“You work where…?”

Philippa Costello is an Ambitious Futures Graduate Trainee, who has spent the last 6 months working in the Access, Open and Cross-Curricular Innovation team. On completion of her graduate scheme at the end of February 2020, Philippa will be taking up a role as Undergraduate Student Support Officer at Queen Mary University in London. In her final blog post for the team, she sums up her experience of supporting the OU’s flagship Open Programme curriculum. 

Planning for the final placement of my graduate scheme was a bit of a whirlwind. Over the course of my scheme, I had had the opportunity to work in central university departments, but I was yet to find myself in a curriculum-based environment. Luckily for me, I was able to secure 6 months in the Centre for Access, Open and Cross-curricular Innovation.

Before I joined the team, I was vaguely aware of the provision offered by the OU, and I knew some students who had been studying towards or graduated with an ‘Open’ Degree, but I still had a lot of questions about how it worked in reality and what on earth the ‘open box module’ everyone keeps talking about was! (It’s YXM130 and YXM830, in case you were wondering.)

From the off, it was clear I had lucked out. I was quickly introduced to the whole team, set up with a mentor, and was trusted with responsibility for my projects, which included taking the lead on recruiting students to our student shadowing scheme, and supporting the team who manage our ‘Open’ Certificate, Diploma, and Degree in developing a new form of qualification [still in development]. I was even able to represent the team at an external Careers conference – you can read more about it in my last blog post!

One thing that struck me during my placement in the Centre for Access, Open and Cross-curricular Innovation was how much the whole team is committed to providing a great student experience, which is proven by their commitment to student representation through the OU Students Association, as well as how they work with colleagues across the University to offer alternative ways of interaction between students and staff, for example, the ‘Freshers’ and ‘Refreshers’ events they host on Student Hub Live. They also speak directly to students and gain feedback through social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Representing the Open Programme with placement manager Helen Cooke at the Employability Fair in November 2019

I wanted to experience working in a curriculum area as part of my professional development, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better area in terms of gaining a well-rounded Higher Education sector perspective.

A flexible curriculum, such as the one offered by our ‘Open’ qualifications is needed now more than ever. As I write, more and more universities are starting to think about how we can bridge the skills gap in our economy and solve the world’s current and future ‘big problems’ such as global warming or water security.

What we know is that the solutions to these problems will require not only disciplinary expertise, but multidisciplinary knowledge, and at the very least, they will require teams of people to be able to work effectively in an interdisciplinary way. That’s why across the sector, we have seen departments such as the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL) created at the University of Warwick, as well as the founding of the London Interdisciplinary School, a new university entirely focussed on interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Giving students such a high level of flexibility presents enormous value; our students are empowered to take control of their learning and able to self-construct a qualification that is perfect for their needs.

Luckily for us at the OU, we’ve championed this approach to learning for the past 50 years, and we are able to set an example to the rest of the sector in terms of how a student-led multidisciplinary programme can work.

As I come to the end of my graduate scheme and make my next move in the world of HE, I know I will always keep the mission of the OU and it’s first degree with me, putting students first and championing flexibility wherever I can.

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