Once you’ve been studying here a while you may notice that things seldom seem to stay still in OCA-land. Since I started my studies in 2012 I’ve seen a new accrediting body and a new student website, many of the courses have changed to better reflect contemporary practice and a student association (OCASA) has been established to help the College hear our voice. That voice was perhaps most loudly heard through the student survey conducted by OCASA in late 2013.
At the same time as all this was going on the team at Barnsley – aided and abetted in more recent years by OCASA – were also beavering away to improve the student experience. The combination of that work, and the student survey results, produced something enigmatically referred to by those in the know as “Project 2014”.
Distance learning, especially distance learning with no specific entry requirements or timetable, can be a lonely and challenging thing. It’s difficult to know what’s expected of us, we worry that we’re going to fluff an assignment, we worry about whether we’re just derivative – you all know the rest. Project 2014 was the start of a process to help tackle some of that head on.
Managed by a steering group that included OCA trustees, academic staff and student representatives Project 2014 proposed, and is delivering, a number of initiatives which will hopefully make life easier for all of us.
Gareth’s recent announcement about Course Support Advisers is probably the most prominent result of the Project – so what about the rest?
Some of them kick in even before you sign up. The marketing website has been redesigned to provide clearer information about the courses, supplemented by new explanatory videos. The idea is that prospective students will have a better idea of what they are letting themselves in for when they sign – especially important for those who’ve not done degree level study before.
The support for a gentler transition into a learning environment continues immediately after sign up. First assignments are being progressively moved to the very beginning of all entry level courses. This process is nearing completion and aims to encourage early interaction with tutors, and a better understanding of student abilities and tutor expectations. This is supported by a series of introductory videos (due for completion this year) which should also help soften the bump many of us felt when we entered/re-entered tertiary education.
The huge amount of material on the WeAreOCA website is also being directly referenced in exercises to encourage students to mix with others on line and to see the standards set by their peers.
This should also help to form ‘cohorts’, or peer groups, which are more difficult to establish without academic terms. A certain amount of self-help goes on in this area through social media, and study visits can also help, but the final set of initiatives is intended to provide some more formal arrangements. This is a real challenge for the College, and the student body, and will inevitably take longer to implement. The college is looking to pilot regular student crit sessions during 2015, in addition to those already self-organised by students. It is also looking to use Google Hangouts to encourage students to ix virtually with others in similar positions.
Being a distance learner is not easy – as a student and a student rep I know this only too well. But, as a student rep I also know that the College is aware of this. Nobody believes that Project 2014 can deliver all the answers, but it’s a very big step in the right direction. It shows the benefit of close working between the college and the student association and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the next steps might be.