The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
This project is a study of the experience of students with a disability studying Science at a time of considerable financial curriculum and technological change. The project was initiated in 2013 at a time when the impact of changes to student funding were starting to be felt across the HE sector and the Science programme at the Open University had made significant changes to its curriculum and the way it supported students. At its inception, the project was intended to be much broader in scope and compare the experience of students before and after these changes took place. Given the researchers’ role within the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships, it was also intended that the research would examine whether students from widening participation backgrounds were being adversely affected by such changes.
A number of factors has meant that the scope and scale of the project has reduced over time, with the final focus of the project being determined by the response of just five students, all of whom with a disability, to a request for participants. All students were interviewed by the researchers on topics of relevance to the original research focus, which included curriculum issues technological issues and finances. Participants were not asked specifically about their experience as disabled students, although all students referred to their disability to some degree during the interviews. What became a focus of the analysis, therefore, was the extent to which disability, played a role in the experience of the students.
The research found that the experience of the students taking part was similar to that which has been reported of the majority of Open University students. The Open University was chosen in response to personal circumstances and family commitments and was seen a place where study would be flexible. Technology had played a part in this flexibility by enabling students to study in ways and at times to suit. However, there was concern about the implications of the increasing use of online experimentation on students’ preparedness for work. Interaction with other students was also seen as an issue and was key to perceptions of the value for money offered by the Open University.
Disability was not a factor in the experience of three of the five students interviewed. However, for two students, their disability had an impact not just on their choice of University, but also on the course they took and their particular degree pathway. Whilst very appreciative of the support given to them as disabled students, it was clear that the availability of such support was a determining factor in what and how they could study. Attention may need to be given, therefore, to the issue of ensuring parity of choice and experience to all Open University students.