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Online/onscreen STEM practice

Online Summer Schools

Project leader(s): 
Kate Nixon and Eleanor Crabb

The covid-19 pandemic has resulted in losses in opportunities for students to gain experience at summer placements in research and industrial laboratories. Such placements are invaluable for obtaining hands-on experience and developing planning, critical thinking, analysis and communication skills, all of which are desired in graduates. Recognizing the loss of opportunity, the RSC provided a grant in 2020 for the broad area of research enablement and research development in the chemical sciences. This grant was used to run a pilot Chemistry Online Summer School.

This proposal is to expand the summer school, to subsequent years and complementary disciplines. The research is seeking to explore the value of offering such an event which falls outside of a qualification in terms of:

  • Engendering a sense of community for those that attend
  • Furthering interest in the subject materials
  • Offering students an opportunity to develop these skills in a non-pressured environment
  • Improving students confidence in these skills and future study

The activities at the school are investigative in nature, to build skills relevant to research, and utilise both interactive screen experiments and remote experiments. They are supported by PhD students, who also share their own research experience with the students at the briefing and debriefing sessions. A student conference gives students an opportunity to practise their communication skills as either an oral or poster presentation.

Although the aim of this project is to explore the value of events that fall outside of the assessed curriculum, this project may have impact on a wider scale as many universities explore ways to deliver the practical content of their course. Investigations such as those offered in the school may be used as an alternative to some experiments which are focused on using instruments (e.g. spectroscopy, chromatography and microscopy), if the student’s technical skills (e.g. sample preparation, preparing solutions) have already been developed. Therefore, is anticipated that the outcomes of this project will be disseminated at conferences and in publications.

Kate Nixon and Eleanor Crabb poster

Evaluating the design of the virtual microscope with students

Project leader(s): 
Christothea Herodotou

In this eSTEeM project, we aim to evaluate the design and use of the new virtual microscope to be released in Oct 2021. In particular, we will recruit 30 Level 1 science students. We will then allocate selected students to three groups of 10 considering for a balance in gender, age, and previous performance across groups. All three groups will be asked to complete and submit a teaching activity that makes use of the new virtual microscope: Group A will complete the activity with no support, Group B will have access to a workbook and Group C will have access to a teacher that can answer any questions they may have. Groups A and B will complete the activity asynchronously, while Group C will do so synchronously. By the end of the activity all three groups will be asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their experience of using the new tool, difficulties they faced, use and effectiveness of support provided, and suggestions for improvements. Insights will inform the preparation of student support materials.

Christothea Herodotou poster (PDF)

Supporting students in online tuition from Access through the student journey

Project leader(s): 
Carlton Wood and Lynda Cook

Within many STEM modules we have moved to an online platform for learning events, including tuition.  Whilst there are many benefits to online tuition by both tutors and students (such as remote access) anecdotal evidence suggests that STEM OU students do not actively participate in online tuition events to a degree which enhances their learning.  Furthermore, a study of OU students studying U213, (Price et al, 2007) suggested “that students would benefit from prior super-vised experience of an online tutoring environment.”

Therefore, are overarching question is: Do we build students’ confidence in online tuition? If not, might students’ confidence be enhanced through introducing students to online tuition at entry level? How can this be most effectively facilitated by the tutor?

We wish to evaluate the piloting of the introduction and support of students at the point of entry into the Open University.In particular, the high tutor-student contact model of one-to-one tuition used for Access can be used as a vehicle to introduce and support student’s understanding of online tuition. Using the STEM Access module (Y033) the project will assess and develop the skills and confidence of OU students in the online learning experience.

There are three aspects of the overarching question, which link to undergraduate qualification study:

  • Are students able to use synchronous online tuition and if not, how are students best supported?
  • Do students actively engage in tutorials? From eSTEeM project (Butler, Cook, Haley-Mirnar) students are usually passive recipients receiving information but not actually engaging.
  • Do students understand the purpose (and educational value) of synchronous online tuition?

By supporting students in engaging in synchronous online tuition, they will be comfortable with the technology and then recognise the educational benefit that online rooms bring. This may positively influence student participation and active engagement in Stage 1 STEM modules. The impact will be a richer learning experience for the student.  There is also an impact on the tutor and the way tuition is used and enhance the tutor-student relationship at Stage 1 STEM modules.

The overall outcomes for the project include:

  • Evidence for consideration of the mid-life review of Y033 regarding tuition
  • Impact on the tuition strategy within Access modules (Y033), level 1 STEM modules and leading to a hierarchical scaffolding for students within their student journey

These will affect students and/or increase knowledge by: 

  • Improved support for STEM students from entry (Y033) for online tuition
  • Improved confidence of students for Stage 1 STEM modules for online tuition, both the in the use of the technology and the awareness of the educational benefits
  • Improved attendance and participation of students for Stage 1 STEM module tuition
  • Improved tutor satisfaction for Stage 1 STEM module tuition.


Linda Price, John T. E. Richardson & Anne Jelfs (2007) Face ‐to‐face versus online tutoring support in distance education, Studies in Higher Education, 32:1, 1-20, DOI: 10.1080/03075070601004366

Carlton Wood, Lynda Cook and Anactoria Clarke presentation

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