The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
The overall project set out to pilot and evaluate innovative programme level blended engagement events that aim to create a community of learners across a qualification. The project also investigated how an emergent sense of community at programme level facilitates students’ retention and progression.
This project attempted to gain new understandings around the rather ‘fuzzy concept’ of community and connect these to the ‘hard data’ on student progression. Understanding the role of a sense of community at qualification level is significant for improving the attainment of our distance learners.
An action research methodology was used to design, test and evaluate different formats of blended engagement events. Qualitative and quantitative data from surveys and interviews was collected and analysed to evaluate these formats.
The analysis of the data provided evidence that the cross-level engagement events created a community of learners across a qualification amongst its participants. A larger percentage of students who participated in cross-level events progressed in the qualification (81%) compared to the overall cohort (51%) of the year the events were first introduced.
The most successful of these events was the Annual Show of student work (a poster competition and exhibition). The Annual Show provides a spectrum of engagement. Students can individually enter a competition with a poster of their work, or they can design and curate the exhibition itself, which involves teamwork and collaboration with peers and faculty. What students valued most was going through a shared, applied experience that offers them scope to demonstrate and apply their skills as exhibition designers. This helps students to gain confidence. With confidence they can influence others especially in discussion with peers, faculty and potential employers. Participants become advocates for the qualification. Blending face to face and online engagement was important. The events were used as catalysts to generate content that is further distributed on social media channels to achieve maximum impact, attract new students and inform the public. The learning from this project will influence qualification wide strategic changes in Design and Innovation.
In 2019, funding to continue to run annual cross-level engagement events has been secured from E&I.