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Technologies for STEM learning

Associate Lecturers’ Involvement in Improved Practice in a SXPS288 Labcast Delivery

Project leader(s): 
Venetia Brown

Tutors who work in distance education often have less opportunities to participate in important, practical science experiences with colleagues. Using synchronous technologies to facilitate real-time, simultaneous interaction and communication between individuals can help to replicate face-to-face teaching and promote peer interaction and collaborative opportunities.

This project evaluated the use of a live, interactive web broadcast (known as a labcast) as part of a tuition strategy to introduce associate lecturers (ALs) to a new planetary science experimental investigation and to explore the extent to which the briefing would fit with their tuition. We also investigated whether such an intervention would encourage more routine AL involvement in labcasting alongside the module team; fostering a sense of community and enabling ALs to promote labcasts to the student body more effectively.

The report found that ALs generally perceived that the labcast would help enhance their knowledge of the experiment before the live event. In addition, the majority felt optimistic that they could apply the information presented to their teaching. However, post-evaluation feedback revealed mixed attitudes as to how well the labcast aligned with their expectations. Focus group data further revealed some misunderstandings of the affordances of labcasts and tutors’ preferred environments for briefings.

The report recommends that ALs are given requisite training in the use of web broadcasts before a live event. Module teams that plan and deliver labcasts should prepare Stadium Live introductory videos to guide tutors through the platform and to demonstrate the differences from Adobe Connect. An opportunity to submit questions before a labcast should be offered as a way for the moderator and presenter to engage more effectively during the live event. Audience polling or widgets should reflect real, contextualised questions that are appropriate for the audience. Encouraging AL involvement earlier should be factored into the labcast design. The standard practice of tutor-briefings via Adobe Connect may be more useful in most instances. However, where experimental investigations and demonstration of apparatus are being introduced, the video resolution and quality available in labcasts are more superior.

Related resources

Brown, V. and Cayless, A. (2021) Exploring the use of a tutor-briefing labcast to support associate lecturers in a level 2 Physical Sciences module. eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

Appendix C - SXPS288 Labcast 3 (ALs) - Planetary Science Project Storyboard/Script

Appendix D - Pre-labcast evaluation questionnaire

Appendix E - Post-labcast evaluation questionnaire

Brown, V. and Cayless, A. (2019) project poster (PDF)

Teaching distributed computing using Raspberry Pi clusters at a distance

Project leader(s): 
Daniel Gooch

Parallel and distributed computing (PDC) is considered a threshold concept for computing [2], forming a key part of the ACM Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Science [1]. Understanding how PDC works is a significant part of algorithm design, a fundamental part of Computer Science. PDCs now power much of the “cloud” and are therefore of increasing industrial relevance. While not currently covered in the dual-presentation, compulsory C&C level 1 module, TM129 (Technologies in practice), the proposed rewrite for 20J will cover these increasingly important concepts.

Given that we do not regulate the machines that students use when studying with us, to gain practical exposure of PDCs, we must offer a central-service to run PDC programs on. The low cost of Raspberry Pis  has led to an exploration of how PDC can be taught to students using Raspberry Pi clusters (a form of distributed computer, built from multiple computers) [3, 4], given the unfeasible cost of using clusters made from other kinds of computers. We currently do not have a mechanism for providing access to clusters to the 1000 distance students per TM129 presentation.

The Institute of Coding has funded the hardware costs for an initial four clusters. These have been successfully used in initial module team-led lab-casts with a clear interest from students. These lab-casts have demonstrated the student interest in using the clusters, and we plan to move them into the OpenSTEM Lab, allowing us to build activities around the clusters.

We are thus applying for funds to explore the impact the clusters have on TM129 students. We will be making the clusters available as optional activities in the 19J and 20B presentations to assess their suitability, before making them a compulsory part of the assessment from 20J. We will be evaluating these clusters for:

  1. increased engagement and interest of the students due to the novelty of the technology;
  2. that the activities will increase students’ knowledge of PDC; and
  3. that the increased engagement and interest will improve retention.


ACM Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Science 

Cousin, G (2006) An introduction to threshold concepts, Planet no. 17.

Cox, Simon J., James T. Cox, Richard P. Boardman, Steven J. Johnston, Mark Scott, and Neil S. O’brien. "Iridis-pi: a low-cost, compact demonstration cluster." Cluster Computing 17(2), 2014.

Doucet, Kevin, and Jian Zhang, 2017. Learning cluster computing by creating a Raspberry Pi cluster. In Proceedings of the SouthEast Conference, pp. 191-194. ACM.

Gooch, D. (2019) project poster (PDF)

Blended tutorials in Mathematics: simultaneous F2F and online learning events

Project leader(s): 
Andrew Potter and Colin Blundell

A blended tutorial is a single learning event which gives students the opportunity of attending face-to-face or online. This project considers the barriers and opportunities to using blended tutorials to support distance learning at The Open University, especially in a mathematics-learning context.

Two pilot blended tutorials were carried out on the Level 3 mathematics module M337 Complex Analysis, and an evaluation undertaken via thematic analysis of qualitative data from practitioner reflections, lesson observations and semi-structured student interviews.

The five themes which emerged from our analysis consider pedagogical issues (the “two different worlds” of online and face-to-face attendance, and the need to develop a “blended pedagogy”), technical issues (audio and visual communication) and organisational issues (in relation to scheduling of tutorials).

We recommend that further experimentation and research is conducted into blended tutorials. They offer opportunities to increase the number of tutorials, to offer greater choice for students, and to give more opportunities to feel part of a wider community of learners through capturing casual interactions. More research should be conducted using a single practitioner, perhaps with the help of a student monitor.

However, care is advised in developing a pedagogical approach which is suited to the blended environment. Our analysis suggests it is not necessary to create a wholly egalitarian experience across modes, but accessibility and learner-centred pedagogy do need to be placed first, and there is scope to allow students across both modes the choice to participate in audio and text chat. For mathematics teaching and learning specifically, a shared visual space is seen as vital.

Related resources

Andrew David James Potter and Colin Blundell (2022) Blended Tutorials: Blended Synchronous Learning in Mathematics. In CETL-MSOR Conference Special Issue 2: Innovations in teaching, learning, assessment and support, Vol 20, No 2 (2022) DOI:

Potter, A. and Blundell, C. (2021) Blended tutorials in Mathematics: simultaneous face-to-face and online learning events. eSTEeM Final Report (intranet only)

Potter, A. and Blundell, C. (2019) project poster (PDF)