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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Three reasons why we should think about employability in entrepreneurship education

By Carolin Decker-Lange

Many people think that the purpose of entrepreneurship education at universities is to help students to start their own ventures. This is not fully in line with the QAA, the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which defines entrepreneurship education as “the application of enterprise behaviours, attributes and competencies into the creation of cultural, social or economic value. This can, but does not exclusively, lead to venture creation” (QAA, 2018, p. 7). Indeed, knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship can also enhance students’ employability (Gibb, 1996). However, the relationship between entrepreneurship education and employability is not well understood (Ustav & Venesaar, 2018) 

Addressing this gap, my colleagues Knut Lange (Royal Holloway, University of London)Andreas Walmsley (Coventry University) and I started a cross-university scholarship projectWe think that there are at least three reasons why we should know more about the potential link between entrepreneurship education and employability.  

1. Employability is an indicator of educational value. 

The number of universities offering entrepreneurship education has been rapidly increasing for some decades (Kuratko Morris, 2018)Thereby, the ‘aims of entrepreneurship education have been extending beyond business creation and management skills to students’ preparation for work and life. Graduates’ employability and success are of concern to universities and are often measured as indicators of educational value (Ustav & Venesaar, 2018, p. 674).  

Findings from a previously completed scholarship project support this view (Decker-Lange et al., 2020). One of our research participants reported that students who had completed an entrepreneurship programme at their university and received funding for starting their own ventures eventually opted against being start-up entrepreneurs. Instead, they pursued a career in established organisations after graduation. For employers these students were attractive because of their participation in this programme and offered them a job. Possibly, enterprising students are better equipped to cope with uncertainty and rapid changes in economy and society than students who have not been exposed to entrepreneurship education (Rae, 2007). 

2. Employability and entrepreneurship skills overlap.  

According to the Office for Students, employability ‘refers to the skills and competencies that a student gains as they progress throughout their higher education programme to ultimately enhance their chances of finding meaningful and sustained employment’ (Office for Students, 2021). In our current scholarship work, we asked experts across British universities, among them researchers, enterprise educators, entrepreneurs-in-residence, enterprise officers, employability consultants and careers advisors, to elaborate on, first, their understanding of employability and, second, typical entrepreneurial attributes. Our initial findings reveal considerable overlaps. For instance, creativity, innovationpassion, perseverance, resilienceleadershipplanning and problem-solving skills, collaboration and communication skills were aspects that our interviewees often associated with both aspects.  

3. Entrepreneurship education goes beyond skills development.  

In a seminal article, Rae criticises a narrow focus on skills development because a graduate ‘is not simply the carrier of a set of “skills, knowledge and personal attributes” (2007, p. 607). This criticism paves the way for broadening the purpose of entrepreneurship education. It is not solely about equipping students with the skills necessary for new venture creation, but also about preparing them, for example, for the management of small firms (Gibb1996) or family business succession and transgenerational entrepreneurship (Jaskiewicz et al., 2015)The findings from our on-going scholarship work support this view. Some interviewees also pointed to a potential time lag between the exposure to entrepreneurship education and the start of a new venture, because entrepreneurship can be a career option that is considered many years after graduationIn short, entrepreneurship education nurtures ‘enterprising individuals’ (Ustav & Venessar, 2018, p. 674) who behave effectively in diverse contexts. 

Where do we go from here?  

Drawing on online interviews with experts across British universities, waim to shed new light on the potential link between entrepreneurship education and employability and the contextual factors shaping it. This reflects the insight that ‘context clearly plays an important role in what is possible, achievable and appropriate’ (Neergaard et al., 2020, p. 820). In our scholarship work, we go beyond the mere identification of skills. Instead, we develop a framework combining graduate identity (Holmes, 2001), entrepreneurial identity (Hytti, 2005) and entrepreneurship education ecosystems (Brush, 2014). We also aim to stimulate the exchange of knowledge within and across universities and specify initiatives in entrepreneurship education that are especially useful in nurturing employability.  


Brush, C.G. (2014). Exploring the concept of an entrepreneurship education ecosystem. In D.F. Kuratko, S. Hoskinson, & G. Libecap (eds.), Innovative Pathways for University Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century (pp. 25-39). Bingley: Emerald. 

Decker-Lange, C., Lange, K., Dhaliwal, S., & Walmsley, A. (2020). Exploring entrepreneurship education effectiveness at British universities – an application of the World Café method. Entrepreneurship Education and PedagogyDOI:10.1177/2515127420935391 

Gibb, A.A. (1996). Entrepreneurship and small business management: Can we afford to neglect them in the twenty‐first century business school? British Journal of Management, 7(4), 309-321.  

Holmes, L. (2001). Reconsidering graduate employability: The graduate identity approach. Quality in Higher Education7(2), 111-119. 

Hytti, U. (2005). New meanings for entrepreneurs: From risk-taking heroes to safe-seeking professionals. Journal of Organizational Change Management18(6), 594-611. 

Jaskiewicz, P., Combs, J. & Rau, S. (2015). Entrepreneurial legacy: Toward a theory of how some family firms nurture transgenerational entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing30(1), 29-49.  

Kuratko, D.F., & Morris, M.H. (2018). Examining the future trajectory of entrepreneurship. Journal of Small Business Management, 56, 11-23.  

Neergard, H., Gartner, W.B., Hytti, U., Politis, D., & Rae, D. (2020). Editorial: Filling in the blanks: “Black boxes” in enterprise/entrepreneurship education. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research26(5), 817-828. 

Office for Students (2021). Employability (accessed on 2nd February 2021).  

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2018). Enterprise and entrepreneurship education: Guidance for UK higher education providers (accessed on 2nd February 2021) 

Rae, D. (2007). Connecting enterprise and graduate employability. Challenges to the higher education culture and curriculum? Education and Training49(8/9), 605-619.  

Ustav, S., & Venesaar, U. (2018). Bridging metacompetencies and entrepreneurship education. Education and Training60(7), 674-695.  



Carolin Decker-Lange is a Senior Lecturer in Management at The Open University Business School. Her research interests include organisational development and change, interorganisational relationships, and entrepreneurship. She has been involved in several scholarship projects on two undergraduate modules in the Enterprise and Innovation pathway – B205 and B327. She has chaired the production of the new MBA elective BB851 Entrepreneurship in Context which is currently in its first presentation. In her scholarship work Carolin aims to generate insights for the design of new materials that stimulate entrepreneurial thinking and help students to apply this in diverse professional contexts.  

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

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The Experience of Teaching during a Pandemic

By Hilary Collins

Back in January I published research on the academic experience of teaching and working online. Right now it feels rather timely.

In our paper we discussed the precarity of a digital academic life, and examined how this digital sphere tended to be populated by staff on precarious contracts – concluding that we may be heading for a fundamental questioning in the sector of how teaching is valued and what it means to teach. We explored multi-faceted teaching cultures – finding discourses of alienation, liminality, and attempts to achieve institutional belonging from within marginalised groups.

In March we saw the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with universities closing their doors and teaching staff moving to teaching completely online, with all faculty required to work from home. This, in itself, was not a shift for associate lecturers who by the nature of their contracts were home workers, but it did result in different ways of working and communication with the university, their students, and juggling their working day with family care responsibilities.

What we heard

We reached out to teaching faculty to ask them about their experience during this time. They responded with candid narrative accounts of their experience in the ‘front line’ supporting students in their learning. From their accounts we found that there were some key learning points to take away for the university that may help support their teaching faculty more effectively during this pandemic. More fundamentally issues arose of how the value of teaching and teachers was perceived.

Communication breakdown?

From the narrative accounts we received we found a need for leaders to communicate with staff far more often than they seem to think is necessary.

Frequent communication reduces fear and uncertainty and ensures that employees have heard the message. There is a need to realise that teaching faculty who are at a physical distance from colleagues need to hear these messages multiple times. Different people may need to hear messages in different ways and through different channels. Organisational leaders must be clear about the channels available to staff to offer feedback and should emphasise how much they care about hearing from employees at all levels and must be clear about the way this can be achieved.

Teaching faculty are sandwiched between the student interface and management and admin systems. One told us:

“Back to the issue of reaching out, the connectedness with Mission Kontrol has become even more tenuous. I really had no idea when central staff vacated their offices, and how many did, and what the impacts were. Maybe we were emailing various people, not knowing they too are struggling. So, again, management need to switch on the emotional leadership tap and crack on. Can you hear me Major Tom?”

Being in an out of an office situation should not mean being out of contact or communication and we need to keep conversations going and support and assure teaching staff when they are doing a good job. As one respondent put it:

“From mid-April, the volume of emails primarily from students increased three-fold, with pleas for help, emotional outpourings, stories of having Covid, or stories of family members being very ill. Face-to-face tutorials were cancelled, final assessments were cancelled. Many students were totally understanding of the reasons why this was happening, but some were angry, frustrated or rude (even blaming me). I had to run some tutorials even though final assessments were cancelled and attendance at some was very low, or even no attendance’ Was this the right thing to do?”

Anxiety levels rose and at this time with some teaching staff feeling the effects of less social contact but with more high level instructions coming from above.

“So, yes, great that teaching could continue without a massive panic, but I do feel somewhat ignored. Far too many missives from on high, Covid-updates, which are too general, and really about fixing things in assessments, but almost no sense of management caring about my wellbeing. Yes, great we can talk to various “support” people, but the reach out at an individual level, “how’s it going?” (and my asking them “and how are you too?”) just was not there.”


“Communications has been poor and the support non-existent. Some nice noises from the VC recently but several weeks too late. I have valued the comradeship of colleagues. The students have been great as they usually are. This has been the ultimate stress test and lessons should be learned Sadly I doubt that will be the case and we will continue as before.”

The narratives we collected demonstrated academic concern for students – how they received messages about the developing pandemic and how it would affect their learning.

“I wouldn’t be telling the whole story if I didn’t say I was angry at the time the email went out. 5pm on a Friday! Who else was going to be there for the students but teaching staff. Also – the word of the email. I understand that the news that went out was by its very nature technical – but it caused so much confusion. With the best will in the world ask the average student if their final assessment is a final A or E and I would put money on them not knowing.”


The issue of time, how it is used and where it has disappeared to, is an important one. It is becoming clear that during these times of change and uncertainty many of us may need help adjusting meeting time expectations based on specific family and child care situations.

“My concept of time has changed during lockdown. I used to get up around 5am and do marking early, but my sleep has been more disturbed so I established my new university time from 3am to 9am from April, when no one else was up. I found this quiet time helped enormously as I could concentrate better. I am still adopting this pattern of marking and working as a tutor in June.”

Time management and the reality of the constrict of time has become an issue for many.

“Before I knew it, I was staying up later than normal with an approach that assumed I had lots of time to kill. After all, I was achieving everything needed so why not sit back and relax a little? By the middle of May, I realised that time was running away from me and suddenly I didn’t complete everything on my daily ‘to-do’ list. Where was time going? The emotional response to this was heightened and anxiety fuelled.”

We have all experienced ‘online fatigue’ – managers may, for instance, want to go back to audio-only or telephone calls rather than video meetings when connecting for one-on-one or small group discussions with people who know each other already.

“Our virtual learning platform continues to be a market lead and it required a minimum amount of adjustment in order to persevere and continue with ‘business as usual’ during Covid. … However I did need to try to move away from the computer to get back to real life.”


Many teaching staff have become understandably concerned about the future of their employment.

Keeping this in mind, organisational leaders should reassure staff that their employment is secure when this is indeed the case. When it is not, employees appreciate knowing all they can as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly.

“By Monday I felt completed drained. It didn’t and shouldn’t have occurred to the students that I had worries about my future. There were all sorts of questions being asked on the tutor forum, about income, jobs – I looked once but just couldn’t face looking a second time – just all too overwhelming.”

Given the extraordinary crisis this is hardly surprising. Staff also have concerns about their own organisation’s future – and look to managers and leaders for cues. Therefore, when communicating, leaders also need to emphasise what is going well for the organisation and share as much as possible about strategy and planning for the future.

Fascinating rhythm

The news isn’t all bad. Overall teaching staff are beginning to be more positive and have found ways to increase their resilience and adapt their way of working to juggle with work commitments and family responsibilities.

“The ones starting had probably got used to some kind of Covid rhythm. But deep down, I knew, and still know that many students are struggling. I think we only know about the ones who say they are struggling (maybe that’s 10% of the ones struggling?), so I have tended to be more patient and generous, and just wait. Late joining students, may simply have had all these extra pressures from Covid-19? I say pressure, when this means anything from being at death’s door, grieving…through to mild inconvenience.”

Perhaps we are learning to have a more human-centred approach to life and learning.

“The future now looks positive and a ‘new normal’ has been established. I work earlier in the day. I encourage students to call me if they want to discuss assessment. My emails and forum posts are professional but much friendlier and chattier, as are my comments on student work. My tutorials are also much friendlier – I go online an hour before they start and tell students to pop along for a chat – and so far this is proving very popular, so much so that more people, are talking on mics at sessions than ever before. Time now seems more sensible and I no longer feel any aspects of ‘surreal’ or locked in a time-warp or coronavirus bubble. I feel (and am) more tolerant and kinder in my dealings with everyone.”

By capturing the beginning of this human-centred approach, demonstrated through the narratives of the teaching faculty’s experience during the pandemic, we work to provide a platform for the organisation and its communities which could to bring a creative and agile approach to helping people understand which problems need to be solved and when.

We can use what we have all lived through as an opportunity to co-create solutions that matter and empower those of us affected by bringing them into the creation and innovation process, and by genuinely listening and seeking participation – allowing all staff to contribute freely and equally to the conversation.

First Published on Wonkhe on 6th October 2020

Hilary Collins is Senior Lecturer at the Open University. She has a PhD in Strategic Design Management from the University of Strathclyde.

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

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From Experience to Theory (Part One)

By Haider Ali

In the first article of a series, we will look at one of the methods we have used with a course presented on the FutureLearn platform in order to address the twin challenges of making management education more relevant to practising managers while maintaining its academic rigour.

The material presented here is written on the basis that the teaching is for working managers with some years of experience, who have been educated to the highest school-leaving qualifications, but no more. They are also not expected to have had any prior management education.

A significant challenge facing business educators is the extent to which their instruction focuses on the use of ad hoc frameworks as opposed to models founded on theory. The former can have the superficial attraction of ‘face validity’ (Holden 2010), but there is a risk that the extent to which they have been subjected to any research or testing is very limited.

In this post we will explore the above challenge. Our direction of travel will be that the use of theory is possible from a very early stage in the coverage of any topic, and even at an early stage of an individual’s management education. There is an obvious risk that that students will be overwhelmed with abstract material, and the instruction will become an academic exercise in explaining concepts. This problem can be overcome with the use of quizzes as an important and initial form of instruction. This solution may seem counter-intuitive, but the following examples should help to clarify what is being proposed.

In online teaching, videos or articles substitute for what would have been lectures delivered by a teacher. Typically, quizzes are used as a means of assessment, whether as formative or summative (Wurdinger and Marlow 2005). However, quizzes can be used more substantively as a means of initial instruction, in this post we’ll see how this can be done. More importantly we will see how the use of quizzes can make the learning process more experiential (Kolb & Kolb 2009), they can introduce an element of gaming (Scott and Neustaedter 2013) and also better enable managers to share their perspectives with others.

The following examples illustrate the approach taken.


Q/A  Question 1 
Question: A patient with atrial fibrillation goes to visit their GP (General Practitioner) for an annual medical appointment. The patient is not currently being treated with warfarin (blood thinning medication).

Which of these do you think would affect the GPs decision to prescribe warfarin?

Select all those answers that you think are correct.


Francis, J., Eccles, M.P., Johnston, M., Walker, A.E., Grimshaw, J.M., Foy, R., Kaner, E.F., Smith, L. and Bonetti, D., 2004. Constructing questionnaires based on the theory of planned behaviour: A manual for health services researchers.

Answer text Answer feedback
Answer 1 Correct Whether, overall, the GP has a positive or negative attitude to prescribing warfarin for patients with atrial fibrillation. An individual’s attitude will affect their intention to perform a behaviour. In this instance if a GP has a positive attitude towards warfarin i.e., they think it will be effective in this instance, they will be more likely to prescribe it.
Answer 2 Correct The extent to which the GP perceives social pressure to prescribe or not. Such social pressure can come from colleagues, patients and the organisation that they work for. Such social pressure is referred to as ‘subjective norm’ (this is a term we will use more frequently from now on) and it may affect someone’s intention to perform an action. If the GP believes that there is strong social pressure on them to prescribe this medication, then they will be more likely to do so.
Answer 3  Correct Whether the GP finds it difficult to prescribe i.e. how difficult it is to actually undertake behaviour in the given context e.g. in terms of the procedures that the GP needs to follow in order to prescribe. What has been described in the question is also referred to perceived behavioural control element of the theory of planned behaviour and it refers to how easy or difficult it would be to carry out an action. Perceived behavioural control is a term we will be using more frequently from now on. The more difficult it is to undertake a behaviour the harder it would be to behave in a particular way, in this case prescribing that medication.
General Feedback All of the options were correct. The GP’s intention to prescribe warfarin will depend on their having a positive attitude towards it, their belief that their colleagues would approve and the ability to prescribe.

At the outset, the student is presented with a problem that may arise in an organisational setting. As options for the answers, students are provided with alternatives which are presented with very limited use of theory specific jargon. It should be possible for most learners to be able to answer these questions based on experience and intuition. However, the feedback to the individual options that they could have chosen does introduce the jargon and provides explanations in the context of a specific theory.

This approach can be accretive. Now that students are familiar with the jargon, the next question makes use of the technical terms that was previously provided and places the theory in a different managerial context:


Q/A  Question 2 
Question: The technical advances in e-bikes could also have a huge impact for longer journeys in both cities and rural areas.

“Suddenly journeys that were not realistic because of length for most people are now very doable,” she said.

The arrival of e-bikes has led to a change in which of the following?


[The Guardian]

Answer text Answer feedback
Answer 1 Incorrect Attitude Based on this extract we can surmise that people had a positive attitude towards cycling longer distances, but what had been holding them back was their physical ability to do so i.e. perceived behavioural control.
Answer 2 Incorrect Subjective norm There are no references in this extract to the subjective norms of other people – in fact there is nothing written about other people.
Answer 3 Correct Perceived behavioural control This refers to an individual’s perception of the control that they have over a behaviour. According to this text the level of control an individual has over their cycling has been increased as a result of the introduction of electric bikes which allow the cyclist to travel a longer distance than was previously possible.
Answer 4 Incorrect Intention As a result of a positive attitude, subjective norms and perceived behaviour control someone may well have the intention to perform a particular action, but the information presented in the extract does not focus on that.
General Feedback This insight shows that there can be a number of instances where people who would have liked to have used bikes were only held back by the terrain and marketers of e-bikes may find ready customers in those locations.

In pedagogic approaches where learning is more passive, concepts are explained, and examples are provided to illustrate the concept. It should be evident that using this approach the example or illustration is serving a number of objectives. Not only are students being shown real-life applications of concepts, but they are being challenged regarding the application. This is a significantly more active approach to learning and places the learner in a problem-solving position at the outset.


Holden, R.R., 2010. Face validity. The corsini encyclopedia of psychology, pp.1-2.

Kolb, A.Y. and Kolb, D.A., 2009. Experiential learning theory: A dynamic, holistic approach to management learning, education and development. The SAGE handbook of management learning, education and development42, p.68.

Stott, A. and Neustaedter, C., 2013. Analysis of gamification in education. Surrey, BC, Canada8, p.36.

Wurdinger, S.D. and Marlow, L., 2005. Using experiential learning in the classroom: Practical ideas for all educators. R&L Education.

Haider Ali is a Lecturer in Strategic Marketing at the Open University.


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


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