The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
Recently the UK government has initiated various initiatives and strategies to address the need for increased STEM skills in the workplace. Amongst those strategies is the introduction of apprenticeships in STEM subject areas, to which the Open University has responded by introducing apprenticeships at both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
This project addressed the fundamental question as to whether the Open University graduate apprentices need a different tuition or support strategy, and to identify any issues apprentices may face with the actual support strategies.
There were three main objectives:
Our case study was Year 1 Digital and Technology Solutions programme with focus on TMXY130 (Introduction to Computing Technologies) and TXY122 (Career Development and Employability). Both the students’ as well as the academic and practice tutors’ perspectives were considered and contrasted. Whilst the initial proposal included the study of the English apprenticeships only, we were able to engage with a larger student body, as the Computing and Communication apprenticeship programmes had been broadened across the nations, with the Applied Software Engineering Degree Apprenticeship programme in Wales and two graduate apprenticeship schemes in Scotland. This opened the opportunity to gather a wider number and range of responses, and to compare experiences across the nations.
Following a literature review, a mixed method research approach was adopted, including, surveys, forum postings analysis, students’ module performance analysis, as well as analysis of the end of year tutors debriefing sessions.
The main findings showed that most students performed well in both TMXY130 and TXY122 (good retention and pass rates). However, English and Welsh apprenticeships completion rates are much higher than the Scottish completion rates, with the suggestion that high workload in Scotland is an issue, as apprentices study 120 credits per year rather than the 90 credits studied in England and Wales.
The majority of apprentices are however, satisfied with the support available both from the Open University and their employers, as well as being satisfied with the modules content and assessments. Many however, raised concerns about the maths units and how they are assessed. Similarly, both practice tutors as well as the Open University academic tutors raised concerns about the relevance of the maths units, their usefulness in the workplace as well as the challenges understanding the terminology used in the Cisco units. The management units in TXY122 have also emerged as a common theme of dissatisfaction. The need of day-time tutorials to accommodate for the apprentices having time dedicated to their Degree Apprenticeship studies during the day has also been raised. The benefits of studying via the Open University apprenticeship programmes such as being assigned to a practice tutor in the workplace, as well as the outstanding tuition strategy and the flexibility of the learning provision have been quoted as the main benefits of studying via the Open University apprenticeship programmes.