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Evaluating Access for Postgraduate Study

Project leader(s): 
Mark Slaymaker and Anactoria Clarke

The project aims to inform the development of, and evaluate the success of, the two week, tutor-supported, Access for Postgraduate Study course being prepared by the research team. Sitting alongside the new ‘Succeeding in Postgraduate Study’ Badged Open Course, the Access for PG course aims to help support new Masters level students to develop their skills in reflection, critical analysis, and referencing. It will involve practical activities and skills development to help students adjust to the requirements of postgraduate study. The pedagogic problem being addressed is that a number of students entering postgraduate study have the practical skills and knowledge commensurate with the level of study, but they sometimes lack underpinning theoretical knowledge as well as the academic skills and awareness that are required for success in Masters modules. This is evident in many STEM subjects, and especially in computing and in engineering where many new students embark on postgraduate study from a vocational, rather than academic, perspective. Some of these students have an undergraduate degree, some in non-STEM subjects, but a significant proportion do not and rely on their prior knowledge and experience instead. We have approximately 300-400 students per presentation who are new to PG study with the OU; even at undergraduate level, we find that students who have previous study experience but who are new to the OU benefit greatly from studying Access (student interviews from the Y033 scholarship work).  Students in both groups can find PG study is more demanding than they expected, and struggle to meet those demands, with approximately 25% of those students withdrawing. Some lodge formal complaints and attempt to recover their fees in the process; others just stop. When students do tell us what is wrong, they sometimes say PG study is too hard. Consequently, there is an issue around retention and completion, and student preparedness for PG qualifications.

This project will investigate the issues around the current levels of preparedness of PG students and evaluate the effectiveness of preparatory course by analysing confidence and skill levels before and after this course, and whether this is carried through their study. Consequently, this project will try to determine whether students transitioning to postgraduate study – particularly from vocational routes, but also from undergraduate study – perform better if they have an orientation activity which highlights the skills and qualities needed for successful study

Mark Slaymaker and Anactoria Clarke poster