The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
In 2019 twenty-one modules volunteered to pilot a new OU Study App (The Open University, 2019); since January 2021 all module websites are available.
The aims of the developers were to access the ever-increasing time that OU students spend daily on their mobile devices (eMarketer, 2017) for valuable study within the busy lives of OU students such as while on their daily commute or break at work. Increased numbers of OU students are studying at an intensity commensurate with full-time study, often alongside work or carer duties. This trend is expected to continue, coupled with an increase in the proportion of 18-25 year-old students (The Open University, 2021), who are also the largest demographic of mobile device users (Compton and Burke, 2018).
We investigated how students use the OU Study App alongside their use of the module website, whether it enhanced their learning experience and what improvements they wanted. We collected qualitative and quantitative data, from two focus groups and from three-week study diaries completed by nine students.
Our results found that students enjoyed using the OU Study App to enhance their studies when used in combination with the module website. They found it useful for quickly checking information, such as TMA questions and the study calendar, when they had a few spare minutes during the day. At least one student used the App for longer periods as it enabled them to study in a more comfortable setting as sitting at a desk for prolonged periods was challenging. Students reported that whilst using the App did not directly lead to deeper understanding of the materials, they felt more familiar with content and that it enabled them to easily think back over material during the day.
Some technological problems were reported, but students found them less frustrating than using the module website and accepted that this version of the App would likely be improved. A number of desirable features were suggested in terms of accessibility, forums and note-taking capabilities.
Our project had a positive effect on students’ perception of the module, the role of the App in helping with their time management and their involvement in scholarship.
VLE usage statistics are regularly compiled by the OU. Over recent years there has been a significant increase in the phone use as a percentage of total VLE activity, averaging around 14 % in December 2020. Whilst much of this is directly accessing module materials online rather than using the App, there are now over 3000 daily users of the App, a growth of 100 % since the beginning of December 2020. These trends show the importance of providing recommendations on the use of the OU Study App to manage students’ expectations and to achieve maximum benefit from its use within their studies.
The OU Study App project website provides further details on the App and is available at https://learn3.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=301070¬ifyeditingon=1 (Intranet only)