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Technologies for STEM learning

Assessing The ‘Open Field Lab’: Evaluating Interactive Fieldcasts for Enhancing Access to Fieldwork

Project leader(s): 
Phil Wheeler, Julia Cooke, Kadmiel Maseyk and Trevor Collins

Fieldwork is a fundamental part of the curriculum in undergraduate biological, environmental, Earth and geographical sciences, but not all students are able to participate in authentic field activities. The nature of online and distance learning means that students are more likely to find fieldwork problematic in terms of understanding the importance of such activities to their learning, having the confidence and self-motivation to participate (particularly the first time) and being able to make the time to travel to the site(s).

Undergraduate students studying S206 Environmental Science at the OU are given the chance to attend one or more of a series of non-compulsory field-days with a tutor as part of the tuition programme within the modules. However, as well as students who do not wish to attend, there are clearly some students who are unable to attend for a range of practical, social, confidence and motivational reasons. In 2016, we designed and delivered a series of interactive live fieldcasts to support students who could not attend the S206/SXF206 tutor-organised field-trips. Through the OU’s Stadium Live system, students used interactive widgets to make observations, generate hypotheses and design a field investigation, which was carried out and analysed live. Feedback from those who participated was very positive.

This project aims to carry out a detailed evaluation of the fieldcast approach in the context of the core tuition activity it seeks to support, namely tutor-organised trips. We aim to understand how fieldcasts can be used to support, enhance and widen access to authentic fieldwork experiences like the tutor-organised trips. We hope to use the knowledge we generate to improve our practice of live fieldcasting and better understand how this tool can be deployed in other contexts within the OU and beyond.

Phil Wheeler, Julia Cooke, Kadmiel Maseyk and Trevor Collins poster

Scholarship Shorts - video highlighting the different approach to teaching fieldwork using fieldcasting.

Video length: 5 mins 8 secs

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Visualising the code: are students engaging with programming at level 1?

Project leader(s): 
Elaine Thomas, Soraya Kouadri Mostéfaoui and Helen Jefferis

This project Visualising the code: are students engaging with programming at Level 1? investigated the impact of using a visual programming environment on student engagement with programming.

Programming is a subject that many students find difficult and it may be particularly challenging for distance learning students working largely on their own. Many ideas have been put forward in the literature to explain why students struggle with programming, including: the relative unfamiliarity of computer programming or ‘radical novelty’ (Dijkstra, 1989), cognitive load (Shaffer, 2004) and that the whole learning environment may be influential (Scott & Ghinea, 2013).

We used as our case-study TU100 My digital life which is a Level 1 undergraduate Computer Science module in the Open University. The rationale for this work stems from the need for an introductory undergraduate Computing and IT module that will engage students of widely differing levels of prior experience in terms of programming and of education generally. In TU100, the module team introduced a visual programming environment, based on Scratch (MIT, 2007), called ‘Sense’ which is used in conjunction with an electronic device, the SenseBoard.

In the first phase of the project we analysed the grades of 6,159 students in the final assessment across six presentations of the module to identify student performance in the programming task, in comparison with their overall performance on the module. The aim was to explore whether there was any difference between student engagement with the programming task in comparison with non-programming tasks. Our results suggest that there is no significant difference in levels of engagement between these tasks, and it appears that success, or otherwise, in one type of task is a good predictor of engagement with the other tasks.

In the second phase of the project we analysed the textual comments made by students in the Student Experience on a Module (SEaM) survey from two recent presentations of TU100, using key words relating to programming. Just under 30% of students who made textual comments gave feedback about Sense or the programming teaching. A total of 22.2% of the students made positive comments about the use of Sense or the programming teaching generally and 7.6% of students’ comments were negative. Of the students who made negative comments, a small number had struggled with the programming, while others thought that the teaching was pitched at too low a level. However, the majority of student comments in this area suggest that they had enjoyed the programming elements.

The visual programming language used at Level 1 has been successful in engaging students in the study of programming. This study will provide a firm basis for a similar analysis of student performance on the new Level 1 modules which use a visual programming language in the first module followed by Python in the second one, and how well students cope with Level 2 programming.

Related resources

Thomas, E., Kouadri Mostéfaoui, S. and Jefferis, H. (2019) Visualising the code: are students engaging with programming at Level 1? eSTEeM Final Report (PDF)

Thomas, E.; Kouadri Mostéfaoui, S. and Jefferis, H. (2018) Visualising the code: a study of student engagement with programming in a distance learning context. In: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Networked Learning 2018 (Bajić, M.; Dohn, D. N.; de Laat, M.; Jandrić, P. and Ryberg, T. eds.), Springer.

Thomas, E.; Kouadri Mostéfaoui, S. and Jefferis, H. (2018)  Visualising the Code: An investigation of student engagement with programming in TU100. 7th eSTEeM Annual Conference, The Open University, Milton Keynes. (PDF)

Thomas, E., Kouadri Mostéfaoui, S. and Jefferis, H. (2017) Investigation of student engagement with programming in TU100: The impact of using a graphical programming environment? 6th eSTEeM Annual Conference, The Open University, Milton Keynes, 25-26 April 2017. (PDF)



Are we making progress? Progression through learners’ interaction in OpenStudio across a qualification

Project leader(s): 
Nicole Lotz

The project set out to better understand how learners in the Design and Innovation Qualification at the Open University progress in OpenStudio as they move through their qualification. OpenStudio is primarily a social learning space, in which students share their work, view others’ work and comment and engage in discussion around the work that has been shared.

The design of the OpenStudio at the OU has attempted to translate the design studio culture from a physical to a virtual space. In traditional design pedagogy, the studio model has been in place since the start of the 20th century (Webster, 2005). Problem-based learning is its signature pedagogy (Crowther, 2013). Research into design pedagogy in traditional design education shows how students develop from being novices to final year students, becoming more independent learners (Ashton & Durling, 2000), (Garner & Evans, 2012). However, little is known about how this is achieved at a distance (Jones, 2014).

The project builds on the premise that social learning is key to student success and progression in online learning (McAllister, Whiteford, Hill, Thomas, & Fitzgerald, 2006)  (Hill, Song, & West, 2009). However, surprisingly little is understood about exactly which social behaviours and interactions support learners’ engagement and success in the OpenStudio. Our seminal work on social engagement in the OpenStudio (Lotz, Jones, & Holden, 2015) revealed that at level 1, there is a positive relation between viewing and commenting on the work of others and the student’s success.

To extend the validity of this finding onto further levels of study, to better understand the criteria for engagement throughout a qualification and construct a progression pathway for the Design and Innovation Qualification, the project team collected two sets of quantitative and qualitative data about engagement with the OpenStudio (work packages 1-4) and devised a OpenStudio STEM workshop to construct OpenStudio progression pathways (work package 5).

Work package 1 collected statistical data from OpenStudio usage of nearly 3000 students distributed over 5 presentations of U101, 2 presentations of T217, and 1 presentation of T317 between 2012 and 2014. Work package 2 devised a Consensual Assessment (CAT) of the quality of the work uploaded to OpenStudio by these students. Work package 3 collected qualitative data on the perceptions of OpenStudio by interviewing 11 qualification students. Work package 4 analysed the conversations around students’ uploads by some of the interviewed students qualitatively. Work package 5 was a workshop held to construct STEM OpenStudio progression pathways, which helped to devise a Design progression pathway.

The project team found valuable social engagement with OpenStudio in U101 at level 1, which did not extend to levels 2 and 3 of the qualification. Social engagement in OpenStudio at level 1 is linked to the gaining of confidence, skills development and student success, and unexpectedly, found that this is also true for students who adopt the more passive engagement approach of ‘lurking’. Engagement decreases at higher levels, which may be explained by a shift in studio culture (influenced by learning design, and activity design, student cohort and background) in these levels.

The findings have impact on efforts to improve the student experience across the qualification, including designing module specific inductions to OpenStudio, the redesign of modules and OpenStudio module activities in the qualification, and the implementation of the Student Advisory Website. A wider audience of STEM academics and LTI staff benefitted from the project findings in the workshop which took thinking beyond the implementation of OpenStudio in individual modules to think about progression strategies across a qualification. Finally, the project opened up new avenues for collaboration with external academics and bidding for external funding to investigate the design of social online learning environments in design and innovation.

Related resources

Lotz,N., Jones,D. and Holden, G. (2017). Are we making progress? Progression through learners’ interaction in OpenStudio across a qualification. eSTEeM Final Report. (PDF) 

Completed interview template

A conversation analysis example

Progression in OpenStudio workshop: Poster 1 - Consensual Assessment TechniquePoster 2 - Looking at the numbersPoster 3 - Qualitative Research: InterviewsPoster 4 - Conversation Analysis.

Lotz, N., Jones, D. and Holden, G. (2017) Are we making progress? Progression through learners' interaction in OpenStudio across a qualification. Presentation from the Progression in OpenStudio workshop. (PowerPoint)

Lotz, N., Jones, D. and Holden, G. (2017) Lurking and Learning: Progression through the Design and Innovation Qualification. Presentation from the 6th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 25-26 April 2017 (PDF)

Lotz, N., Jones, D. and Holden, G. (2017) Lurking and learning: Making learning visible in a Virtual Design Studio. Cumulus paper. (PDF)

Holden, G and Lotz, N. (2017) Learning in an online studio. Presentation from the Digitally Enhanced Learning (DEL) Conference, 14-15 September 2017, London. (PowerPoint)

Lotz, N., Jones, D. and Holden, G. (2018) Engaging qualities: factors affecting learner attention in online design studios. Paper submission for the Design Research Society Conference 2018, University of Limerick, 25-28 June 2018. (PDF)

Scholarship Series - video showcasing Nicole's eSTEeM project which investigated how learners in the Design and Innovation qualification progress in OpenStudio.

Video length: 6 mins 43 secs 


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