learning how to problem-solve and improve, connecting together disparate and geographically dispersed stakeholders across our various organisational boundaries and contexts. The emphasis in this type of ‘organisational’ learning network is on collaborative and equitable participation, and joint ownership of the process and the outcomes from it.

In the previous project learning networks were hosted in standard VLE sites for each of three pilot modules (S215, MST124 and H800) on Tricky Topics, or aspects of academic work that students consistently find tricky or challenging. Discussion forums and online workshops were used to seek feedback from tutors, in order to collaboratively identify Tricky Topics and suggest improvements or produce learning interventions. S215 ALs and the module team very successfully identified a list of conceptual Tricky Topics, plus a list of additional issues and student challenges, specifically highlighting pace and volume of material as a concern. They then produced four intervention videos which have now been in use for the 17J presentation, and a revised Are You Ready For quiz.

A technology-enabled participatory action research approach is being used, progressing together in an unfolding and emergent process, on how to address a particular organisational challenge and achieve change or improvement. This approach is being underpinned by Grounded Theory Method (GTM), and some initial components of a successful learning network have already been identified using this GTM analysis. The ongoing work will consolidate this and answer 1) what practical improvement outcomes can be achieved from the learning networks in question? 2) what factors enable or constrain this – under what conditions are improvement outcomes achieved or prevented? and 3) how can this approach be shared amongst other modules?

The overall improvement outcomes and intended impact for this research will be 1) the identification of mechanisms for collaborative problem-solving and improvement, or ‘closing the feedback loop’ between ALs and module teams, 2) practical interventions identified and implemented to assist with identified issues, 3) intersection of ALs with learning analytics and module mapping data, in conjunction with their own feedback on Tricky Topics, to drive improvements to the student experience and contribute to increased retention and 4) professional development in upskilling ALs in their ability to understand and interpret learning analytics.

Related resources

Boyd, L., 2019. Using Technology-Enabled Learning Networks to Drive Module Improvements in the UK Open University. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2019(1), p.16. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jime.529

Boyd, L., Janes, R. and Olney, T. (2019) Using technology-enabled learning networks to drive module improvements in STEM. Presentation at the 8th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 8-9 May 2019, The Open University. (PPT)

Boyd, L., Leach, C., Janes, R. and Olney, T. (2019) The search for collaborative improvements: using learning networks and learning analytics to drive module improvements in STEM at the Open University. Presentation at the Horizons in STEM HE Conference, 3-4 July 2019, Kingston University London. (PPT)

Boyd, L. and Janes R. (2018) eSTEeM induction presentation