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Using technology-enabled learning networks to drive module improvements in STEM

Project leader(s): 
Lesley Boyd and Rob Janes

This scholarship research project investigates how technology-enabled learning networks can be used in STEM to achieve practical organisational improvement outcomes. The project is a collaboration between the PhD research work of Lesley Boyd and the STEM faculty. It builds on the previous eSTEeM project on Tricky Topics. A learning network is defined in this research as a technology-enabled and structured way of collaboratively learning how to problem-solve and improve, connecting together disparate and geographically dispersed stakeholders across our various organisational boundaries and contexts. The emphasis in this type of ‘organisational’ learning network is on collaborative and equitable participation, and joint ownership of the process and the outcomes from it.

In the previous project learning networks were hosted in standard VLE sites for each of three pilot modules (S215, MST124 and H800) on Tricky Topics, or aspects of academic work that students consistently find tricky or challenging. Discussion forums and online workshops were used to seek feedback from tutors, in order to collaboratively identify Tricky Topics and suggest improvements or produce learning interventions. S215 ALs and the module team very successfully identified a list of conceptual Tricky Topics, plus a list of additional issues and student challenges, specifically highlighting pace and volume of material as a concern. They then produced four intervention videos which have now been in use for the 17J presentation, and a revised Are You Ready For quiz.

A technology-enabled participatory action research approach is being used, progressing together in an unfolding and emergent process, on how to address a particular organisational challenge and achieve change or improvement. This approach is being underpinned by Grounded Theory Method (GTM), and some initial components of a successful learning network have already been identified using this GTM analysis. The ongoing work will consolidate this and answer 1) what practical improvement outcomes can be achieved from the learning networks in question? 2) what factors enable or constrain this – under what conditions are improvement outcomes achieved or prevented? and 3) how can this approach be shared amongst other modules?

The overall improvement outcomes and intended impact for this research will be 1) the identification of mechanisms for collaborative problem-solving and improvement, or ‘closing the feedback loop’ between ALs and module teams, 2) practical interventions identified and implemented to assist with identified issues, 3) intersection of ALs with learning analytics and module mapping data, in conjunction with their own feedback on Tricky Topics, to drive improvements to the student experience and contribute to increased retention and 4) professional development in upskilling ALs in their ability to understand and interpret learning analytics.

Related resources

Boyd, L., 2019. Using Technology-Enabled Learning Networks to Drive Module Improvements in the UK Open University. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2019(1), p.16. DOI:

Boyd, L., Janes, R. and Olney, T. (2019) Using technology-enabled learning networks to drive module improvements in STEM. Presentation at the 8th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 8-9 May 2019, The Open University. (PPT)

Boyd, L., Leach, C., Janes, R. and Olney, T. (2019) The search for collaborative improvements: using learning networks and learning analytics to drive module improvements in STEM at the Open University. Presentation at the Horizons in STEM HE Conference, 3-4 July 2019, Kingston University London. (PPT)

Boyd, L. and Janes R. (2018) eSTEeM induction presentation