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Black student experience and attainment on S112: improving a level 1 STEM module

Highly Commended at the 7th eSTEeM Scholarship Projects of the Year Awards 2024.

Winner of the 8th Best Poster Competition at the 12th eSTEeM Annual Conference, 19-20 April 2023.

The awarding gap for Black students vs White students has been widely reported across UK Higher Education. The existence of awarding gaps within the Open University for Black vs White students for pass rate and good module pass rate has implications for OfS funding due to unfulfilled Access and Participation Plan targets. Data examined in 2019 for the interdisciplinary science module S112 Science Concepts and Practice appeared to indicate that pass rates for Black students were much lower in comparison to White students and students of other ethnicities, despite completion rates closer to the rest of the cohort. Awarding gaps were wider than both Faculty and Institutional values.

The project adopted a mixed method approach to investigate Black student experience on S112 via online focus groups and semi structured Black student interviews, together with a concurrent intersectionality study to investigate any possible double disadvantage for S112 Black students.

Thematic analysis identified a lack of representation of Black scientists and University staff together with a lack of sense of belonging amongst the Black student community as being the most impactful barriers to success. Other themes identified such as perceived hidden costs associated with study could be relevant to wider student communities. This was reinforced by a double disadvantage for Black students residing in an IMD 1 postcode (the 20% most deprived UK postcodes) identified during the intersectionality study. No double disadvantage was identified for gender or being first in family into Higher Education for Black S112 students.

Engagement from Black S112 students with the project was low, with students showing some reluctance and hesitation to participate and share their experiences, despite being approached by a culturally appropriate member of the project team. A key recommendation of this project would be further research to investigate this apparent lack of trust in the University, to open two-way channels of communication with project teams. Other recommendations address the lack of representation of Black scientists and University staff together with the lack of sense of belonging, for example, use of the inclusive curriculum took by all modules in production and life cycle review, and the inclusion of Global South researchers and examples in teaching materials. Further recommendations address the issues likely to be faced by the wider student community such as minimising additional costs associated with study and ensuring home experiments have readily available cost-free alternatives.

This research has highlighted the importance of listening to our Black students and other marginalised student communities.

Related Resources: 
File 2024-04-Day-2-Session-I-Louise-MacBrayne-Jennie-Bellamy-et-al.pptx6.44 MB

Project Presentation.

File MacBrayne and Bellamy.pptx566.66 KB

Project poster.

File Day-1-Session-A-Louise-MacBrayne.pptx419.06 KB


PDF icon Louise MacBrayne and Jennie Bellamy, Black student experience. Presentation commentary.pdf174.56 KB

Presentation commentary from the eSTEeM Annual Conference 2022.

Louise MacBrayne, Jennie Bellamy and Elaine McPherson interactive poster presentation (full screen)

Interactive poster presentation for the 10th eSTEeM Annual Conference 2021.

Louise MacBrayne, Jennie Bellamy, Elaine McPherson and Angela Richards (full screen)

Poster presentation for the 12th eSTEeM Annual Conference 2023.