The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
This project will focus on the undergraduate degree-apprenticeships offered by the School of Computing and Communications in England and Wales.
The OU is committed to offering degree-apprenticeships. In these degrees, students undertake a proportion of their study in the workplace and as well as following taught modules, students also study workplace modules. Students are supported throughout their degree by practice-tutors, employers and apprentice-programme-delivery-managers (APDMs).
The traditional methods that the OU employs in Quality Assurance and Enhancement do not cover all of the different aspects of degree-apprenticeships. In particular, they do not cover either the activities of practice-tutors, or feedback from employers. As mentioned above, apprentices conduct a proportion of their study in the workplace. Practice-tutor activity is key for both developing and delivering such a supported learning environment and often involves not just the apprentices themselves, but employers too. This project, thus, is focused on how we should best define the practice-tutor role so that practice-tutors can facilitate a supported learning environment in order to embed learning in apprentices’ workplaces.
There is a requirement to develop QA&E processes for these aspects of degree-apprenticeships. As qualification leads for R40 and R24, the Computing Degree Apprenticeships in Wales and England respectively, Alexis Lansbury and Chris Thomson are putting in place some appropriate processes. As an example, there is an analogy with TMAs. The process that the OU uses for checking that TMAs are marked correctly is monitoring. The method used is to select a sample of marked TMAs, which are then reviewed. In apprenticeships there is a similar artefact known as a progress-review document. A process of checking that a progress-review is correctly completed would by via inspection. The method of inspection would be to select a sample to compare against a set of criteria.
Introducing appropriate processes and their associated methods will inform us whether the basic contractual requirements with funding bodies are being met. These processes will not, however, inform us about either student or employer satisfaction with their supported learning environment, and whether the practice tutor role, as it is defined now, is meeting the needs of our apprentices and employers in embedding learning effectively.
Our central research questions are therefore:
We have already started a literature survey and identified that there is a gap in the literature for QA&E. In practice, the literature will continue to be scrutinised throughout the project. However, it is clear that such documented processes that exist currently are focused on a higher level, institutional ‘tick box’ approach to compliance, rather than enhancing the learning environment.
We plan to conduct a consultation exercise with apprentices, practice-tutors and employers to determine what issues are important to them, and the extent to which we currently meet these. In practice, this consultation exercise will involve an online questionnaire and a smaller number of individual interviews. The empirical data that we collect will enable us to identify what is important to apprentices, practice-tutors and employers; how in consequence we need to develop and re-form the practice-tutor role; and then, how we need to assess and evaluate practice-tutor activities outside of this project.
The outcome of this scholarship will be a better-informed description of the practice-tutor role that allows us to meet apprentice and employer needs more effectively, and that permits ongoing evaluation and reflection.
By engaging with students and employers we will enhance our existing community of practice. The purpose of reflecting upon our practices has the over-arching aim of improving our student retention and progression.