Supporting care experienced students: Piloting a project in the Faculty of Business and Law

By Grace Allen, Catherine Comfort, Daniel Coxon, Sarah Henderson, Christine Mera & Joanna Mirek-Tooth

Higher Education (HE) is a vast and different world to navigate for any new student wishing to access it. For a student who is a care leaver, this journey can be even more daunting, especially if undertaken without the consistency and reassurance of support networks that many other students benefit from. Indeed, this can affect students who have experience of the care system at any point in their past and not just those considered ‘care leavers’.


“Can you ever be on the same playing field? Can anywhere replicate that network? Probably not, but we have to try to build something different that works instead.”

OU Student, 2021


Across the UK, the number of children in care continues to rise with a larger increase during the pandemic (Barnardo’s, 2020). As these children move from care and become a ‘care leaver’, 13% are known to access HE (compared to 43% of non-care leavers), with half of these students then withdrawing from their studies. Care leavers are one of the most underrepresented groups within HE (Office for Students, 2021).

There is growing recognition across the HE sector that while they cannot influence factors in these young people’s early lives, HE Institutions (HEI) should provide additional support to students who have experience of care (Murphy, 2020). At The Open University, unlike most HEIs, the student body is drawn from students of all ages, with a high proportion being above 25 years old. Therefore, the term ‘care experienced’ is used rather than ‘care leaver’ to be inclusive of all students who have had experiences in the care system whilst growing up, no matter when this was.

The Open University’s mission is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas. We promote educational opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential (The Open University, 2021). In line with our mission, and targets to support care experienced students in the Access and Participation Plan, we are piloting a project within the Faculty of Business and Law (The Open University, 2020). The project team, comprising of Lecturers and Student Experience Managers from across both the Business and Law Schools and the Apprenticeship team, have been working together to consider the appropriate additional support for care experienced students and pilot a service to provide that support.

The data shows that within the Faculty of Business and Law, since 2015/2016, 525 students have declared themselves as being care experienced, with 130 of these students currently studying. However, a challenge facing the university, like others across the HE sector, is knowing who all our care experienced students are. One known barrier in the sector to providing such support is low declaration rates. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as wishing to move on from these experiences once they become adults and can live and study independent of the care system, others are concerned with being labelled or judged and the stigma this may cause, or simply that students who left care some time ago do not realise this support applies to them (Baker, 2017).


“I have very little faith in the system and people in positions of authority.”

OU Student, 2021


This project takes this context into consideration and provides a support mechanism that is open and accessible to all students within the Faculty, allowing those who relate to seek extra support regardless of whether they have made a declaration (Cotton, Nash and Kneale, 2014). This strategy was supported by students with care experience who reviewed the project proposal.

We have been supported by the Care Leavers Association (CLA), who have run a set of workshops focusing on developing a stronger understanding of the needs of students who have experienced care. The CLA shared with us their insights and research, highlighting that a sense of belonging within the academic community is particularly important due to instability and potentially disruptive past experiences.

This research then informed the design of the pilot project. It places our Associate Lecturers, who spend the most time with our students, at the forefront of the project. Therefore, three Associate Lecturers, who successfully demonstrated their past experiences (either professional or personal) with young people, disadvantaged groups or care experienced individuals, joined the project team to take on the key role of delivering support.

The project aims are:

  1. To provide a champion or role model to support and inspire students who have experiences within care.
  2. To inform the development of practical support mechanisms and materials within the faculty which meet the requirements of care experienced students and empower them to succeed.
  3. To provide opportunities for care experienced students to voice their experiences of HE study and the challenges they face with the aim of furthering our understanding of student needs.
  4. To equip care experienced students with knowledge of internal and external resources they can draw on during their studies.

The project launched in April 2021.

In relation to aim 1, tutors are now on hand to support students in a one-to-one environment who request this mentoring service. We have referred to these roles as care champions and provided an online profile on each tutor with a profile picture to make them feel accessible to students.

These profiles sit on webpages developed to meets aims 2 and 4. It was important to the team to build awareness rather than just measure uptake of the service.  Therefore, these pages also contain useful information, links to OU Student Support specialists and signposts to further OU and external resources for care experienced students.

From our interactions with students and the CLA we are aware that many care leavers may wish to access information anonymously rather than proactively seeking one to one support. It was therefore important to demonstrate through the webpages a visible commitment to this group of students, even if they did not wish to initiate contact. Since their launch, these webpages have been visited 100 times by 93 different students.

A full communications plan to raise awareness to all OU stakeholders followed the project which included both internal communications with the help of the Associate Lectures through tutor group online forums, as well as external communications. The project team worked with the FBL social media team, and launched a full FBL social media campaign, which raised awareness of the initiative through the online platforms of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The uptake of tutor calls has been slow, which is to be expected in a group of students who are often reluctant to identify themselves. We are, therefore, planning to continue to offer this support, at the same time as building on student feedback and working to develop a sense of community. Students have made it clear that consistency in services offered is important in gaining trust, rather than evaluating and making changes too swiftly and before students have had a chance to become aware of, and gain trust in, the provision. Therefore, this project has been extended to support this provision and raise further awareness moving into the new academic year.


“We need to build our own networks and having support groups and clubs in place to support us; and following initiatives like this one can ensure that we aren’t going through this alone. We can build back stronger and better, because with initiatives like this one here in FBL we have found our own network, and it works.”

OU Student, 2021


Several students suggested that a network or peer support group would help care experienced students to feel more embedded within the wider university community. We have therefore worked with Learner and Discovery Services to create an online forum for students to connect and a dedicated online space for virtual networking sessions.

In addition, the team will be developing a staff resources page and guide to spread awareness further within the Faculty of Business and Law and make sure due consideration is given to care experienced students within the curriculum development, delivery and support.

We look forward to updating you next year on our progress.

SEM project Team: Grace Allen, Daniel Coxon, Christine Mera, Joanna Mirek-Tooth, Catherine Comfort, Sarah Henderson

Our AL champions: Kristina Burton, Mary Shek, Rose Stringer

Our SST champions: Lorraine Gregory, Kathryn McAnulty

With special thanks to the Care Leavers Association (CLA)


Baker, C. (2017) Care leavers’ views on their transition to adulthood: A Rapid Review of the Evidence. Available at: (Accessed: 09.11.2021).

Barnardo’s (2020) Barnardo’s declares ‘state of emergency’ as number of children needing foster care during Coronavirus pandemic rises by 44%. Available at: (Accessed: 09.11.2021).

Cotton, D., Nash, P. and Kneale, P. (2014) ‘The Experience of Care Leavers in UK Higher Education’, Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 16(3), pp. 5-21. Available at: (Accessed: 09.11.2021).

Murphy, S. (2020) Learning on the margins: Care leavers in higher education. Available at: (Accessed: 09.11.2021).

Office for Students (2021) Care experienced students and looked after children. Available at: (Accessed: 24.6.2021).

The Open University (2020) Access and Participation Plan 2020-2025. Available at: (Accessed: 24.6.2021).

The Open University (2021) Mission. Available at: (Accessed: 24.6.2021).

Grace Allen is a Lecturer and Assistant Head of Student Experience (Law) in the Faculty of Business and Law. Grace is also an Associate Lecturer on the business programme and Practice Tutor.

Catherine Comfort is the Academic Lead for Access, Participation and Success in the Faculty of Business and Law.

Daniel Coxon is a Lecturer and Student Experience Manager (Apprenticeships) in the Faculty of Business Law.

Sarah Henderson is the Head of Student Experience for Law programmes. Sarah is also an Associate Lecturer in Law.

Christine Mera is a Lecturer and Student Experience Manager (Business) in the Faculty of Business and Law. Christine is also an Associate Lecturer teaching business and marketing on the business programme.

Joanna Mirek-Tooth is a Student Experience Manager (Business) in the Faculty of Business and Law. Joanna is also an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies.

This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in e-learning, e-teaching, feelings, General, HE, Law School, motivation, onlinestudent, onlineteacher, onlineteaching, Open University, students, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Integrating online learning provision: What will schools take forward post-pandemic?

By Katharine Jewitt

An 18-month research project is seeking to identify what online learning innovations schools can and will be keeping post-pandemic. Dr Katharine Jewitt reports on preliminary findings:

As Covid restrictions are lifted, school leaders are beginning to plan strategies and allocate resources to ensure that their school’s digital learning environment meets the needs and manages the expectations of staff, pupils and parents/carers beyond the pandemic.

School leaders are building scenarios for a future that incorporates online learning, recognising that there are positives to take forward out of the pandemic. They recognise that their role is to remove barriers and support online learning, ensuring that it evolves in a manner that is sustainable and robust.

A useful approach is to look at capability and capacity, the potential of pupils and staff to take advantage of online learning, and for school leaders to make it happen. Changes need to be measured, appropriate and relevant.

Leading School Learning Through Covid-19 and Beyond is an on-going 18-month research project being led by The Open University looking at how secondary school leaders in England strategically manage and plan for online provision of learning, through the pandemic and beyond.

As we look ahead, there are a number of elements to emerge from our preliminary findings about online learning that schools can take forward…

Wider curriculum offering

Online learning provides an opportunity to offer a wider curriculum to year 9 to 11 pupils. There are inevitable clashes with timetables and pupils cannot always choose the subjects they want to study.

It is possible for students to take a subject online so that they can study what they want and avoid timetable clashes. Where running a class is not viable, for example if a small group wanted to study an additional language, online learning also enables schools to run that part of the curriculum online. There is the possibility of schools collaborating to co-run curriculum subjects, too.

There is scope for flexibility within timetables, offering a mix of online and face-to-face delivery. Schools can look beyond standard class numbers by running some classes online. During Covid, schools have been teaching whole year groups and whole school assemblies have been reported to work well.

Online Saturday support classes

Before Covid-19, staff and pupils used to have to come into school for Saturday classes. But due to Covid, schools have been running Saturday classes online, which stops them having to be open physically out-of-hours. It is kinder to staff, too, who would have had to travel in just to run a one-hour class. Saturday classes have proved popular during Covid. One school reported 80 per cent attendance for Saturday support classes between 9am and noon.


Schools are recognising that online learning can provide personalised learning that can be responsive, bespoke and tailored to pupils’ development.

Pupils with different physical, sensory and educational requirements also need different tools. Online learning is generally more accessible to pupils who use assistive technologies (Daulby, 2019), but there are many ways content and learning activities can be designed to offer better support.

Schools have reported that online learning has resulted in a more inclusive environment and that some SEND students have mostly had a better experience as they have been in-school or been given one-to-one support via online break-out rooms.

Schools will continue to utilise learning platforms for learning resources – this can be of benefit to all students, in particular those with dyslexia. This can also support pupils who are too unwell to attend school. Online material can be provided to stretch students, too.

Beyond Covid, schools will continue to use online platforms so that pupils can access learning and submit work for marking. Some pupils respond well to having access to work in advance of lessons.

During the pandemic, online break-out rooms have been employed to provide one-to-one or small group work support. For example, if pupils are struggling with a concept during a live class, they can be supported and then brought back into the main room. Heads also report that some pupils enjoyed having flexibility in their school day, taking breaks when they wish and having some control and choice over the order of their day and what they learn when.

Parents’ evenings and governor meetings

Schools report that parents’ evenings have worked much better online: it puts an end to parents waiting around if one discussion overruns and it stops parents and staff having to come out in the evening after work. Parents have generally reported positively about parents’ evenings being online and there has been increased attendance. Governor and staff meetings are also reported to have worked very well online.

However, schools will still run face-to-face meetings once or twice a year, as they do not want to lose that vital element of parents visiting the school.

Multi-lateral strategies

The pandemic has brought many challenges. Skills of collaboration, problem-solving and communication have been enhanced through the use of technology and online collaboration.

Collaborating with other schools has brought about a considerable amount of innovation. Working online, schools have drawn upon their local networks, local businesses and the community.

Secondary schools have worked more closely with their local primary schools too. Often they share families and where there has been a break-down in trust or relationships, the other school has stepped in. Sometimes there are safeguarding issues and either the primary or the secondary are better placed to work with the parents.

Although schools have worked with local networks before, the pandemic has seen this work expand. Some schools have formed “communities of practice” for online learning, sharing approaches, problems, solutions etc. Schools have worked with their local authorities and drawn upon other collaborations via TeachMeets and such groups. These digital steering groups are set to continue after Covid.

In some cases, schools have involved local business leaders to facilitate online discussions, enabling pupils to access industry experts. This bringing of the workplace into the classroom through the online space is something many schools want to continue to develop, building closer ties with employers.

Some schools are working to place all of their curriculum online and are collaborating with tech companies to form collaborations and receive funding and support for a whole-school approach.

Staff development

As the use of online learning develops, school leaders need to explore how they support the development of teaching and support staff as well as how we develop pupils’ and parents’ digital skills as resources for learning. Any vision for online learning can only be delivered by staff who are equipped to provide this.

As school leaders look forward beyond the pandemic, consideration needs to be given to how skills can be integrated into the day-to-day professional practice of all staff, whatever their curriculum area or role, rather than things being left to a few specialists.

School leaders have shared how they are considering how student-facing staff are supported in their development, for example in understanding how digital technologies can support day-to-day learning habits as well as subject-specific practices.

Teaching staff need access and time to keep up-to-date with new approaches and new ways of using technology to support and record learning, wherever it takes place. Consideration also needs to be given to the IT environment and how it can be used for teaching and learning, and to appreciate the value of innovation and specialisation as well as safety and standardisation.

Remember: pupils’ confidence in online learning and their satisfaction with its use appear to be determined, to a certain extent, by the confidence of their teachers (Netolicky, 2020).

There are still barriers for staff to using and embracing online learning, not least workload, capabilities and confidence. During Covid-19, some schools have advised how middle leaders and heads of departments have embraced online learning and have been supporting staff to make online learning happen. School leaders are also considering how to equip them with coaching skills in order to help them support teaching staff.


In terms of change-management, schools within our project have been agile and flexible about changes. But any online strategy needs to be contextualised. Turning your strategy aims into meaningful terminology for staff to use in their practice is important.

A key factor is ensuring that the people who need to be engaged understand why it is happening, why it matters, what the impact is – especially when you are talking about bringing online learning into the curriculum.

Leading School Learning Through Covid-19 and Beyond

The research project is being led by The Open University Business School and is looking at how secondary school leaders in England strategically manage and plan for online provision of learning, through the pandemic and beyond. Visit

Get involved

School leaders are invited to complete a 10-minute survey and take part in an online 30-minute interview (all participants will receive a £20 Amazon voucher). For the survey, visit


Daulby: Using assistive technology to give SEND learners independence, Impact, January 2019:

Netolicky, D.M. (2020) Transformation professional learning: making a difference in schools. Abingdon, Routledge.

Katharine Jewitt is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate and Associate Lecturer at The Open University. She is Co-Chair of the UNESCO Inclusive Policy Lab Education and Digital Skills E-Team. Research activities are in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), learners’ experiences and uses of technology in learning, mobile learning environments, computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL), learning in virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Katharine is an advocate of causes such as education equality and social justice. She is particularly interested in how technology enhanced learning can help people to develop key life skills and realise their full potential. Dr Jewitt completed her PhD at the University of Glasgow’s School of Education in using virtual reality for work-based learning with apprentices in SMEs. She holds one doctorate degree, six postgraduate degrees and one Bachelor degree. She tweets at @KatharineJewitt.

 This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in covid19, online learning resources, Online teaching, onlinestudent, onlineteacher, Open University, research, SCiLAB, secondaryEd#, students, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Developing an integrated model of support for full-time students in a part-time world – a pilot

By Charlotte Luckhurst and Liz Hardie


Most students studying law at The Open University study 60 credits a year (equivalent to part-time study).  However, the numbers of students choosing to study law at full-time intensity (120 credits a year) has increased sharply year on year, from 4.5% in 12-13 to 24.3% in 20-21. This culminated in record high numbers during 2019-20 and 2020-21 cohorts. It is speculated that the principal reason for the recent upturn is the pandemic, with individuals having more time for study due to being on furlough or unemployed, having fewer leisure time activities or less commuting due to home working. Whatever the cause, the data on student attainment reveals that full-time study has a detrimental overall impact on student success and students studying at full-time intensity have a lower pass rate than students studying at part-time intensity.  

It was with this attainment gap in mind that the project team, based in the OU Law School, decided to pilot a programme of support specifically designed to cater for the needs of full-time law students, and to promote a sense of community that they might have encountered had they been studying full-time at a conventional / brick university, albeit in an online environment (Thomas, 2012).

What we did

The approach of the project team was to use a mix of tried and tested asynchronous and synchronous methods and some innovative approaches to pilot the support for full-time students to run throughout the 2020-21 presentation. We engaged three tutors to provide support to students at each of the levels of undergraduate study. The support consisted of an online forum with the aim of developing discussions appropriate to each level and to promote online communities of students at each of the levels. The tutors also collaborated to design and run a programme of interactive drop-in sessions covering a variety of academic and employability skills, with guest speakers from the faculty and student body.

We then carried out an evaluation of the pilot using a mix of methods including a student survey of around 90 students, focus groups and tutor interviews to ascertain the value and impact of the pilot in relation to its aims.

Main findings

The project team acknowledges that the research methods had some limitations, principally that it was not possible to distinguish between full-time and part-time students when generating the sample for the survey. This mirrors one of the main challenges we encountered for the duration of the project: communications to students about the forums and drop-in sessions could not be targeted at the students at whom the project was aimed because of system constraints which meant that it was impossible to generate lists of full-time intensity students.

Nevertheless, an analysis of the qualitative data generated from the survey, focus groups and interviews allowed the project team to make some general findings relating to students’ perceptions of the support provided to full-time intensity learners.

First, it is clear that the student respondents felt the drop-in sessions to be of value to them. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive from those who participated. On the other hand, it was also apparent that many of the students who were studying full-time simply could not make time to engage with these events, nor with the online forum, because of the intensity of their workload coupled with the fact that many of these students also worked and/or had caring responsibilities.

As far as the forum was concerned, this was not widely appreciated by tutors or students. The forum was perceived by tutors and students to be a static and moribund tool. This may reflect the increasing preference for students to use newer technologies for collaborating and communicating, including social media, in preference to institutional learning spaces (de Freitas and Conole, 2010).

The data also revealed that while students appreciated the level of tutor support they received from their module tutors, and the efforts made by the three dedicated tutors to provide additional support, they felt a sense of isolation as a result of the challenges presented by full-time study. Some respondents felt that they would have benefited from some advice and guidance from students who were already studying full-time and sharing experiences of coping strategies. There were a notable number of comments on the effect of full-time study combined with domestic responsibilities upon mental health and wellbeing. It is possible this is largely attributable to the circumstances of the pandemic. Nevertheless, it suggests that students would benefit from more mental health support in general, but not necessarily as a result of their chosen mode of study.

Recommendations and next steps

The module team have not yet been able to complete a statistical analysis of the project, and this will be completed in the next few months once the module presentations are all completed.  Nevertheless, the project team have carefully considered the initial findings, mindful of the limitations of the sampling of respondents, and have formulated some initial recommendations to address the issues noted above.

  • We will explore with colleagues in Professional Services whether it is possible to gather data on students by study intensity.
  • Dedicated threads and discussions will be started for full-time intensity students studying from October 2021 on existing forum and discussion boards, such as the law subject site forum, to encourage students studying at full-time intensity to provide peer support to each other.
  • Discussions have started with the student Faculty Open University Students Association representative for business and law about other existing student communication channels where students could be encouraged to provide peer support.
  • The findings from this project have contributed to the design of a proposed Law School Belonging project, where online student sessions will be provided to all students on a variety of topics with opportunities for student-led coffee events on specific issues, such as full-time intensity study.
  • The Law School mentoring project will be asked to consider whether the project could be extended to full-time intensity students.
  • Full-time intensity joint study planners will be available to all law and joint degree students on the law subject site from October 2021, and a review of the supporting materials for students studying 90+ credits on the law subject site will be completed in the next academic year to take into account the findings from this project.


De Freitas, S. and Conole, G. (2010) ‘The Influence of Pervasive and Integrative Tools on Learners’ Experiences and Expectations of Study’, in Sharpe, R., Beetham, H. and de Freitas, S. (eds.) Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 15-30.

Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Charlotte Luckhurst has been a Student Experience Manager in Law and Business and an Associate Lecturer in Law since 2019. Prior to that, she led Law Programmes at a business school and was a module leader and lecturer in public law, human rights and employment law. Having studied as a mature student herself, Charlotte is passionate about supporting students in a widening participation environment and supporting students of all ages and backgrounds to achieve their study goals.

Liz Hardie is a lecturer and Teaching Director of the Open University Law School, having previously worked as a Student Experience Manager for the Law School since 2010.  She has worked for the Open Justice Centre since 2016, supporting law students to carry out pro bono projects both as part of their law degree and on an extra curricular basis.  She is particularly interested in online learning and the use of technology in legal education.

Liz has tutored for the OU since 2006.  Before working for the OU Liz originally qualified as a solicitor and specialised in family and employment claims.

 This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in e-learning, e-teaching, feelings, General, HE, Law School, motivation, onlinestudent, onlineteacher, onlineteaching, Open University, SCiLAB, students, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Continuing our experiences of online mentoring

By Carol Edwards, Lorraine Gregory, Liz Hardie and Louise Taylor

We previously posted a blog in October 2020 entitled ‘Setting up a Pilot Mentoring Programme on W101 – An Introduction to Law’ (Edwards, Hardie and Gregory, 2020). This explained our experiences of setting up a pilot online mentoring project in The Open University (OU) on an introductory law module. The project was set up to help tackle isolation and help students form communities of practice to aid their studies and increase their sense of belonging within both the Law School and the University. The project has since been evaluated. This blog updates readers of the key points from the evaluation and explains how we used that feedback to develop a second pilot peer mentoring scheme for the Law School.

The initial project

The initial pilot started in February 2020 and concluded in July 2020. Students who had completed the module within the last two years were invited to apply for the role of mentor. Ten candidates were successful and attended a training day at Milton Keynes. Our ethos was that the programme should be designed “by the students for the students” so a large part of the day was spent co-creating the programme. The project was piloted in two regions and students who were enrolled on the introductory module in those regions were asked to apply for a mentee place. Once launched, each mentor supported between three and seven mentees by running a forum and facilitating online coffee and drop-in events using the OU platforms. We also received funding from the Law School to employ a tutor to oversee the mentors and act as their key contact.

The project was evaluated through individual interviews and a focus group with mentors while the mentees were invited to attend individual interviews. We obtained funding from SCiLAB to employ a research assistant to carry these out. The mentees commented that it was useful to have a place where you could ask questions and the opportunity to chat to people who had done the course, but they did express concerns about the lack of engagement of other mentees. This was also a concern raised by the mentors, along with the suggestion that WhatsApp would have been a better platform for the forum, as this is favoured by students. One mentor set up his own WhatsApp group which ran outside the official programme – this ended with approximately 70 members having regular Zoom meetings. Both the mentors and mentees felt that the project idea was good and of value, but that the programme could be improved.

Statistical analysis was undertaken of the mentors’ forums and the data supported the comments that there was a low level of engagement. The average number of threads per mentor was typically 12, with 50% of the posts having no response from the mentees. In most forums one or two mentees would respond to the posts. This was disappointing but we did note that on average there would be one to five readers for each forum, with an average of two mentees reading the posts. There was limited interaction between the mentors and mentees but there was a much greater level of passive participation and it is likely that the “lurkers” would gain benefits from the posts. Statistical analysis also showed an interesting correlation between progression and attainment and participation in the project. Students who participated in the project were more likely to complete the module and gain higher marks in their assignments than those who did not participate in the mentoring project. However, we recognise that the numbers of students involved in the project were small (42 students) and it is not possible to show causal connection between the project and student success.

The second project

We subsequently launched a second, larger pilot on the law introductory module, which started in October 2020. Due to Covid-19 the mentor training had to be delivered online, but we still took a co-creation approach to designing the programme as this had proved popular in the initial pilot. This time 16 students were recruited to act as mentors. To address previous concerns related to mentee engagement, we took a many-to-many approach (sometimes referred to as group mentoring model). With this model a number of mentors will work with several mentees (Collier, 2015). We took this approach to allow larger mentee groups to facilitate discussions. In having a team of mentors, we also hoped the work burden for each mentor would be reduced.

For the second pilot we divided the country into four geographical areas, each of which included rural and urban locations. Each area had between 400 and 700 students and all students on the module had access to the mentoring forum and online event, thus ensuring a range of students with a variety of backgrounds and support requirements. Each area was assigned four mentors who worked together to manage forum threads and offer online coffee events using the OU platforms.

In addition, we invited law undergraduate students to put forward proposals for online presentations based on their experiences of studying the introductory module. Presentations were given on a wide range of subjects with emphasis on studying with a disability, wellbeing, tackling isolation and study skills. Feedback indicates that these were well received by the students who attended.

Again, we obtained funding from SCiLAB for a research assistant to conduct individual interviews with both mentors and mentees and a focus group with the mentors. We are currently evaluating the data collected for the second pilot and plan to share our findings in due course. However, initial findings indicate very similar outcomes to the first pilot, with concerns remaining about mentee engagement and the OU platform used to facilitate the forum. The platform choice could be viewed as a failure of our approach and in the future it may be necessary to consider an alternative platform, for example WhatsApp. However, one of the project’s successes was its ability to introduce students and build their confidence to interact with each other. This gave some students the confidence to continue to engage in mentoring within the OU platform and gave others the confidence to migrate from the OU platform and join WhatsApp groups.

A new problem came to light with mentors working in groups of four (this was initially designed to reduce the burden for one mentor), where not all members of the group contributed equally. We recognise that this is an issue we will need to mitigate in any future mentoring scheme within the School.

For the second pilot we successfully secured external funding from the Association of Law Teachers to hold a face-to-face debrief with the mentors and project team which included lunch. Due to Covid-19 this had to be transferred to an online meeting with vouchers provided for the mentors to purchase their own lunches. From the discussion it was clear the mentors had enjoyed the project and they felt it should be taken forward to the new law degree being introduced in October 2021. It was also clear that mentors felt this had offered them a concrete opportunity to demonstrate employability skills (Andrews and Clark, 2011).


In conclusion we feel that a mentoring programme for the Law School, particularly for new students, is a good idea. It provides students with a safe place to ask “silly” questions. It also allows students to interact with other students at the same place in their studies and helps to develop a sense of belonging in the online university. The platform used needs careful consideration and this is something we need to explore further along with how a mentoring project can be supported long term by the Law School.

To find out more about our online mentoring project please click here.


Andrews, J. and Clark, R. (2011) Peer mentoring works! How Peer Mentoring Enhances Student Success in Higher Education. Available at: (Accessed: 21 July 2021).

Collier, P. J., (2015) Developing Effective Student Peer Mentoring Programs. Sterling: Stylus Publishing.

Edwards, C., Gregory, L. and Hardie, L. (2021) ‘Setting Up a Pilot Peer Mentoring Programme in the Online Environment’, Journal of Rights and Justice, 2(i), pp. 7-17. Available at: (Accessed: 2 September 2021).

Edwards, C., Hardie, L. and Gregory, L. (2020) Setting Up a Pilot Mentoring Programme on W101 – An Introduction to Law. Available at: (Accessed: 2 September 2021).

Taylor, L., Edwards, C., Hardie, L. and Gregory, L. (2020) How Peer Mentoring Can Support Students During the Pandemic. Available at: (Accessed: 2 September 2021).

Carol Edwards is a Lecturer and Student Experience Manager within the Open University Law School. She joined the OU as an associate lecturer in 2015 and became a Student Experience Manager in 2018. She is a Fellow of the HEA and a member of the Law School’s Peer Mentoring Project. Carol’s research interests  include tackling student isolation via such programmes as online mentoring. She is also actively involved in scholarship relating to online teaching pedagogy and assessment feedback. Before joining the OU Carol worked in further education and is still actively involved in the quality management of Open Access courses.

Lorraine Gregory is an Educational Advisor and has been working with the Law Student Support team since 2014.  She specialises in supporting students with disabilities (especially those on the autistic spectrum) and is a qualified mental health first-aider.  She is particularly interested in helping students struggling with isolation issues when learning online.

Originally from an e-commerce and digital publishing background, Lorraine moved into counselling before joining the OU.

Liz Hardie is a lecturer and Teaching Director of the Open University Law School, having previously worked as a Student Experience Manager for the Law School since 2010.  She has worked for the Open Justice Centre since 2016, supporting law students to carry out pro bono projects both as part of their law degree and on an extra curricular basis.  She is particularly interested in online learning and the use of technology in legal education.

Liz has tutored for the OU since 2006.  Before working for the OU Liz originally qualified as a solicitor and specialised in family and employment claims.

Louise Taylor is a Lecturer within the Open University Law School. She teaches and researches in the fields of criminal law and victims’ rights and has an interest in approaches designed to improve student wellbeing. She is a Fellow of the HEA and a member of the Law School’s Peer Mentoring Project. She is also a member of the APP/APS Peer Mentoring Task and Finish Group and contributed to the development of the Open University Peer Mentoring Framework.  Before joining the Open University in 2019 Louise was a Senior Lecturer within Nottingham Law School.

This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in Law School, online learning, Open University, SCiLAB, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Business simulation: stimulation for business learners

By Kevin Amor

…simulations are perceived as educational and fun, a rare combination indeed! (Devasagyam, 2007)

Increasingly business schools and others tasked with teaching business skills are using business simulations as a key element of their offering (see for example Faria, 2009). As the name suggests, business simulations are software packages that simulate the running of a business. Teams each run a business, often in competition, over a number of rounds, each of which represents a period of time (a year, for example). After each round the teams are given feedback on what happened as a consequence of their various business decisions made at the start of the round. This would include data such as financial, operations, sales and marketing and human resourcing reports.  Also, facilitators often provide feedback on issues such as how effective the teamworking and decision-making is going.

 Fig 1: Screenshot from Simventure’s game ‘evolution’ (

Are they better than lectures?

What benefits do simulations bring to the table?

Collaborative learning:

Business simulations are typically run in groups. Each group represents a business. Often roles within the team may be allocated; for example, one learner will take the role of finance director, another operations, marketing and so forth. It is well established that more learning takes place when done collaboratively.


Often simulations are run competitively and there is evidence (Fulop, 2002) that a competitive element may enhance learning.  Furthermore, most players report that taking part is fun (Matute-Vallejo & Melero-Polo, 2019) – which also is shown to enhance motivation for learning. After all, decisions to launch products or make multi-million pound investments are being made in an environment where there is no danger of failure or other negative consequence.


The purpose of simulations is to present learners with a realistic, authentic environment. This allows players to learn by applying their classroom and other learning to realistic scenarios. It is difficult to otherwise provide learners with authentic activities given the obvious costs and risks involved. Also, the time span between input and output in the corporate world does not lend itself easily to providing learning feedback and reflection.


Players learn by doing and reflecting on the consequences of their actions. This is completely in line with the current paradigm of learners ‘learning’ rather than being ‘taught’ by the expert at the front. Instead, instructors take the role of game facilitators and mentors to the teams.

Helps to develop both soft- and hard-skills:

Fig 2 Teamworking with Simventure (

Working in teams within a competitive environment, often against deadlines and other constraints helps to highlight the importance of soft-skills. These might include leadership, collaboration, negotiation, problem-solving, decision-making and time-management. Also, simulations can be viewed as a dynamic case study, responding in real-time to decisions taken. This enhances learners’ abilities to analyse data and problem solve as well as to reflect and learn from mistakes.

But are simulations problem-free?

Does learning occur?

A noted objection to the use of business simulations is the difficulty in measuring the extent to which learning has occurred (see for example, Kluge, 2007). This may be due to the wide array of ways in which learning might occur; as mentioned earlier it is believed that simulations enhance both soft and hard-skills, the former being difficult to measure. Indeed, for higher education purposes, designing assessment around simulations can be difficult and often falls back to reflective essays on what was learnt or how improvements might have been made (for example, within the team dynamic).

Playing or learning?

Learners have a dual role of being both players and learners. They need to get the balance between these roles right – an essential task for the facilitators. It is easy to get wrapped up in the game and forget to step back and reflect on what was learnt.

This balance can also be affected by the style and design of the game itself:

An anecdote

 I used to run business simulations for a FTSE100 FMCG company in their global management programme. The company prided itself on employing the cream of graduates for their management training programme (this led to the company overthinking everything and being unable to make any decisions, but that’s another story…). I would run a sophisticated game, with many market segments, product enhancements, advertising and distribution channels available. The game was very successful and the feedback from the participants and their line managers overwhelmingly positive.  

A few years later I was asked to run the same game for a well-known paint manufacturer. The participants here were typically non-graduate, former shop-floor supervisors taking their first step on the management ladder.  It was a disaster! Given the success at the FMCG company I had taken for granted how difficult the game was to play. The above average graduates had no difficulty in absorbing the ‘rules’ and the data provided and then learning from the quantity of feedback provided after each round. However, the new managers found dealing with such an amount of information overwhelming. They found themselves focussing on the game-play rather than learning business lessons.

Fortunately the programme was saved by switching to a different game – one that allowed a more careful build-up of game knowledge.  

 Fig 3 Screenshot from Simventure game ‘Evolution’ (

Final Tips

Fun, engaging, collaborative, authentic, successful – what’s not to like?

Some tips on running a successful simulation programme:

a) Match the game to the audience – what are you hoping they will take away from it? Will they cope with the level of difficulty or quantity of data?

b) Allow enough time – time will be needed to first learn the game-play, then to get into each round’s decisions (this is slow at first), to analyse the feedback (data plus facilitators’) and then to reflect on what has been learnt before going on to the next round. This cycle will vary with different simulations.

c) Ensure active facilitation – the facilitator needs to keep the game flowing smoothly whilst ensuring teams work effectively together as well as making sure players are learning from each round – what worked , what didn’t and why?


Final Thought 

It’s a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get”,  Arnold Palmer, winner of 62 PGA titles.



Devasagayam R. and Hyat S. (2007) ‘Pedagogical Value of Computer-Based Simulations: A Cross–Disciplinary Study’, International Journal Of Business Research, Volume VII, Number 5, pp. 89–95.

Faria, A. J. et al. (2009) ‘Developments in Business Gaming: A Review of the Past 40 Years’, Simulation & Gaming, 40(4), pp. 464–487. doi: 10.1177/1046878108327585.

Fulop, M. (2002) ‘Competition in educational settings’, Paper presented at The Faculty of Education, University of Ljubliana, Slovenia.

Kluge, A. (2007) ‘Experiential Learning Methods, Simulation Complexity and Their Effects on Different Target Groups’, Journal of Educational Computing Research, 36(3), pp. 323–349. doi: 10.2190/B48U-7186-2786-5429.

Matute-Vallejo, J. and Melero-Polo, I. (2019) ‘Understanding online business simulation games: The role of flow experience, perceived enjoyment and personal innovativeness’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(3), pp. 71–85.

Kevin is a Chartered Accountant who has spent most of his career in industry, with director level experience or later in senior management training. Currently he is a teaching fellow within the department of accounting and finance at the OU. He has chaired numerous modules, mainly on postgraduate programmes. He has a masters degree in online and distance education and has published papers to the OU’s scholarship exchange exploring different aspects of the students’ experience of studying accounting and finance. He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in Business School, e-learning, e-teaching, General, HE, online learning resources, Online teaching, onlinestudent, onlineteacher, onlineteaching, onlinetips, Open University, SCiLAB, Skills online, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using asynchronous forums to support large-class teaching

By Ruslan Ramanau

Large-class teaching has attracted the attention of educators across the globe in the last decade, mostly due to rapid growth in teaching and learning contexts with large teacher-to-student ratios, such as massive online courses (MOOCs). But is it plausible to incorporate asynchronous (i.e. not happening in real time) online discussions into pedagogical design of large-class distance courses? Chen et al. (2017) set out to address this issue by exploring the use of protocols to foster interactions between students, studying on an undergraduate business course at the University of Central Florida.

Protocols can be described as pieces of work that have clear goals, clearly defined participant roles and set rules for interactions. In the context in question the course participants completed a written assignment relating to business models, received feedback from at least one of their peers and submitted the final version of the assignment for marking. All students were split into groups of up to 10 participants and provided and received feedback from other learners. There were two iterations of the initiative and the second iteration, which was deemed more successful, of protocol use incorporated:

  • Prompts for providing feedback
  • Due dates for pieces of feedback
  • Samples of feedback
  • Rubric explaining approaches to marking
  • Increasing the proportion of marks allocated to discussion activity from 10 to 30 points

The research team collected the survey data from 862 students and analysed discussions posts, using the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework, which distinguishes between cognitive, social and teaching types of presence. The results of data analysis showed that students were generally positive of the use of protocols, as they helped their learning by providing new insights from peers on their ideas and encouraging a sense of community and collaboration. However, when survey data was interrogated in more detail, it appeared that the respondents were more likely to stress the significance of using protocols for developing cognitive (rather than social or teaching) presence.

Implications for online teaching and learning:

  1. It is possible to foster more interactivity between course participants in online teaching and learning contexts with a high teacher-to-student ratio
  2. Protocols can be one of the methods of doing so by incorporating them into course design (e.g. by providing prompts and samples of feedback, creating rubrics and allocating marks for discussions)
  3. Protocols can lead to more cognitive engagement from learners, but more interactive content and activities might be needed to develop higher levels of teaching and social presence


Chen, B., deNoyelles, A.,Patton, K., and Zydney, J. (2017). Creating a community of inquiry in large-enrollment online courses: An exploratory study on the effect of protocols within online discussions. Online Learning, 21, 165–188.

Dr Ruslan Ramanau, Lecturer in e-Learning and Deputy Director of SCiLAB at the Open University.

 This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in Business School, e-learning, e-teaching, HE, Online teaching, onlinestudent, onlineteacher, onlineteaching, Open University, SCiLAB, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Challenging the norm in academic recruitment

By Grace Allen, Joanna Mirek-Tooth, Christine Mera & Charlotte Luckhurst

There is growing recognition across the higher education sector that an institution’s leadership should be representative of wider society. As institutions strive to ensure diversity is championed and that diverse viewpoints are reflected, it is equally important for individual decision-makers to reflect on their own recruitment practice and use their influence, experience and positions to lead positive change to ensure diversity and inclusivity, where their roles will allow. Although we are influenced and led by the institutional culture surrounding us, we share individual and collective responsibility for challenging these norms.

It is within this context that a review of recruitment practice has been undertaken by a project team consisting of academic managers within the Faculty of Business and Law (FBL). The project was premised on the fact that the largest group of stakeholders, after students, are the Associate Lecturers (ALs), also known as tutors. Associate Lecturers are responsible for teaching delivery, where they are the ‘face’ of OU academic staff for students.  The OU has over 4000 ALs, the largest body of academic staff at any UK university. Of these, 95% are from white backgrounds, 92.3% within the Faculty of Business and Law. This is in sharp contrast to the diversity of the OU student body, of whom 14% are from non-white backgrounds, a percentage which is reflective of the UK population as a whole.

As the student population is progressively increasing in diversity, it is recognised that HEIs need to focus more on addressing the awarding gap between white and black and ethnic minority students. Therefore, the focus is rightly shifting from the student to the institutional barriers and inequalities of the awarding institution, rather than ‘improving’ or ‘fixing’ the student (Advance, 2021).  Supporting this, a 2019 report identified five steps to improve black and ethnic minority student outcomes, one of which being ‘developing racially diverse and inclusive environments’. Within this research, student participants across 99 universities were asked about relevant contributing factors to any ethnicity attainment gaps – the highest response (87%) was the lack of HE role models representing all ethnic groups. The research goes on to identify that having a more diverse workforce is a key factor to addressing the attainment gap (Universities UK, 2019). Additionally, we cannot ignore the positive impact that working in diverse environments with people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds can have on all students living and working in a multicultural society, or those who will enter a globalised business world (Arday, 2019).

These findings, amongst others, influenced the project to explore what can be done to address the disparity between the diversity of the student body and that of Associate Lecturers, who are critical to student success. The project also sits in the context of the faculty’s strategic priorities to ‘enable our students to succeed’ and ‘making a positive difference for our people’. In this project we identified potential barriers within the faculty’s AL recruitment practice and provided recommendations to enhance our recruitment processes with the objective of developing a more inclusive environment within our AL body.

The starting point for the project was to engage an external consultant who completed a critical review of our Level 1 recruitment processes, from shortlisting to onboarding. This was followed by a quantitative analysis of the data from the October 2020 FBL recruitment cycle. The third stage included further investigation into the experiences of existing Associate Lecturers through an anonymous survey, and follow-up interviews.

The recruitment data shows a relatively high number of applications from applicants who self-identified as black or ethnic minority, 19% of the 1,113 applications received. As these applicants are progressed through the recruitment cycle, there are significant gaps at each stage, between white and non-white candidates. As a consequence, only 14 of black and ethnic minority applications received a contract, representing 1.3% of the initial applications.

The findings from the third stage, survey and interviews, were developed into recommendations and shared with the recruiting managers within the faculty. The results were positive in most areas, attributed by some respondents to the support and good relationships that these individuals have with their manager. However, the findings did also uncover quite a bit of inconsistent practice across the faculty. Specifically, it was clear that participants found phone interviews (within the last year) quite challenging and commented on the many logistical issues with travelling a distance to Milton Keynes for a face-to-face interview. The consensus was that an online interview using cameras removes the feeling of distance and was a more welcoming approach. This may help to avoid potential barriers in communication, providing the ability to pick up on non-verbal cues and feedback throughout the interview. It was clear that visibility was important regardless of ethnicity of the panels.

Furthermore, the findings highlighted how these individuals felt during the process. For example, some respondents spoke about the challenges they face across the sector of being interviewed by a white panel and being the only person of colour in the room. Every effort should be made to have a representative panel in line with good practice examples within the sector. This is perhaps less achievable until we have increased the proportion of diverse representation within our staff, however some respondents offered examples from other HEIs, including involving students.

There were revealing insights into the extent of pre-interview preparation and tasks that candidates were expected to undertake and the proportionality of these in relation to the role itself. Further exploration of this is required, in relation to recruiting practice as well as potential barriers on applicants from diverse backgrounds.

Of course, we do also need to recognise that black and ethnic minority staff are not a homogenous group, and more consideration needs to be given to different characteristics within various ethnic groups recognition of values and skills that diversity brings (Johnson, anon).

Alongside these recommendations, our research supports that it is of utmost importance that we first challenge personally held stereotypes and perceptions about what the ‘normal’ profile of an OU Associate Lecturer is and consider instead who it could be. This would then allow us to benefit from the pool of incredible talent that exists across the HE sector and in professional practice. This research has also uncovered the need for institutional-wide change to structural and cultural ingrained practices and processes.

Within the full research report, all these recommendations and further findings will be explored in greater detail.


Advance HE (2021) Degree Attainment Gaps. Available at

Arday, J. (2019) ‘Asian and Minority Ethic academic under-representation and the dominant Eurocentric HE Curriculum’.   A_New_Vision_For_Further_and_Higher_Education_220519_1647_forwebv1.pdf (

P Johnson (anon)’The Visible Minority: Nowhere to be See in the Academy’. In Alexander and Arday, Aiming Higher Race, Inequality and Diversity in the Academy. Runnymede Aiming Higher.pdf (

Universities UK (2019) Universities acting to close the BAME student attainment gap. Available at:

Grace Allen is a Lecturer and Assistant Head of Student Experience (Law) in the Faculty of Business and Law. Grace is also an Associate Lecturer on the business programme and Practice Tutor.

Joanna Mirek-Tooth is a Student Experience Manager (Business) in the Faculty of Business and Law. Joanna is also an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies.

Christine Mera is a Lecturer and Student Experience Manager (Business) in the Faculty of Business and Law. Christine is also a Visiting Lecturer on business programmes. Twitter Handle: @ChristineJack

Charlotte Luckhurst is a Student Experience Manager in Law and Business and an Associate Lecturer in Law.

 This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in Business School, e-teaching, feelings, General, HE, Law School, onlineteaching, Open University, SCiLAB, teachingidentity, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Virtual Reality Courtroom Project

By Dr Clare Jones & Francine Ryan

Exciting new project

The Open University Law School’s, Open Justice Centre, is embarking on an exciting new project which brings together technology and law to enable immersive and active learning to take place in a practical setting. The virtual court room will provide a flexible, innovative environment to facilitate students’ learning. The project is part of the Open Justice plan to enhance the provision of teaching and learning and knowledge exchange through the use of virtual reality technology and builds on previous work undertaken by the Centre (Mcfaul et al, 2020).  Virtual reality merges realism with new levels of interactivity providing students with a more immersive and experiential learning experience. It offers the opportunity for the OU to develop and enhance its delivery of online learning to enrich our students’ learning. VR challenges us to innovate and reimagine future learning.


The aim is to provide skills and services to law students and potentially to support the work of partner organisations such as Support Through Court.

The project seeks to:

  • Provide an innovative learning environment for students
  • Respond to the changing nature of the delivery of learning to law students
  • Continue to develop and support strong working links with partner organisations


The goal of the virtual court room is to enable students to collaborate synchronously in a court hearing to help them develop their advocacy skills. The virtual court room will be highly realistic and will create a unique immersive experience for the Open University students. The students will also have the opportunity to learn asynchronously as well in the environment. The realistic experience of the courtroom will support the development of practical legal skills which will enhance the employability of students (Mowbray, 2021).

What will it look like?

The court room will be a 3D representation of a civil law court and students will take on the form of a 3D human avatar that they will be able to tailor to their requirements. The student will be able to walk through the court room and explore different pop ups that will contain information and tasks. The student will also be able to interact with others in the room via chat and speech functions. They will be able to undertake court hearing proceedings and also can be supported by tutors during their immersion. The virtual court room could also be used through a partner organisation supporting people through the court system where they have no legal representation.

Pedagogical impact

Immersive and active learning has many benefits (Lawyer Monthly, 2020) and through experiential learning students can achieve a different and comprehensive understanding of information. The impact on retention can also be recognised (Hamilton et al, 2020).

Although the recent pandemic has forced the education sector to rely more on technology, the Open University has always placed the importance on online learning and the virtual court room will help students to use technology to achieve their educational goal more effectively.

Virtual reality has been seen to improve overall performance in students (Allcoat, von Muhlenen, 2018). The reason for this is because users really feel like they are there in the situation allowing them to develop realistic reactions through situated learning (Mayrose, J. 2012).


The aim is to have the first iteration of the court room completed by the start of the next academic year. It will be used within the Open Justice Centre, but also within some of the undergraduate law modules to provide a unique and innovative learning experience, bringing law into context and ensuring students are provided with modern practices of teaching and learning within higher education.


Pettinger, T. Improving legal outcomes with virtual reality. (2020) Lawyer Monthly, accessed 1 February 2021.

Hamilton, D., McKechnie, J., Edgerton, E. & Wilson, C. (2020), Immersive virtual reality as a pedagogical tool in education: a systematic literature review of quantitative learning outcomes and experimental design. Journal of Computers in Education, 8, 1-32 (2021).

Allcoat, D. & von Muhlenen, A. (2018) Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement. Research in Learning Technology. DOI: 10.25304/rlt.v26.2140

Mayrose, J, (2012) Active learning through the use of virtual environments. American Journal of Engineering Education, 3(1): 13.

Mcfaul, H. & FitzGerald, E. (2020) A realist evaluation of student use of a virtual reality smartphone application in undergraduate legal education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(2), pp. 572-589

Mowbray, T (2021) From Virtual to Reality- A Practical Guide to Creating Educational Virtual Reality content in McKenzie, S, Garivaldis, F & Dyrer, KR (eds) (2021) Tertiary Online Teaching: Total Perspectives and Resources for Digital Education, Springer, Singapore Pte. Limited, Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central


Dr Clare Jones is a Senior Law Lecturer within the Law School. She specialises in banking and finance law. Her research explores technology in these areas and also how technology informs and can be used in teaching and learning. She has previously created and taught within virtual world environments. Clare is also the co-founder of LIFT @OU_LIFT, (Law, Information, Future and Technology) research cluster.

Francine Ryan is the Director of the Open Justice Centre and Senior Lecturer in Law. Francine’s research interests are clinical legal education in particularly technology enhanced learning. Francine has pioneered the development of a range of innovative and technologically enhanced opportunities for OU students, including the award-winning virtual law clinic.

 This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in covid19, e-learning, e-teaching, General, HE, Law School, online learning resources, Online teaching, onlinestudent, onlineteacher, onlineteaching, Open Justice, Open University, SCiLAB, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strategic management of online learning during Covid and beyond

By Dr Jacqueline Baxter

Leading online learning: Out of crisis comes opportunity.

We are just entering the pilot stage of our research project which looks at how schools have strategically managed online learning during Covid, and if and how, new experiences during lockdown have created long term sustainable changes in relation to the way education is managed and delivered. One of our key research questions investigates whether changes and new ways of doing things, implemented during Covid, are going to have a long-term effect on schools’ vision of education to come.

It is undisputed, that Covid has had a massive impact on education and the way it is delivered, both in the UK and internationally. Whilst there have been a number of papers on the ways in which teachers have innovated during this time, and the impact this has had on their workload and mental health, there has been little on how school leaders and their senior teams have taken a strategic overview of online and blended learning.

This is an important are to explore for several reasons: The first relates to the introduction of a more intensive regime of online teaching, one that has been forced on schools, unusually not by government, but by circumstance. The way that this has taken place, without preparation, training, or any sort of upgrade to school infrastructure, is in itself fascinating: not only in relation to the challenges that schools have faced and how they have dealt with them, but equally, the opportunity that such change presents. Schools are used to a raft of policy innovation: changes to their practices, procedures, and to the very nature of education: Policies imposed by successive governments, each more eager than the last to prove that they can close that elusive achievement gap, that for many years has proved intractable in the face of policy innovation, and inimical to social mobility, particularly in class dominated England (Weis and Dolby, 2012). The second, is in relation to the way that schools have worked with parents and carers to ensure provision during these the most testing times (Jewitt et al., 2021).

Since the Academy Act of 2010 schools have become increasingly distant from their communities (Baxter and Cornforth, 2019). This is particularly true of Multi-Academy trusts-groups of schools managed by boards and CEOs- that research has illustrated, are often remote and out of touch with school communities (Greany and Higham, 2018). Increasingly standardised practice of teaching, pedagogy and curriculum, imposed across what have become vast multilevel organisations, created in a new educational landscape within what is often termed, ‘the system less system of English education’(Lawn, 2013). The third reason why our approach is potentially rich, is in relation to the long-term sustainability of good practices brought about by the pandemic. Certainly, one of its by products, is that it has revealed the stark reality of successive financial cuts to education that have been brought about by government, particularly since 2010 (Gray and Barford, 2018): Covid has brought this into the public eye, in such a way as to make it almost impossible for government to ignore. Shortages of hardware, weaknesses in school infrastructure, and last but by no means least, the chronic shortage of food experienced by many families living on and below the breadline, have been headline news since the pandemic began.

These factors have created a unique environment (all albeit a very testing one), for school leaders and their senior teams. Stripped bare of the usual rounds of consultation before introduction of new policies and practices, school leaders and their teams have had to innovate and create, in order to provide the impetus needed to steer schools and their learners through stormy waters.

It is said that the only real change in society emerges at times of crisis, According to the free market fundamentalist Milton Freedman, ‘Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.’  Covid has and is, along with climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our time. It seems impossible to imagine that education can emerge from this to the ‘same old, same old.’ Our initial interviews with school leaders have started to reveal some of the new; certainly there is evidence of huge progress even in the short time between lockdown in early 2020, and the one in which we find ourselves at present. Echoing an ancient quote on action during crisis:

‘You start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ (St Francis of Assisi).

Similarly, our project will investigate the necessary, look at the innovations of the possible, and finally, point to how the seemingly impossible may profoundly change education and the way we deliver it.

Our pilot report will launch in late April, followed by our interim policy briefing in June, you can find out more about the project on our website at or follow us on Twitter at: @ Covid_EduLeader


Baxter JA and Cornforth C. (2019) Governing collaborations: how boards engage with their communities in multi-academy trusts in England. Public Management Review: 1-23.

Gray M and Barford A. (2018) The depths of the cuts: the uneven geography of local government austerity. Cambridge journal of regions, economy and society 11: 541-563.

Greany T and Higham R. (2018) Hierarchy, markets and networks: analysing the’self-improving school-led system’agenda in England and the implications for schools.

Jewitt K, Baxter J and Floyd A. (2021) Literature review on the use of online and blended learning during Covid 19 and Beyond. The Open University The Open University

Lawn M. (2013) A Systemless System. Forthcoming.

Weis L and Dolby N. (2012) Social class and education: Global perspectives: Routledge.

Dr Jacqueline Baxter is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Management and Director for the Centre of Innovation in Online Business and Legal Education (SCiLAB). She is Principal Fellow of The Higher Education Academy, Fellow of The Academy of Social Sciences and Elected Council Member of Belmas. She has been Editor in Chief of the Sage Journal Management in Education (MiE) for 4 years. Her current funded research projects examine the interrelationship between trust, accountability and capacity in improving learning outcomes; and the strategic management of online learning in secondary schools during and beyond Covid19. Dr Baxter is based in the department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University Business School. She tweets @DrJacqueBaxter and her profile can be found at: Her latest book is: Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform (Routledge, 2020).

 This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Posted in Business School, covid19, e-learning, e-teaching, General, HE, Online teaching, onlineteaching, Open University, research, SCiLAB, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can full time students succeed in a part time world?

by Carey Stephens

The number of students registered to study at full time intensity was over 28% of all new learners at the Open University in Autumn 2020. My own Faculty of Business & Law recorded an increase, from Autumn 2019, of almost 200 fulltime intensity students registered on the Business & Management degree.  

On first glance it would be easy to attribute the upturn to the pandemic, however, on closer inspection of the data, the picture is one of a steady rise in new fulltime students over the last few years; albeit with a sharper rise in 2020. 

Who are these learners? Why do they choose to study fulltime at an institution known for part time study?  

 The Open University context – part time study for part time people?  

The Open University emerged in the late 1960’s as an institution with a mission to be open to all those who wanted access to higher education and for many years was known for its BBC2 late night television education programmes where ‘mature learners’, studying on a part time basis, would watch academics demonstrating science experiments. 

Technological changes in the late 1990s, started the shift to move learners from a box full of books to online platforms and during the last decade, the introduction of a variable tuition fee structure, UUK (2013) and loan requirement to register for a qualification rather than single modules highlighted the viability of the OU to the fulltime student market.        

 What do we mean by fulltime study at the Open University? 

We use the term Flexible Study Intensity (FSI) rather than fulltime because students can come to the OU, study at the intensity level they wish (with the ability to flex), with the support they need to succeed. My study will focus on students who are studying at the same rate (120 credits) as a student taking a 3 year honours degree at a conventional face-to-face university.  

 What have I done so far? 

My approach so far has been to carry out a short scoping exercise. I examined Autumn 2020 student data to obtain a demographic overview of FSI learners and the qualifications they are embarking on. I aim to study the October 2020 BS (Honours) Business & Management Degree FSI students so this exercise ensured I would have a sufficient dataset. The data also identified my chosen degree to be the second favourite degree for FSI learners, BSc (Honours) Psychology taking the top slot.     

The demographic results were surprising as the highest percentage of students was the 30-39 age range. The student session I ran for FSI students in November 2020, elicited feedback from second year students which concurred with Penny’s work on motivation for study (2017), 

Career not youth is generally motivation for FSI study. Students are very aware of societal expectations for a degree as a minimum qualification for certain roles, meaning that students want to be able to achieve a degree quickly for promotion or career change.’  Johnson & Stephens (2021). 

 What will my approach be? 

The next stage is to undertake a longitudinal study of the October 2020 FSI Business & Management Degree intake and follow the students as they journey on their chosen pathway and towards their degree. 

A mixed method approach will be used. The students’ academic progress through the degree will be captured and quantitative data analysed to assess retention and pass rates. I also plan to conduct a student survey each year. In this first year I would like to focus on and establish their motivation to study on this pathway and their reasons for embarking on a degree. It is hoped that some of the students would be willing to participate in a focus group so I can gather some rich qualitative data on the student experience.     

Finally, it would be useful to include some comparative data but a final decision on what this will consist of is yet to be taken. A previous student cohort, the most popular degree or a cohort of part time learners are the most likely contenders. An update on this will be given in a later blog……     

My aim is to inform Faculty module teams on how students experience FSI study and how they can be best supported.    

Next steps……I am aiming to share my early findings later this year so watch this space! 


Johnson, V, & Stephens, C. An exploration of how the Open University supports Flexible Time Intensity initial report (2021) 

Penny, R, (2019) Developing support for students studying at high intensity Open University, Milton Keynes (accessed 26th February 2021) 

Universities UK (2013) Where student fees go London available at (accessed 1st March 2021) 


Carey Stephens is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Law but currently on secondment as Faculty Lead for the new AL Contract programme. Carey has been teaching since 2006 and is also an Associate Lecturer on the Undergraduate Business programme and has recently been supporting Apprentices on the CMDA programme.  

 This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University. 

Posted in Business School, e-learning, e-teaching, General, HE, motivation, Online teaching, onlinestudent, onlineteacher, onlineteaching, Open University, research, SCiLAB, students, Uncategorised | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment