The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
According to the social constructivist model of learning, social opportunities are considered to be important in an educational experience for their positive influence. The principle is that the learning can be reinforced through the interaction with others. When students engage in an online model of learning, however, they may do so with a view to exploiting the asynchronous benefits that it allows; the effect of this, however, is reduction in the opportunities for interaction and engagement with others. In a previous eSTEeM project, the goal was to encourage students to interact, primarily with their tutor but also with fellow students, to a greater degree than they might otherwise would. Additional support was provided to students through availability of the tutor and peers within Slack. Increased support opportunities were offered through the use of weekly group chats, real-time ad hoc chats in Slack, and the use of online diaries.
While the goals of this project was achieved with some success, it was found that it was generally the more competent students, the students who did not necessarily need the support, who engaged. This second phase of the project has therefore been run with a view to identifying how to encourage the weaker performing cohort to engage with the tutor and their peers for the learning benefits it can bring. As with the first running of the project, additional support was offered through the use of weekly group chats in Slack, ad hoc chats, and online diaries, further supplemented with the use of peer learning. It is believed that the goals of this project were achieved to some degree, given the fact that a selection of the Tutor Marked Assessment (TMA) results were the same for the students who engaged and those who did not. (In the previous experience, the students engaging achieved significantly higher results than those who did not.)
This second phase of the programme also varies in that another Associate Lecturer (AL) was involved in delivery of the personalised support programme, with a view to understanding of the impact of running the programme on a per tutor basis, and the overhead involved if this scheme were to be more widely applied. From the perspective of the co-AL, the scheme was found to be an extra commitment beyond the work that an AL commits to, and ultimately, the co-AL was glad when the programme came to an end, although he did find the experience to be a positive one. This was from the perspective of having very focused, short weekly tutorials, in addition to having the opportunities to get to know the subject material more closely. Recommendations coming from this project include that tutors should recognise the value of ‘lurking’ students, that students may not hear what a tutor is communicating until they are ready to hear, that students value the diary method of support, although may need guidance with its completion and maintenance, and that students may have unrealistic expectations about how much they can be given.
This report is structured as follows: In Section 2 Activities & Outcomes, the main activities which students were involved in as part of the personalised support programme are described, presented alongside artefacts which exemplify the activities. These are analysed in relation to the benefits which students received from the activities, and considered in relation to the related academic literature. In Section 3 Findings, the reactions of students throughout the year are explored, such as situations of student deferral despite participating in the personalised support programme. This is considered with a view to understanding the student behaviours despite the offer of a personalised support programme. In Section 4 Impact, the key conclusions from the personalised support programme are considered, in terms of, for example, the TMA results of students participating in the programme in comparison to those who are not, and the feedback which students returned mid-way through the programme and at the end of the programme. The report concludes in Section 5.