The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
The aim of this study was to obtain data on how students studied online modules and to use this to put in place amendments to the current presentation where this could be easily done or to subsequent presentations to enhance the students’ experience. In addition the findings would be used to guide future module teams producing online modules.
Science Faculty introduced new level 2 modules with all material delivered online for the 14J presentation. These modules covered biology, chemistry, earth science and environmental science. Three of the modules were 60 credit and one 30 credit. Two of the 60 credit modules and the 30 credit module had an examination in June 2015, the third 60 credit module had an exam in September 2015. The examinations constituted 75% of the examinable component in all cases with the remaining 25% being provided by the student’s score on a TMA based around practical aspects of the subject. Online texts were provided through links on the Study Planner. These contained embedded video and audio clips and interactive exercises. Alternative versions were provided as follows – pdf, e-book, kindle e-book, interactive e-book, Word optimised for screen readers.
The 30 point module was entirely new, whereas the 60 point modules were based on existing book-based modules.
Module Teams were provided with some guidance on writing for online delivery – more time should be allowed for onscreen reading (35 words per minute), text should be less discursive than in books, frequent activities requiring student interaction should be provided. Some module teams were advised to include a graphic if there were no activities on each page to make it more visually appealing. Others were advised to ensure each video or graphic was used to teach or reinforce a point rather than as decoration. A reduced production time-scale was used.
Although the OU has produced shorter online modules and long modules which are part delivered online, the simultaneous introduction of full length modules across the Natural Science curriculum was a unique opportunity to investigate how students would tackle these modules.
Student numbers had declined since the introduction of the new fee structure and it was feared that moving to online delivery would result in further decline. It was also noted that the changed fee structure had affected the demographics of the student population on Science modules.
Although these factors were noted and student numbers interrogated, the initial phase of this project concentrated on how students experienced the online learning. Questionnaires were embedded in the modules. Student consultative forums were also set up for both UK and international students. It is planned to use the observability lab to watch a small number of students interacting with the materials but we were not able to obtain permission and volunteers in time for this presentation.