Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in STEM

2.1 The impact of SoTL: A case study

In the following case study, you will note how a SoTL project based in a statistics module influenced the strategies for ‘early support’ to students in other modules in the Faculty of STEM at The Open University and also in a module in another faculty.

Case study: A flexible start on a statistics module

In the Faculty of STEM at The Open University (OU), on the module M140 Introducing statistics [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , students were offered the opportunity of a flexible online tutor-supported early start, about three months in advance of the usual module start. A special website for the programme was built and this brought together a subset of the actual module materials. A SoTL project, ‘A flexible start to M140’, that investigated the effectiveness of this early start programme, found that student retention on the module improved. On the module MU123 Discovering mathematics, a subsequent SoTL inquiry (MU123 Early Start) yielded similar outcomes in terms of student retention.

Inspired by this success and based on the ethos of M140, other modules in the Faculty of STEM at the OU have provided early start and transition materials to support students ahead of the actual module start date. The S282 Astronomy module ran a programme called Headstart until it’s last presentation in 2019, which provided students with online access to a subset of the module materials, online tutorials, and tutor support through a forum. Another module, S294 Cell biology also provides early start and transition materials including an ‘Are you ready?’ diagnostic quiz for students to check their preparedness for the module. More recently, the module K118 Perspectives in health and social care in the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies has set up an early start programme based on the outcomes of the M140 SoTL project.

The aim of initiatives that have built on the M140 SoTL project has been to improve student retention by providing students with opportunities to engage with their studies prior to module start, and to build their confidence and possibly time management.

If you are interested in knowing more about this project, the details are available at: A Flexible Start to M140.

Activity 6 Enabling early start

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

In this 6 minutes 50 seconds video, Carol Calvert, who led the eSTEeM-funded SoTL project on M140 in OU’s Faculty of STEM, discusses this case study, student experiences, and the positive student outcomes.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 4
Skip transcript: Video 4 A flexible start to M140

Transcript: Video 4 A flexible start to M140

I’m Carole Calvert. I’m a statistician here at The Open University. I’m also something that’s called a staff tutor, which means I work a lot with our associate lecturers, and directly with students.
I first got involved with eSTEeM through the recommendation of a colleague, and she suggested that eSTEeM have a lot of support and advice to offer. And I was working on a new project, and I thought, well, why not get advice and help if you can? And as we moved to talk on about the main project we’re going to talk about today, I actually was able to have a lot of help from eSTEeM in terms of funding, just so I could get a project running with some of our associate lecturers.
My eSTEeM project grew out of a conversation with some students. These students recommended that if they were thinking about future students, a key thing was to start early to get ahead if you could. So, I set up a project which basically lets students start early, if they want, on one of the statistics modules. It’s a Level 1 module, and it runs starting in October. So the thinking was maybe students would have a bit of time over the summer to just get a little bit ahead, get a little bit more confident with the materials, load the software, have a few tutorials, meet some of the tutors that are going to be tutoring in October, and just sort of get under their belts- get a bit ahead of the game for October. So that when everybody is so busy in October and all these packs of materials come, and everybody asks, can you do everything straight away, can you log on here, can you answer this question? There’s a bunch of work that they know they’ve already done, and so really, the aim was to give students a bit more confidence.
So what we did in this project was we set up a dummy website that any students who registered early were invited to log onto. And on this dummy website, we put all of the materials for the first five units. So we put the quizzes, we put the forums, we put the computer animations, we put PDFs of the actual materials, and most critically, every student was assigned to a tutor, just like they would be in October. So they had somebody to go and talk to if they had any questions. And these tutors run tutorials in our online system just as would happen in October. And so, really, we set up a mini world that was as close as we could to what would really happen in October for the students.
And what ended up happening was something that was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t know if students would actually want to spend part of the summer studying. I thought maybe we’d get 20 or 30 students, saying, yes, they’d like to take part. And somewhat to everybody’s bemusement, we had 200 students who said they would like to take part.
400 were offered the chance, and over half of them said yes. And what that’s ended up meaning is, there’s a group of students are so enthusiastic about M140, that’s the stats module when it started, they got ahead and instead of perhaps some of them dropping out of the module, they’ve stayed on it.
We’ve just had all the exam results come out. They came out earlier this week. And we’ve got over 50 more have stayed on M140 – the stats module, than we would have expected to have.
So, students were hugely satisfied. I’ve got so many lovely comments from students about the difference it made to them to be able to get ahead over the summer, and it’s clearly helped. At least 50 students managed to keep on track during the year because they’ve passed M140, and otherwise, we wouldn’t have expected they would. So it’s been a bit of a success.
One of the reasons why I wondered if students would be willing to work during the summer was somewhere in my past history, I was a secondary maths teacher. And of course, the summer is one of the few times, if you’re a secondary school teacher when you do actually have a little bit of time to get ahead with your own studying. And so I was aware that quite a few of the students were somehow connected to education. So there was a chance that for some of them, it would be a time of year when they could give it a little bit of time. It was a bit of a gamble, but you know if you don’t try and offer the opportunity, you’ll never know- will it work? And as it happens, it seems to have suited quite a lot of students.
In terms of relevance for the faculty and for the OU, I think it’s highlighted that there is the potential for students to work a little bit more slowly at their own pace without it being particularly hard to organise. And that really comes down to the fact that all of our materials are available electronically because we are a distance education institution. And so, it’s meant that the scheme we ran last year is running again this year for the stats module, but we’re also running it for an entry-level maths module, for the first time this summer. And it’s also meant that there’s been quite a bit of interest around the University from other areas really thinking the same thing- would it help our students, how could we make it work, what would be the problems, shall we give it a go?
So there’s a science module I’m aware of who are going to run it this summer as well, and there’s a little bit of interest elsewhere. I think everybody’s just waiting to see, but the maths and statistics school is absolutely sure. For us, we can sustain it, and it’s worth doing, and the students just love it.
End transcript: Video 4 A flexible start to M140
Video 4 A flexible start to M140
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While you watch this video, make notes of whether an early start initiative in your academic practice will help and how you would go about setting it up. Alternatively, you may like to reflect on Carol’s project and how it influenced student learning and engagement.

If you are interested in knowing more about Carol’s project, the details are available at: A Flexible Start to M140.

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In the next section, you will learn about the impact of SoTL on the SoTL practitioner, how to evaluate for impact, how to plan your SoTL inquiry with impact in mind, the strategies for generating impact while working on a SoTL inquiry and the agenda for SoTL’s impact in HE.


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