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Technologies for STEM learning

Developing programming problem-solving skills using individualised screencasts

Project leader(s): 
Sarah Mattingly

This project set out to investigate whether tutor feedback via video screencasts could help novice computing students develop skills in programming and in problem-solving, and whether creating such screencasts was feasible for tutors in the normal course of correspondence tuition. TM111 tutors provided short screencasts providing feedback on students' TMA answers, tailored to each individual's misconceptions, mistakes and areas for improvement.

The project was intended to address two main issues.

  1. Problem-solving is increasingly recognised as a key skill required of programmers (Loksa, Ko, Jernigan, Oleson, Mendez and Burnett, 2016). Yet novices often find problem-solving difficult, and educators find teaching problem-solving difficult, not least as different people may solve problems in different, but equally valid ways.  TM111 was the first OU computing module explicitly to embed teaching of problem-solving techniques. Still, some students struggle to develop successful problem-solving strategies, as evidenced by TMA results. This project explored how tutors might aid such students to become better programmers, more able to continue successfully through a computing-related degree, by providing them with audio-visual insight into how an experienced programmer (the tutor) would solve a problem, following the lines of the student's own initial thought processes.
  2. As the OU's introductory computing module TM111 is the first point at which novice programmers meet key programming concepts such as iteration and selection. These 'threshold' concepts are well-known areas of difficulty for novice programmers as has been found on predecessor computing courses such as TU100, and more widely (Rountree & Rountree, 2007). This project addressed students' misconceptions about such concepts.


Screencasting individual TMA feedback was found to be useful for students and viable in terms of time and effort for tutors in specific circumstances, notably where the screencast:

  • focusses on developing students' transferrable programming concepts and skills
  • exploits the visual aspects of code creation
  • is created for solutions where student has invested time and effort and got somewhere, that are somewhat correct but sub-optimal or wrong in some respect.

We found that whilst screencasting technologies themselves are freely available and easy to use, delivering screencasts to students is not straightforward due to file size and security concerns. The optimum delivery route currently seems to be YouTube; however, care must be taken to ensure screencasts are unlisted for privacy, and even so some tutors and students may have other concerns about using YouTube.  The development of a new eTMA system may offer additional options.

Related resources

Mattingly, S. (2020) Developing programming problem-solving skills using individualised screencasts. eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

Sarah Mattingly poster

Developing responsive approaches to enhance personalized learning in selected LHCS modules

Project leader(s): 
Eleanor Crabb, Nick Chatterton and Kate Bradshaw

Personalized learning involves developing teaching strategies that allow students to learn in a way which is most effective for them. It requires educators to develop teaching materials using a range of styles, media and formats allowing students to choose approaches that suit their needs. Personalised learning has been shown to enhance student engagement and performance in a wide range of disciplines including science.

In many ways, the online distance learning modules developed at the Open University allow personalized learning to some degree: they use a range of formats and media, and students can study at their own pace. However, one element of personalised learning that is difficult to address effectively is responsive feedback and responsive teaching. This is particularly important to OU students as they have limited 1-2-1 contact with tutors and central academic staff.

An additional, technological, issue arises in the teaching of chemistry. Currently tutorials, and other ad-hoc teaching sessions, are delivered via either recorded Camtasia screencasts or Adobe Connect using PowerPoint. However, both these approaches lack flexibility, and in particular they limit the quality of “Chalk and Talk” teaching and this style is known to be particularly valued by students studying physical and organic chemistry. For example, it is difficult to hand drawn clear chemical structures or reaction mechanisms, and it is difficult to produce clear hand-written calculations. The current lack of flexibility severely limits the type of “on the hoof” responsive chemistry teaching that can be delivered.  

The aims of this project are:

  1. To investigate different technological and video solutions for the development of hand-written teaching assets that can be delivered in timely fashion in response to student queries.
  2. To produce hand written assets in response to student need
  3. Evaluate the success of the new teaching assets generated
  4. To produce an online best practice guide for other module teams in the OU.

Crabb, E., Chatterton, N. and Bradshaw, K. (2018) presentation 

The impact of live streaming module-wide events in student engagement and motivation

Project leader(s): 
Linda Thomson and Maria Velasco

S111 was first presented in 16J as the new online only introductory interdisciplinary module in science.  As part of its tuition strategy, S111 provided a series of “Discover more about…” interactive labcasts (one for each subject discipline) and a live science debate. These module-wide events are delivered by central academics and recordings are available post event. 

The aims of these tutorials were:

  • To help build a science community early on in the students studies;
  • To improve retention and progression by helping students with their subject choices;
  • To provide opportunities for students to engage directly with the central module team (and vice-versa);
  • To demonstrate research-led teaching by allowing students to engage with current research and topical issues.

While these events were perceived to be successful in 16J, this is only based on the numbers of students attending live and watching recordings, plus anecdotal students’ comments. 

This project would allow the module-wide events to be fully evaluated.  The evaluation will include widgets on Stadium during live events and surveys and follow up interviews post-events. The aim would be to give a greater understanding of student engagement with these events to have a greater understanding of how students use these to support their learning.  This would help tailor and justify the value of live events.  On a practical basis, it will influence the frequency and timing of these events in later presentations, initially for S111, but findings may also impact on other modules.

S111 has two presentations and for 17J/18B the above events will be combined and delivered once.  Another change is that the live debate is no longer exclusively for S111 and will be for the wider community of science students.  By surveying different cohorts of students, the project will also investigate whether these changes are appropriate or not. Results will directly feed into the tuition strategy for later presentations. 

Bradshaw, K., Thomson, L. and Velasco, M. (2019) The impact of live streaming module-wide events in student engagement and motivation. Best poster winner at the 8th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 8-9 May 2019 (PDF)