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  4. STEM ISSS - where are we now? Evaluating awareness, usage and effectiveness of individual student support sessions

STEM ISSS - where are we now? Evaluating awareness, usage and effectiveness of individual student support sessions

  • Project leader(s): Fiona MoormanKaren New
  • Theme: Supporting students
  • Faculty: STEM
  • Status: Archived
  • Dates: May 2019 to December 2021

Our distance learning students study in isolation and are an increasingly diverse cohort, many with disabilities and balancing work, family and caring commitments alongside study workload, with many students opting to study at high intensity with potential overlap between J and B presentations. There is increasing evidence that students appreciate higher levels of pastoral and academic support (Schlusmans, K. (2018); McKie, A. (2018)); indeed, Neves and Hillman (2017) found that 36% of all respondents cite too little interaction with University staff as the reason for a negative university experience. This message is also reflected in the highly positive feedback from our students about the personalised feedback on their assignment that they receive from their tutor; indeed many conventional universities are latterly recognising that individual tutor-student contact is important (e.g.

Within the OU, additional individual tutor-student support above a threshold built into the tuition strategy for each module, is delivered on a piecemeal basis via the provision of individual study support sessions (ISSS).  However, relatively few STEM students appear to be accessing ISSS (under 13% of all University-wide ISSS requests and only one STEM module (TM112) in the list of top 20 modules by number of requests).  There is uncertainty with regards to the source of requests for ISSS (e.g. student, AL or SST driven), the format and content of sessions or the reasons why the sessions are required. Furthermore, there has been relatively little recent study into evaluating perceived effectiveness of individual support for students and the effects, if any, of this support on student retention and progression, especially within the online, distance learning framework.  ISSS are funded from a national budget, and consideration of financial implications for STEM for ISSS is important.

In this project, we seek to evaluate the perceived effectiveness of ISSS within the context of STEM by obtaining feedback from STEM students following their support session We anticipate results from this project will feed into a further project investigating ISSS and student retention/progression. We also aim to capture the AL perspective on individual support by surveying STEM ALs, along with views from a selection of STEM staff tutors.  We suggest that this project may play a part in influencing policy in the future, by providing a baseline understanding of ISSS provision, prior to implementation of changes to AL contracts.


McKie, A. (2018) ‘On call: how much support should academics give students?’ Times Higher Education [Online]. Available at (accessed 22 January 2019)

MacLaughlin, J., Chamberlin, L., Buck, J. (2017) Supporting Student Success: ‘The role of an Academic Progress Tutor’ [Online] Available at (accessed 22 January 2019)

Neves, J and Hillman, N (2017) ‘Student Academic Experience Survey’ Higher Education Policy Institute 96. [Online] Available at (accessed 22 January 2019)

Schlusmans, K., van den Munckhof, R., Nielissen, G. (2018) ‘Tutoring and support in open online education – a students’ view’. [Online]. Available at (accessed 10 January 2019)