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How it is different to before? Science student perceptions of the study experience

Project leader(s): 
Laura Hills and John Rose-Adams
Faculty: 
WELS
Status: 
Archived
Body: 

This project is a study of the experience of students with a disability studying Science at a time of considerable financial curriculum and technological change. The project was initiated in 2013 at a time when the impact of changes to student funding were starting to be felt across the HE sector and the Science programme at the Open University had made significant changes to its curriculum and the way it supported students. At its inception, the project was intended to be much broader in scope and compare the experience of students before and after these changes took place. Given the researchers’ role within the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships, it was also intended that the research would examine whether students from widening participation backgrounds were being adversely affected by such changes.

A number of factors has meant that the scope and scale of the project has reduced over time, with the final focus of the project being determined by the response of just five students, all of whom with a disability, to a request for participants. All students were interviewed by the researchers on topics of relevance to the original research focus, which included curriculum issues technological issues and finances. Participants were not asked specifically about their experience as disabled students, although all students referred to their disability to some degree during the interviews. What became a focus of the analysis, therefore, was the extent to which disability, played a role in the experience of the students.

The research found that the experience of the students taking part was similar to that which has been reported of the majority of Open University students. The Open University was chosen in response to personal circumstances and family commitments and was seen a place where study would be flexible. Technology had played a part in this flexibility by enabling students to study in ways and at times to suit. However, there was concern about the implications of the increasing use of online experimentation on students’ preparedness for work. Interaction with other students was also seen as an issue and was key to perceptions of the value for money offered by the Open University.

Disability was not a factor in the experience of three of the five students interviewed. However, for two students, their disability had an impact not just on their choice of University, but also on the course they took and their particular degree pathway. Whilst very appreciative of the support given to them as disabled students, it was clear that the availability of such support was a determining factor in what and how they could study. Attention may need to be given, therefore, to the issue of ensuring parity of choice and experience to all Open University students.

Related resources

Hills, L. (2015) The experience of students with a disability studying Science in an era of financial, curriculum and technological change. eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

Hills and Rose-Adams poster (PDF)

Theme: 

Online Presence for Learning and Employability: students' use of profiles in social networking environments

Project leader(s): 
Karen Kear
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Archived
Body: 

The widespread use of social network sites means that ‘online presence’ is becoming increasingly important for social, educational and employment purposes. The most obvious examples of users’ online presence can be found in the personal profiles on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Personal profiles are also available in educational online environments such as Moodle. The literature on online learning advocates the use of personal profiles and photos to help participants in online communities learn something about each other and feel more connected. This project investigated the extent to which personal profiles were used and valued by Open University learners.

Data were gathered from two tutor groups on the Level 1 Computing and IT module My Digital Life (TU100). The methods used were: an online survey; online focus groups via web conferencing; and observation of students’ Moodle profiles at two points during the module presentation. The findings suggest that personal profiles and photos in Moodle forums helped some students to feel in touch with each other. Others, however, did not feel the need for these facilities, had privacy concerns or preferred to focus on the forum postings. Students also had privacy concerns in relation to social network sites, although their concerns were allayed somewhat after studying material on social networking in TU100.

These findings are in line with literature which suggests that forum participants may not find it helpful to share personal details via profiles, as they might on a social network site (Tanis & Postmes, 2007; Schwammlein & Wodzicki, 2012). The project highlights the need to find other ways to increase participants’ sense of community in online environments, particularly those used for distance learning. 

Related resources

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F. and Jefferis, H. (2014) ‘Online presence for learning and employability: students’ use of profiles in social networking environments’, eSTEeM Final Report. (PDF)

Chetwynd, F., Kear, K., Jefferis, H. and Woodthorpe, J. (2012) ‘Students’ online profiles for employability and community’, HEA STEM: Enhancing the Employability of Computing Students through a Professional Online Presence, 8 June 2012, Birmingham City University. (PowerPoint)

Jefferis, H. Chetwynd, F., Kear, K. and Woodthorpe, J. (2012)‘Putting a face to a name: students’ use of profiles in Moodle VLE forums’, eSTEeM conference 2012, The Open University. (PowerPoint)

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., and Jefferis, H. (2013) ‘Personal profiles in VLE forums: do students use them?, eSTEeM conference 2013, The Open University. (PowerPoint)

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., and Jefferis, H. (2013) “To give a better understanding of who I am”: the role of personal profiles in online learning. The Difference that Makes a Difference, 8-10 April 2013, The Open University, Milton Keynes. (PowerPoint)

Kear, K., Chetwynd, F., and Jefferis, H. (2013) ‘Social presence in online learning communities: the role of personal profiles’ (journal paper submitted to Research in Learning Technology; in second stage of review). (PDF)

Kear, Chetwynd and Jefferis poster (PDF)

Scholarship Shorts - video highlighting the activities, findings and impact of Karen's eSTEeM project.

Video length: 7 mins 9 secs

Download transcript

Theme: 

Career Development for STEM professionals

Project leader(s): 
Clem Herman
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Archived
Body: 

The overall aim of this project was to develop a sustainable framework for supporting students into STEM employment, focusing on careers advice and professional development for those who are seeking to enter, return to or progress their careers in this sector. A specific objective was to ensure that the Open University continues its highly successful and visible role in supporting women returning to STEM after a career break.

The starting point for the project was to evaluate and learn from the post-course experience of participants on the T160 and T161 Return to SET courses which ran from 2005 to 2011. Evidence from an evaluation in 2007 (Dale et al 2007) indicated high value for returners and large numbers of positive outcomes, but also revealed that there were likely to be many different points at which ‘returners’ move in and out of the labour market (Herman and Webster 2010).

Project activities included a survey of students 5 years after completion of the T160 module; in-depth career-biographical interviews; a practitioner focus group; and the development of a prototype animated careers guidance resource – the Racetrack.

Survey data indicated that over 70% of the respondents had found employment mostly in STEM related occupations. About half of these had ‘rebooted’, returning to their professions, while the remainder had ‘rerouted’ or changed career. Key findings included the identification of five on-ramping strategies(getting a foot in the door, networking, retraining, intermediary agency support and self-demotion) which had enabled the women to return to either full time or part time work. There were three main aspects of the T160 course which were particularly helpful in developing employability. Firstly, ‘identity work’ which involved building and improving CVs; secondly, peer support and sense of community which resulted in reduced isolation and increased confidence; and finally the provision of a structured and assessed PDP pathway starting with reflection and culminating in goal setting and an action plan.

Specific recommendations for supporting students back into STEM employment include:

  1. CV support should include guided development and structured feedback
  2. Provision for women returners should include community building and peer support
  3. PDP for mature students can best be achieved using a structured yet flexible pathway that takes into account differing lifecourse experiences
  4. employability interventions need to take account of structural inequalities
  5. networking should be actively promoted as a strategy.

The project has linked closely to the OU’s Employability strategy and worked in partnership with the Careers and Employability Project. As a result of the project, we have now begun to embed employability resources and activities within new modules, and are looking to ways to commercialise the Racetrack animation for a wider audience possibly via Open Learn. 

Related resources

Herman, C. (2013) Career Development for STEM Professionals. eSTEeM Final Report. (PDF)

Herman, Whitelegg, Chicot, Kirkup and Lewis poster (PDF)

Theme: 

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