The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
Practical work in the form of home experiments has always formed an integral part of the science curriculum, in particular at level one. The move, however, from printed materials to online delivery has been accompanied by a change in the way students are supported in home experiments. In previous level one science modules (such as S104, Exploring science), students were sent practical kits, containing all of the equipment needed to perform the home experiments within the module, however the current interdisciplinary level one science curriculum (S111. Questions in science and S112, Science: concepts and practice), compulsory in several qualifications, has the expectation that students will be able to purchase, and have ready access to equipment needed to perform experiments at home contributing to core module content and assessment. Some of this equipment is relatively costly and may not be easily accessible to some students. Neither module currently provides a home experiment kit (although S111 has previously sold equipment kits through OUSA). Some students are not aware that core module content has additional associated costs as costs are not specified in detail pre-registration.
Currently the only alternative for the home experiments is for students to be given a set of data to analyse, which is not an equitable learning experience with regards to the development of practical skills relating to setting up and experiment and subsequent data collection.
The proposed project aims to explore the experiences of students who have studied S111 and/or S112 with regards to home experiments. The initial data collection phase would focus on student surveys, with follow up interviews if required, exploring student experience and outcomes of home experiments and whether the requirement for purchasing equipment adversely affected the achievement of relevant learning outcomes. Drawing on these findings, later phases of the project would look at implementing adjustments, to include development of one video resource, equivalent to an early, costly home experiment within S112, giving students the option of being able to collect their data themselves by a means other than a home experiment, thereby achieving the same learning outcomes, but without the potential stigma associated with having to admit to not having the financial means to purchase equipment to their tutor. Furthermore, students unable to carry out home experiments due to a disability may also benefit from the option of performing an online equivalent, giving a more authentic alternative to learning than simply providing a set of data in alternative resources.
Key outputs will include information on issues faced by financially impoverished students on low incomes studying S111 and/or S112, noting that this may not necessarily be limited to students residing in IMD Q1 postcodes. Students studying S111 and S112 concurrently could potentially be impacted the most significantly (192 students in 21J).
It is anticipated than longer-term outcomes from dissemination of these outputs will inform approaches for incorporating fully accessible and inclusive practical work within new module design. It is also hoped that the longer-term outcomes will include developed understanding of the needs of students on lower incomes amongst tutors and others who support students, and more inclusive tuition practice. This should help develop tutors’ confidence and ability in supporting this student group which should have a positive impact on students’ experiences and performance.