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Supporting students

Exploring a Peer Support Structure for Jupyter Notebooks and R on M348 (Applied Statistical Modelling)

Project leader(s): 
Jotham Gaudoin
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

M348 (Applied Statistical Modelling) is a new module in applied statistics that will involve developing skills in the R software package via the use of Jupyter notebooks.  It is a compulsory module for students on several qualifications and these students have a range of different backgrounds.  Students from Q36 (Mathematics and Statistics) are likely to have a better understanding of the mathematical concepts in the module, having had more exposure to these than students from Q15 (Economics and Mathematical Sciences) or R30 (Economics), who may well better understand the practical interpretation of relevant results in their context.  Meanwhile, students from R38 (Data Science) will have had rather more computational background imparted by the Level 1 and Level 2 study in computing that they will have undertaken by the time they study M348. 

Our aim in this project is to leverage some of the computing expertise demonstrated by particular groups of students on M348.  In each of the practical statistics modules available within the department of Mathematics and Statistics, students are helped to develop skills in a particular software package in which they can undertake their analyses.  In M348, this will be R via the use of Jupyter notebooks.  Unfortunately, even the installation process for the Jupyter notebooks with R is rather more complex than students will be used to and driving the software requires interaction with a command line interface, rather than the simpler ‘point-and-click’ that students will have been accustomed to in previous statistics modules.  We have observed that during presentations of other statistics modules, there tend to be a small number of students who help other students with their statistical computing and coding difficulties and we wish to formalise this through asking for a small number of confident volunteers who will take M348 to undertake some advance training (in particular, accessing Unit 1 of the module early, with the support of a tutor) to then prepare to help other students with their computing difficulties in a peer support setup.  If successful, this model could then be rolled out across other statistics modules.

Jotham Gaudoin poster

Postcard Confessions: Deepening Understanding of Students via their Hopes and Dreams

Project leader(s): 
James Warren and Georgy Holden
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

We think that we know our students, but do we fully understand their hopes the reality of their daily lives?

The welcome pack for the U101 entry level design module includes postcards that invite students to tell 'Lola' (the fictional embodiment of the module) their hopes and dreams for the coming year. The instructions asked for three things the students wanted to achieve and since a rewrite from 2020J, three things the students wanted to learn. Since 2010, students have created a couple of thousand ‘postcards’ that were received at a central P.O. Box staffed by the module team. The richness of the postcards which includes text and drawings (see photo), offers potential for novel insights into the intentions of OU students in the earliest stages of engagement and the way homelife and work aspirations intertwine. This study proposes to carry out a rigorous analysis of this archive which has so far not been utilised. This project has been cleared by HREC and the SRPP.

The aim of this project is to carry out a textual and visual analysis of the cards to develop a deep and holistic understanding of the hopes and aspirations that students bring to their engagement with the Open University. The identification of patterns will be used to create design student personas which reflect the lived experience of students that will be used to inform curriculum development, teaching and tuition for the new design degree that has recently been agreed. The analysis of the cards will also create a ‘Guide to Design Students’ which will be innovative creative resources to engage all staff with the student experience, enriching staff-student interactions at both individual and group levels. The insights will be disseminated inside the OU and the DRS academic design conference.

James Warren and Georgy Holden poster

Understanding Passive Withdrawals on S111

Project leader(s): 
Vic Pearson, Linda Thomson and Maria Velasco
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

In every presentation of S111, there has been a percentage of students who remain registered until the end of the module but have had limited or even no engagement with the module content and assessment.  In some cases, they may have never logged on to the VLE at all despite attempts from ALs and the SST in contacting these students.  As S111 has a single component assessment strategy, these students are included in the final statistics for the module, resulting in a higher proportion of ‘fails’.  Although this trend is recognised and reluctantly accepted, it is not necessarily understood what the reasons or triggers might be. Previous studies have indicated that PEQ, self-confidence, preparedness and student expectations are key influencing factors on students’ motivation to engage when new to study (Humphreys et al., 2015).

Passive withdrawal is not a new or unique problem. It has been a challenge to previous L1 science modules (e.g., S104, the S111 precursor) and is a known issue across the OU. Indeed, in 2011, the Student Experience Advisory Group led a pilot project that conducted an online survey of passive withdrawers (SEAG, 2011). The response rate to the survey was poor at 2.5% (4%, n=3 students from S104) and the project was cancelled.

This problem of reaching passive withdrawers is notoriously difficult to resolve, with several previous studies attempting this in a variety of different ways (see below).  Here, we combine the study of data, including demographics, VLE engagement and assessment data, with information about individual student contacts (from VOICE records, forum engagement, day school engagement and interviews) and insights from ALs of passive withdrawers.  We are not attempting to reach students directly and will be retrospectively reviewing passive withdrawals once presentations have ended.

This project would like to gain a greater understanding of these students’ study behaviours, circumstances and motivations. These will be considered in the context of the module study calendar, learning events, and communications received from the University (including existing interventions). 

This project feeds into the Access, Participation and Success Strategy. By understanding students’ engagement (or lack of), it is hoped to gain an insight into wider issues around student registration, induction and OU communications with students, as well as potentially any pinch points that could be remedied on S111 itself. 

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