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A Flexible Start to M140

  • Project leader(s): Carol Calvert
  • Theme: Supporting students
  • Faculty: STEM
  • Status: Archived
  • Dates: May 2017 to August 2018

Winner of the 1st eSTEeM Scholarship Projects of the Year Awards 2018 under the category Enhancing the Student Experience.

Our Open University students come with a wide range of personal, social, cultural, educational and employment backgrounds. In some cases, the combination of such circumstances means that a student decides to register several months in advance of the start of a module they wish to study.  Frequently the University then does little to help that student, build on their enthusiasm or, in some senses, “reward” their commitment.  Whilst initiatives such as our “Freshers’ week” have been introduced we still rather neglect some students for several months and then ask them to begin the module, and increasingly at least one other module, at a fixed date in October.

It seems at least feasible that some students would like to take advantage of a facility to start their study on a much more flexible basis. Students have expressed views that it is “good” to get ahead with study if possible and this pilot has given students on M140 Introducing Statistics, an opportunity to start their study on a rolling basis, at a time of their choosing and up to three months in advance of the usual module start. The approach is different to that of the several “revise and refresh” options running in STEM because it offers a tutor supported, flexible start, and uses the actual module materials.

Around 400 students were offered the opportunity of a flexible early start and just over two hundred responded by email to say that they would like to take up this offer. Students who registered early, compared to those who did not, tended to already have some OU credits. The sub group of students registered early and who then took part in the programme were even more likely to already have some OU credits. It might be argued that such students were already aware of the high October workload and they seemed to wish to minimise it- using their time over the summer.

A special website for the programme was built and this linked together existing electronic materials for students. The online questionnaire tools within the website enabled student views on the programme to be requested very early in the programme and again just before it closed. Additionally a separate survey, six months into the main module, enabled student views “with hindsight” to be collected. Responses were overwhelmingly positive from students and many attended online tutorials, contributed to forums, loaded and used module software and studied early Units with tutor support.

The number of students at the 25% fee point is usually taken as the base for the calculation of pass rates. The pass rate for M140 16J using this definition was 73.2% in for 2016J and for 17J was 73.4%.   However, in 17J there was an improvement in retention in the period between when a student registered and the 25% fee point. This increase was 4.1% and was largely maintained throughout the module with almost an additional 40 students passing M140 out of the just over a thousand initially registered. The increased retention occurred so early in the module that the only new initiative operating was the early start programme. The increase in retention is therefore highly likely to be attributable to the programme.

An important consideration was equality of access to the pilot. The pilot was designed to be open to all students registered before a certain date, regardless of the student’s geographical location. We were aware that, by delivering access only electronically, it was not be possible for some groups of student to participate i.e. some disabled students, SiSE students etc. This limitation would need to be addressed for any further flexible start programme.

This project also relates to Early start MU123.

Related Resources: 
PDF icon Calvert, A Flexible Start for M140. eSTEeM Final Report.pdf935.8 KB

eSTEeM final report.

PDF icon Calvert, A flexible start for M140. Interim report.pdf1.07 MB

eSTEeM interim report.

PDF icon Carol Calvert poster.pdf62.53 KB

Project poster.