The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
This project investigated the use of online technologies for the delivery of careers and employability advice to distance learning STEM students with the aim of informing the future development of careers and employability provision. The study used a mixed methods approach, and was conducted as a partnership between two Open University Faculties (Maths, Computing and Technology and Science), the OU Careers Advisory Service, and STEMNET. The study was centred on an online forum with visiting experts from IT and Science industries, recruited as STEM Ambassadors, who volunteered to answer career related questions from students. Following the forum, individual telephone interviews allowed student volunteers to provide information on career history, objectives and motives for study and the value of the forum experience, which was also useful in informing future career development and planning. Finally a self-selected focus group was brought together using the on-line conferencing system, Elluminate. This gave researchers the opportunity to address in more detail the themes that had emerged during analysis of the forum and telephone interviews. The analysis revealed some common topics of concern grouped under the following emerging themes: career development (including forum postings, demographics, course design, curriculum vitae, and age), skills development, and tools to support employability.
Recommendations provided by the volunteers are highlighted under each section and summarised at the end of this report. Students expressed their support for both face-to-face and online asynchronous and synchronous ways of communicating with each other, with the course team and with employers. The main proposals put forward included the opportunity for peer conversations and mentoring; interdisciplinary work within courses; networking with students, professionals and academics; a forum open at different times of the year; career planning using the careers advisory service linked to job centres; provision of notice boards for information; industry webinars; links with the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) system to add to qualifications; access to careers fairs, and more opportunities for face-to-face practical class opportunities.
To conclude, this report highlights the importance of the relationship between the OU and prospective employers, inclusion of module teams in responding to employability concerns, and maximisation of both student and tutor skills as well as specific tools that could support students’ employability.