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Impact of introducing new practical and dataset project options to the science undergraduate capstone project module (S390)

Project leader(s): 
Hannah Gauci, Julie Robson, Jon Golding and Janette Wallace
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

S390 is the undergraduate science capstone project module. The S390 umbrella contains 6 strands (SXL, SXE, SXM, SXG, SXN and SXP). This project concerns only SXL390 Researching Biology and Health Sciences, and SXE390 Environmental Science. Up until 21B all strands except SXE required students to produce a 5000-word literature review as their project (EMA). SXE390 students completed a field-based practical project with their EMA requiring a data analysis component. In 2020, the Royal Society of Biology awarded interim accreditation to our BSc Biology (R58) and BSc Natural Sciences Biology pathway (Q64 Biology). A condition of accreditation was that students should demonstrate critical data analysis in their capstone project. Therefore, a data analysis route (Route B) based on the SXE390 model including field-based, dataset and lab-based options has been introduced for 21B on SXL390. Route B is for biology students only, with those following other qualification pathways remaining on the original SXL390 literature route (Route H).   

Across the sector, in 2020 undergraduate students were forced to abandon practical project plans outside their own property due to the constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. SXE390 students planning field-based projects moved to the analysis of secondary datasets relating to their project topics. Some students analysed secondary datasets only while others combined data they collected with secondary data. Following the success of these dataset projects, and the ongoing pandemic situation, the module team decided to introduce a secondary dataset option to SXE390 for 21B. Therefore, both SXL390 and SXE390 now offer practical and dataset project options.   

Pedagogically, it can be difficult to provide an online experience in independent project work that meets practical/data analytical skills required by current employers while meeting the benchmark levels for accreditation. This is especially true for subjects, courses, and disciplines traditionally taught face to face, that may also be inaccessible for some students with disabilities. Changes made to SXE390 and SXL390 attempt to demonstrate that flexibility is the key to meeting these goals.

Thus, by broadening project options we hope to increase accessibility to the module, provide greater opportunity for the development of employability skills, and offer flexibility for students to choose a project topic that relates to their interests, previous module experience and current employment or future career aspirations. 

In this project, we wish to evaluate the impact of these changes on student retention, achievement and experience, and the tutoring role. Initial results will inform the development of a new version of S390 (due to present in 2023) and conclusions and recommendations will have wider relevance for the sector as more universities branch out into online delivery. In addition, results could inform the refining of HEI benchmarks for fieldwork and provide data on the development of employability and transferable skills.

Hannah Gauci, Julie Robson, Jon Golding and Janette Wallace poster (PPT) 

 

Theme: 

Evaluation and improvement of print packs use for Environmental Science students

Project leader(s): 
Fiona Aiken and Chris Hutton
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

There is a legal requirement (Equality Act, 2010) to provide students who have declared disabilities with reasonable adjustments which address their learning needs. An Advance HE report on making reasonable adjustments in Higher Education (Falsinger& Bryford, 2010) includes ‘resources available’ as a reasonable adjustment that needs to addressed.  One way that OU does this is through producing print packs of materials for students who can’t access on-screen resources as a result of their disability.

The use, utility and efficacy of print packs as a way of providing reasonable adjustments to some of our disabled students on environment modules, and more broadly in STEM, has not been formally evaluated. Anecdotal evidence suggests utility and efficacy are variable, a problem which has been compounded by delays to print pack distribution for recent presentations.

This project aims to sample students (including SiSE) who use print packs on a range of Environmental Science modules in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences on Q52, BSc Environmental Science. The first phase will investigate how students use the resource, the problems and benefits associated with the print packs, and aim to identify ways to improve the utility and efficacy of print packs for students. Educational Advisors in the SST and tutors who work regularly with students using print packs will also be approached in the first phase.

Based on the results of the first phase, we aim to design an intervention for 22J, including training of AL champions, to improve the use of print packs and help students better engage with distance learning.

Following this intervention, we will review and evaluate its efficacy for comparison before and after its use.


Equality Act (2010) Equality Act 2010. The Stationery Office, London.  www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents

Felsinger A., & Byford K., (2010) Making reasonable adjustments in Higher Education, Advance HE report, [online] Available at file:///C:/Users/fja2/Work%20Folders/Documents/ESTEEM/Print%20pack%20project/managing-reasonable-adjustments-in-higher-education_1578587125.pdf (Accessed 19/02/2021)

Fiona Aiken and Chris Hutton poster (PPT)

Theme: 

Evaluating the Impact of Implementing Learning Design Approaches in STEM over 4 Years

Project leader(s): 
Tom Olney
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Archived
Body: 

In 2016, the OU was restructured into four super-faculties (STEM, WELS, FASS & FBL). Amongst many other things, each faculty was tasked with developing structures, governance and procedures that would support module teams in designing teaching and learning appropriate to their context. STEM was assisted in this by the outputs of the OU Learning Design Initiative (OULDI), the piloting work of the Learning Design Project in the Institute of Educational Technology (IET), the permanent formation of the Learning Design team in Learner Support Services (LDS-LD), and the extensive design for learning experience and practice that was already in place in the Maths, Computing & Technology (Kantirou, 2016) and Science Faculties.

However, to date, little work has been done either within faculties or in the wider sector to measure the impact of the implementation of learning design and the arrangements that have evolved to support learning design practice. Agostinho et al (2018) interviewed 30 university teachers about the kinds of support they accessed to help them with their learning design work. They found a wide variety of sources which included, colleagues, literature, workshops, seminars, conferences and institutional support services but concluded more effort needed to be made to understand how these supported learning design practice (Agostinho, Lockyer & Bennett, 2018). A literature review looking at the adoption of learning design tools and methods found that whilst there had been a focus on the usability of specific tools there was a lack of studies that investigated barriers to adoption such as institutional support (Dangino et al, 2018).

This eSTEeM project seeks to document and evaluate the impact of the incremental implementation of learning design in STEM over the period of 4 years (July 2017 – July 2021). This report contains a description of what it means to ‘do’ learning design in STEM, the findings from four interrelated research questions and the identification of four recommendations for future practice which are centred around (i) time, (ii) contextualisation, (iii) experience, and (iv) a re-orientation of learning design.

Related resource

Olney, T. (2022) Evaluating the Impact of Implementing Learning Design Approaches in STEM over 4 Years (July 2017 – July 2021). eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

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