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  5. An investigation into how STEM students use learning resources in different formats, and how this use develops over time

An investigation into how STEM students use learning resources in different formats, and how this use develops over time

Project leader(s): 
Laura Alexander and Alexis Lansbury

Within the STEM Faculty at the OU, the learning resources provided for students vary in format from school to school. In Science, learning resources tend to be online and digital. In contrast, in Mathematics and Statistics, books written by OU academics specifically for the module are supplied as well as digital media. In Computing and Communications, a mixture of different types of resource is used; including off the shelf books by external authors and online digital media. Depending on their degree pathway, students may follow modules from at least two of the STEM schools, and as they progress from module to module, our underlying assumption is that students will need to develop different learning strategies as the types of resources made available to them change.

Our central research questions are therefore: What is the impact of students being required to develop different learning strategies part way through their studies due to meeting modules which rely on different media for learning resources? Does this affect student progression and retention and could there be ways to mitigate this impact?

We plan to answer our central research question by investigating what learning resources students use, how students use the learning resources that we provide, and how this use may evolve over time.

The plan is to select 3 samples of students who are studying level 2 modules; one sample from each of Science, Mathematics and Computing. Ideally, the students will be drawn from modules S217 (Science), MST224 (Mathematics) and M250 (Computing and Communications). These three modules have been chosen as S217 is online and digital; MST224 relies upon purpose-written text-books; M269 offers a blend of digital resources, texts in the public domain and texts specifically developed for the module. Students coming into these modules may have come from entirely online level 1 study resources (eg S111 and S112), a mix of online and book based study resources (eg S111, MST124, S141) or mostly book based study resources (eg MU123, MST124, MST125, M140). It should therefore be possible to compare students who have met a new approach when they reach level 2 study with those who are not being asked to do this.

We will ask students to reflect on the type of learning strategies they developed during their level 1 studies, and, if and how these have evolved and changed during their level 2 studies. Our focus will be to elicit where learning strategies developed at level 1 have a positive impact on how students learn and progress at level 2, and conversely, we plan to identify where students might need support and additional time to adapt to different learning environments.

To achieve this, we plan to gather data by asking students to complete an online questionnaire, and then for a subset of these students, conduct further telephone interviews.

Specifically, we will:

  • identify and where possible, quantify, the use students make of the broad spectrum of learning resources provided
  • identify similarities and differences between the different approaches that schools in STEM take
  • identify the similarities and differences between students’ learning strategies in the different schools
  • highlight any difficulties that students may experience when transitioning from level 1 to level 2, perhaps due to different school philosophies on the type of resource which should be available
  • identify how the use that students make of different types of learning resource evolves over time
  • investigate whether students’ preferences for specific types of resource have any correlation with factors such as age, gender, first language/mother tongue
  • use individual interviews to investigate whether any correlation has an underlying causality.

This work will identify the importance and usefulness (to students) of the different types of learning resource we currently provide; it should highlight the extent to which students have difficulties, or conversely, easily adapt, to different learning technologies. If difficulties in adapting do emerge, it will enable us to see when, and where, and address these issues.

Laura Alexander and Alexis Lansbury presentation