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Christopher Douce

Digital Technology Solutions Professional 1.2 briefing (England)

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In addition to being a staff tutor, I am also a degree apprenticeship practice tutor for the OU DTS scheme, which is an abbreviation for Digital Technology Solutions. This is a standard which has a number of pathways, which takes apprentices 56 months to complete.

On 17 July 23, went to a briefing which aimed to summarise updates to the DTS programme, which has now moved to version 1.2. What follows is a summary of that briefing. An important point to note that is that all these notes only applies to England, since Scotland and Wales have their own schemes (there is no equivalent scheme in Northern Ireland).

What follows is information about the new DTS apprenticeship standard, followed by a summary of changes and a recap of the OU modules that contribute to the DTS scheme. More details are then provided about the end point assessment which ties everything together.

Where possible, to make this blog as useful as possible, I have also provided links to module descriptions. Within the OU apprenticeship scheme, module codes that contain the letters XY are used to identify which modules contribute to a degree apprenticeship programme. For practical and study purposes, there are no differences between apprenticeship and non-apprenticeship modules, other than apprenticeship modules being supported by both a practice tutor and an associate lecturer (who is an academic tutor).

It should be noted that this blog only relates to a programme that is run from the School of Computing and Communications, and is not relevant to other apprenticeship schemes run by other schools. 

The apprenticeship standard

The DTS apprenticeships are defined in terms of the duties that apprentices carry out in their workplace role, and the Knowledge, Skills, and Behaviours (KSBs) that they require to fulfil those duties. The OU provides teaching to apprentices to enable them to gain the necessary KSBs needed to fulfil the DTS standard. 

During the course of the apprenticeship each apprentice is expected to demonstrate during their normal work that they are competent in each of the KSBs. This will be recorded in an ePortfolio system, known as My Knowledge Map, and assessed through an End Point Assessment (EPA).

Apprentices, practice tutors, and employer representatives working with apprentices should be familiar with the current apprenticeship standard. One of the roles of the practice tutor is to signpost these standards to these stakeholders.

Another key role of the PT is to make sure that the apprentice and the employer (and other people who may well be supporting an apprentice) are aware of the KSBs, the learning outcomes of the different modules. They are also to facilitate the discussion of opportunities to make sure the apprentices gains sufficient learning experiences to enable them to fulfil the requirements of the KSBs. In some cases, the employer will be responsible for providing the apprentice with additional training and mentoring in the specific KSBs that apply in their workplace.

The PTs will be responsible running regular review meeting, working with employers to make sure that the apprentice has sufficient work-based opportunities to enable them to demonstrate their KSBs, and ensure that their ePorfolio is regularly updated. Regarding the ePortfolio, there are two important elements that need to be remembered: the recording of off-the-job time (to demonstrate engagement with the academic content), and the saving of assessments and materials which relate to the KSBs. The practice tutor also has a responsibility for ‘marking’ that materials have been submitted.

Main changes

The following points highlight the key changes:

  • All the KSBs have changed from the previous version of the standard. The new KSBs, however, cover the same ground.
  • Cyber specialism improved, with a module change (TMXY352 Web, mobile and cloud technologies, replaced by TMXY256 Cyber Security)
  • EPA project report is shorter, but the ePortfolio is now assessed.
  • Employers will need to ensure apprentices have the right opportunity to demonstrate KSBs in the workplace.
  • EPA date and results moved a month later to allow for modules results.
  • Rewording and enhancing of KSBs in the standard, but delivery is very similar (improved content on mobile communications added to networking specialism, new module for cyber)

Compulsory modules

What follows is a list of all the compulsory modules that an apprentice will work through, summarised in terms of the aim of each module:

During TMXY476 the apprentice should work on a substantial project (during their on the job time) which makes a positive impact on the operation of the business. This project should be substantial enough to allow the apprentice to illustrate their competency in the KSBs assessed within the project.

The programme has three modules that are intended to relate to work-based learning that takes place: TXY122, TXY227 and TMXY350, which are studied in parallel with the other modules. For TXY122 apprentices need to prepare a CPD plan which should be related to their pathway. Working with their employer and practice tutor, apprentices should aim to secure work experience that adds depth and relevance to the academic modules.

Apprenticeship pathways

The DTS scheme has four pathways. Apprentices study the following modules, depending on the pathway:

Practice tutors need to have some knowledge of all these pathways. If further information is needed, practice tutors can gain support from other colleagues who know more about specific areas.

End Point Assessment (EPA) requirements

The End Point Assessment (EPA) has become a more formal requirement. Apprentices are expected to demonstrate competence through applying the KSBs in the workplace, where their manager or a mentor confirms they are working at the expected level. Evidence is collated and stored in their portfolio. The practice tutor will help apprentices to prepare, collate and submit their best evidence through the MKM ePortfolio.

To complete the EPA, apprentices must:

  • Submit a record of six workplace experiences related to the apprenticeship to demonstrate what has been achieved. These can be examples from TMAs produced from the work-based learning modules.
  • Complete a 6000 word project report and deliver a 20 minute presentation. This is accompanied by a 40 minute question and answers session, and 60 minute professional discussion supported by the portfolio. The grading criteria for the project module will be tightly aligned to the apprenticeship grading criteria.
  • Provide a portfolio of completed assignments for all modules that have been studied, which have been approved as ‘marked’ by the practice tutor.
  • To have a clear record of off-the-job time, which is the equivalent of one day a week dedicated to study that complements the work-based element of the apprenticeship.

My knowledge map: the ePorfolio

All new apprentices will be enrolled to the MKM ePorfolio. PTs should take both the employers and the apprentices through MKM and emphasise its use. 

MKM will contain the following information:

  • Background information and documentation, such as the chosen pathway and the apprentice's skills scan document, which is a knowledge assessment of skills possessed by an apprentice at the start of the programme.
  • Details of four progress reviews that are scheduled throughout the year. A practical suggestion for practice tutors is to set them all up at the start of the year with an expectation that they might be change if necessary. One of these meetings will be face-to-face; the rest are virtual.
  • Records: of off-the job study time, which is to be recorded by the apprentice. Records of successfully completing the assignments for the academic elements.

New PTs are able to view screen share recordings to become familiar with the tool, and how it works. All PTs should have access to the tool when they are assigned a group of apprentice students.

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgements are given to Chris Thomson who prepared and delivered this briefing. Much of this summary has been drawn from the PowerPoint resource that he prepared, and many of his words have been edited into a form that is more easily presented through this blog. Any errors or misunderstandings are likely to be mine, rather than Chris’s.

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Christopher Douce

Curriculum

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Sunday, 14 May 2023, 12:08

On 9 May 23, I attended a staff development event that had the title “Our STEM curriculum” which was presented by David Morse, Associate Dean for Curriculum, Faculty of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. 

I must admit that I was expecting a very different session to the one that I attended. I was expecting something about curriculum accessibility. Instead, I had stumbled into what appeared to a briefing about the STEM curriculum.

What follows is a set of notes that I’ve taken from this session which I’ve moulded into a summary about different types of curricula that the university offers. Although the focus on this blog is, of course, STEM curricula, there will, of course, be similarities and differences between what happens in other faculties and institutions. Hopefully what follows will be a useful summary for anyone who is trying to understand what curriculum is all about.

How everything works

There are quite a few terms to understand: modules, qualifications, and credits. You gain credits by studying modules, and modules contribute towards qualifications. A degree is a qualification, as is a certificate and diploma. There are undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications.

The most familiar qualification is the undergraduate degree. To really understand what is meant by curriculum it is worth spending a couple of minutes to unpick what it comprises:

A full-time three year undergraduate degree is 360 academic credits.

Every year, a full time student will be studying 120 worth of modules.

Students studying at half time study intensity will, of course, study modules worth 60 credits.

In the OU, modules are either 30 or 60 credits depending on the faculty, and the module. In the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the modules are typically 60 credits. In STEM, they are often 30 credits. In some cases, students can study one 30 credit module after another.

Other institutions might have different sizes of modules. I’ve seen modules that are 15 credits, 20 credits or 45 credits. Some really bit postgraduate modules might be even 90 credits.

One credit is typically considered to be 10 hours of study. The term ‘study’ can refer to a whole set of different activities: it can refer to attending tutorials, reading learning materials, completing study tasks, interacting with fellow students, and completing assessments. The exact make-up of that time will depend on the module.

With 10 hours of study per credit, this means that a 60 credit module means 600 hours’ worth of study. If we assume a typical working day is 7.5 hours, this can be translated to 80 days of study time.

A traditional academic term lasts 9 months from October until June, but within this period there are the Christmas and Easter holidays, which means a break of4 weeks. This means there are 8 months of study time for full time students.

120 credits of full time study means, of course, 1,200 hours. Dividing this by 7.5 hours per day gives us 160 days of study time. Dividing this by 5 gives us 32 week of study time per year. Dividing this by 4 weeks in a month gives us exactly 8 months, which means that everything fits.

Modules are broadly categorised in terms of level, which corresponds to the year of study at a face-to-face university. A module that has the number 2 as the second number is a second year module. I’ll cover more about this a bit later.

Now that we’ve figured out undergraduate degrees, let’s turn our attention to postgraduate master’s degrees. A one year master’s degree at a face-to-face university typically takes 12 months rather than 9 months, usually running between September to September. This means there is more to study. MSc and MA degrees typically require 180 credits. When studying part time, OU students typically study for them over a three year period.

All this is enough to make our head hurt. When we look into the particulars of individual degrees and qualifications, we find a whole lot more detail.

What follows is an edited set of STEM specific notes that I made from the session. I’ve taken the liberty of adding a number of sections which shares a bit more context.

Access modules

The first elements of curricula which some students may encounter are the university’s access modules. These modules are presented as an introduction to distance learning and aim to offer students a broad overview of a subject. There are four modules, one for each faculty, each taking up to 30 weeks.

The STEM access module is split into three sections (or blocks) which have the subjects: life, water and home. The first block addresses biology and ecology, the second adopts a practical perspective, and the third begins to address design, engineering and computing.

These access modules don’t attract academic credit. They do, however, help students to gain an understanding of what is involved with university level study. Students will gain experience of writing and submitting assignments, and will receive significant help and guidance from a tutor.

Undergraduate qualifications

The faculty offers a number of qualifications: foundation degrees, undergraduate certificates, undergraduate diplomas, first degrees, postgraduate certificates and diplomas and taught higher degrees. The most popular is the first degree.

The most popular qualification in STEM is the Computing and IT BSc (Q62), followed by Natural Sciences degree (Q64), and then the Certificate in HE in Computing and IT (T12). The popularity of the certificate in Computing and IT might be explained that certificates in HE (CertHE) and diplomas (DipHE) are known as milestone qualifications, which means that students can gain these qualifications as they accumulate credit for an undergraduate degree.

The faculty also offers a number of foundation degrees, such as the Foundation Degree in Computing and IT Practice (X15). Rather than being 360 credits, these qualifications are 240 credits and cover stages 1 and 2, an contains a compulsory work-based learning element.

Students can also use something called credit transfer. There is an increasing number of students who have studied at another university and convert their foundation degree to an OU BA or BSc by using the credit transfer service. This is sometimes called a top up degree.

Most of the degrees and qualifications that the university has are what are called named degrees, which means a degree that is specifically linked to a particular subject or discipline. Named degrees are relatively new to the OU. They were introduced in their current form to enable students to apply for student loans which are available for part time study. Loans are only available to students who are studying a named degree.

Each school within a faculty ‘owns’ the qualifications that are aligned to their subject area. There are, of course, some qualifications which cross schools and faculties. A popular choice is a joint honours qualification. An example of this is the Computing and IT degree with a second subject. With this qualification, students can study Computing with Business, Design, Mathematics, Psychology, Statistics and Electrical Engineering. 

It is also worth mentioning an undergraduate qualification called the Open Degree. The Open Degree predates the introduction of the named degree. It enables students to create their own degree from any undergraduate module. It is described as follows: the Open degree “allows you to bring together different areas of study in a completely flexible way to develop knowledge and skills. … Choose from over 250 modules across 16 subject areas, to create a bespoke qualification to match your interests”. Returning to the topic of credits, students must study 360 worth of academic credit, in three groups of 120 credits, which correspond to each of the levels.

A variation of the Open degree in the STEM faculty is the Combined STEM degree where students can create their own STEM degree from the different STEM modules that the university offers. Within this qualification, there are corresponding diplomas and certificates.

Undergraduate degree classifications

In keeping with all other higher education institutions (HEIs), when a student gains their OU degree, it is assigned a classification which reflects their performance. The highest category is a first, followed by an upper second (2:1) or a lower second (2:2), or third class.

Also in keeping with other HEIs, the first level of study is all about skills development. Although the first level modules do not officially contribute to a degree classification, level 1 modules can have two overall scores: distinction, or pass. To get a distinction, students must gain an overall score of 85%, as defined by a module’s tuition strategy. This said, the exact boundary for a distinction can be slightly adjusted by a module results panel to ensure that results are awarded in a way that is consistent between different module presentations. More information about what is meant by assignment scores, module results and overall grades is available through the university help centre. 

Results from level 2 and level 3 modules (modules that have the numbers 2 and 3 as the first numbers in the module code) do contribute to a degree classification. Module results are presented in terms of grades, ranging from grade 1 (which is a distinction) through to grade 4 (which is a bare pass). The module result grades are then combined with each other to calculate a student’s degree classification. More information about the algorithm used to calculate a degree classification is also available through the university help centre.

Postgraduate qualifications

Like the undergraduate qualification, the postgraduate master’s qualifications also contain milestone qualifications which are, of course, qualifications in their own right. As mentioned earlier, a master’s degree is gained through 180 credits of study. Along with way, students can gain a postgraduate certificate, PGCert through 60 credits of study, or a postgraduate diploma, a PGDip through 120 credits of study.

The classification scheme for postgraduate qualifications are different to undergraduate qualifications. There are three different results for master’s degrees: distinction, merit, and pass. In keeping with postgraduate qualifications in other institutions, the pass mark for modules is 50%. For undergraduate modules, the pass mark is 40%.

Higher degrees, such as doctorates and MPhil qualifications are not discussed here. Further information about these qualifications are available in another blog about doctoral study.

Apprenticeships

The OU also offers a number of degree apprenticeshipsThe degree apprenticeships share a similarity with foundation degrees. Both have a compulsory-work based learning element, but with an important difference: an apprenticeship is essentially a job role, with an aspect of study attached to it. The study is aligned with the job role. Apprentices have access to module tutors, and to practice tutors. The role of the practice tutor is to help the apprentices relates their formal academic study with their work-based learning, and carry out regular reviews to evidence their learning.

The funding for apprenticeship study comes from the apprenticeship levy, which all employers of a certain size have to pay from their salary bill. Employers can gain back the value of the levy by encouraging some of their employees to participate in a degree apprenticeship scheme.

Unlike many of the other qualifications, the degree apprenticeship standards are defined by external organisation in conjunction with employers rather than the qualifications being owned by an academic school. Apprenticeship schemes are nation specific. In England, degree apprentices are defined by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education with other bodies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In STEM, there are two degree apprenticeships; a Digital and Technology solutions (DTS) qualification, and a postgraduate Systems Thinking Practitioner qualification.

Higher Technical Qualifications

Higher Technical Qualifications follow the roughly the same standard as the apprenticeship qualifications. Unlike the degree apprenticeships, these qualifications do not have the compulsory work-based learning component or have the requirement for students to be connected with an employer.

In STEM, there are two Higher Technical Qualifications, which are available in England only: one that relates to Network Engineering (W19) and another about Software Development (W20). Students studying these qualification also have the potential to use their credit from the constituent OU modules on different qualifications, if they wish to further their studies.

Microcredentials

In the OU, typical modules are either 30 or 60 credits. OU microcredentials, however, can be thought as short courses (or modules) which run between 10 and 12 weeks which attract either 10 or 15 of academic credits. In some cases, these bits of academic credit can be ‘boxed’ together into a larger unit, and can be brought into a larger qualification through credit transfer, if the learning outcomes of the microcredentials are compatible.

Microcredentials aim to appeal to a different group of students: those who are interested in upskilling, or developing an evidenced continuing professional development (CPD) portfolio. This emphasis on CPD can be seen through the computing microcredentials, which currently draw on materials from industrial providers, such as Cisco.

Microcredentials differ from other modules in the sense that students are not provided a tutor. Instead, students have to carry out self-directed learning. Technology also plays an important role in the learning experience. At the time of writing OU microcredentials are delivered through FutureLearn, a MOOC provider, which offers a social learning approach. 

Time will tell whether microcredentials will become a bigger element of the university’s portfolio of curriculum. A personal view is that they are useful for some disciplines and for some groups of students, but may not work for others. It is interesting to note that are international initiatives that support the development of microcredentials (Microcredentials.EU) and accompanying policies.

Other types of curricula

As well as formal qualifications and modules, there is also a site called OpenLearn which shares free online courses. Some of the courses delivered through OpenLearni are known as Badged Open Courses (BOCs). This means when a student completes an OpenLearn course, they are eligible to get a digital badge, and download a certificate of completion. Learners can highlight the completion of these BOCs by mentioning them on CVs and job applications. If OpenLearn learners are also OU students, completion of OpenLearn modules will also appear on their student record, which are visible to students.

The OpenLearn resources that are summarised within this section can also be called Open Educational Resources (OERs), which is a category of freely available resources which can be used and shared by educators.

There are quite a few OpenLearn courses and resources which can be useful to tutors. There are courses that enable students to gain an understanding about what is involved with online and OU study. Since a percentage of OU modules are shared through OpenLearn, there are also courses that enable students to get a flavour about what they will be studying if they are to formally enrol. Also, there are courses which can be taken as continuing professional development modules for tutors.

What follows is a sample of some of the materials that are available.

Courses about learning to study

Here are some courses that might be useful to share with students who are considering OU study, or are new to OU study:

The following courses would be helpful for students considering postgraduate study:

Courses that offer introductions to formal study

Here are some notable courses from other disciplines:

Courses that help with tutoring and teaching

The following courses can offer CPD for tutors, and help learners to gain more of an understanding of what is involved with OU teaching and learning:

STEM facts and figures

During this session, David shared some facts and figures about the STEM faculty. For 2021 and 2022, there were 47k students registered on STEM modules. Out of these, 3.5k students completed a qualification, which represents roughly 19% of all OU students graduating. Although there are three faculties, approximately a third of students graduate with an Open degree.

Out of these students, 76% of students work either part-time or full time. 69% of undergraduate students had no previous HE qualifications. This highlights that the transfer of academic credit is playing an important role in the journey for some students.

As mentioned earlier, the Q62 computing qualification is the most popular undergraduate programme offered by the faculty. In recent years there has been a decline in students registering for Q62, but there has been an increase in the number of students registering for the cyber security qualification. In terms of postgraduate study, the Mathematics MSc is the largest MSc within the faculty.

Reflections

I was initially a bit grumpy when I realised that this continuing professional development session was offering a sketch about curriculum, rather than being about accessibility. A key learning point here is: make sure you read the event description carefully.

Sometimes it’s useful to stick with things. In this case, the summary of all the different qualifications that are provided by the faculty was a helpful reminder. I also took the opportunity to really figure out the notion of academic credit, and how it relates to modules, qualifications and the academic year. 

I’ve taken the opportunity to add two complementary sections: a bit about access modules (which wasn’t really covered during the session), and a section about degree classifications. Everything is, of course, linked to each other: qualifications are linked to modules, which are linked to schools, which are liked to disciplines.

There are, of course, bits of curriculum that I haven’t mentioned. Some years ago, there used to be a number of short courses, some of which were credit bearing, but there is only one short course is run by the faculty: a digital photography course. There is also something called ‘open box’ modules, where bits of external academic credit can used to contribute to an OU qualification.

Curriculum is subject to continual change. Its structure is affected by a number of variables: academic and cultural trends, innovations in pedagogy and technology, and wider political changes, such as changes to funding. It is interesting to see the extent to which freely available materials complement formal credit bearing materials. Knowing about what free resources are available has the potential to make a real difference to the student experience.

Acknowledgements

Thanks are extended to David Morse for running such a thorough session.

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Christopher Douce

Degree apprenticeship: cross-faculty CPD event for Practice Tutors, 10 June 22

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On 10 June 22, I attended a continuing professional development event for degree apprenticeship practice tutors. I’m a practice tutor for the OU’s Digital and Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship scheme. The university also runs schemes that relate to business, nursing and policing.

This blog post is a short summary of some of the themes that were discussed and explored within this event. It is primarily intended as a record of my own CPD, and I’m sharing it more widely just in case it might be of interest to other delegates, and colleagues who are responsible for the CPD of the degree apprenticeship programme.

The aim of the event was the develop the quality of practice tuition and to share best practice. The event began with an overview, and some definitions. I was surprised to learn that there were 400 PTs (or PT contracts) being managed across the university. Regarding the definitions, a PT was a practice tutor, who is someone who works with apprentices and employers. An AL is an associate lecturer, or a module tutor. 

Quality assurance of practice tuition

The aim of this first session, presented by Anna Colantoni and Barb Cochee was to help practice tutors gain an understanding of the aims of the quality assurance project, and its project deliverables, also providing an opportunity for discussion. 

I noted down that the quality assurance project contained 6 project deliverables which were managed in 2 strands. The first strand was about technology and data strand, which included eportfolio implementation, data infrastructure, and technology infrastructure. The teaching support and quality improvement strand included deliverables relating to practice tuition, governance, apprentice and employer guidance and support.

We were presented with some definitions through a question: what is quality assurance, and what does it involve?

  • “quality assurance is the act or process of confirming the quality standards are being met”.
  • “A programme for the systematic monitoring and evaluation of the various aspects of a project, services, or facility to ensure that standards of quality are being met”.

Examples of activities that relate to quality assurance include the monitoring of marking, gathering of feedback from apprentices or employers, mentoring from staff, and carrying out observations of practice tutor meetings and tutorials.

I noted that there was a difference between quality assurance and quality enhancement. Enhancement means: “improvement of quality brought about through cycles of continuous improvement and innovation”, with the point that there isn’t a final end point, and culture can play a role.

During this session, I also made note of some project outputs. These included the practice tutor quality framework and accompanying papers. These papers relate to tripartite meeting standards (meetings between a practice tutor, apprentice, and the apprentice’s line manager), the tripartite meeting observation process, and a PT professional development framework. Further development activities includes a review of the apprenticeship hub review; a dedicated VLE site, which is used to share information.

Progress review meetings –what should good look like?

The aim of this second session, facilitated by Jo Bartlett, Vicki Caldwell and Lucy Caton (Academic Leads, Practice Tuition, Apprenticeships Change Programme) was to share updates about good practice guidance, share details of the observation of progress review meetings, and to share ideas about good practice and challenges of progress review meetings.

This session explored the tripartite progress review meetings, which take place between an apprentice, an employer and a practice tutor. The meetings were described as “complex, cross boundary working”.

I noted down the following from a summary: the role of the practice tutor is to oversee the work based-learning that takes place; sometimes this can relate to programme requirements, or regulatory requirements. Key tasks can include setting of learning plans, setting of objectives, applying academic learning to academic setting, encouragement of reflecting, opportunities to shadow others. Also, the meetings help the practice tutor understand the work setting and help the apprentice and the employer understand their study and learning programme.

I also noted that it is important that our student (apprentice) feels well supported, and engage in a wide range of activities. In the apprenticeship, the employer has a role of providing opportunities to help learner apply and develop the academic learning.

During this session we were put into different breakout rooms. There was a room about “encouraging reflection”, a room about “addressing barriers to learning”, and two more about “ensuring relevant learning opportunities” and “setting SMART objectives”. We were given a direction: share good practice and something that you may have done to overcome some challenges.

I was put into the “encouraging reflection group”, and found myself amongst a group of PTs who work with nursing and police apprentices. 

A key point was: students need to be encouraged, to understand and develop a reflective mindset. A couple of frameworks were shared and mentioned, such as the “what, so what, now what?” by Rolfe et al. Other models were mentioned, such as those by Gibbs and Kolb. We were directed to the University of Edinburgh reflective toolkit and some OpenLearn resources were mentioned, such as Learning to teach: becoming a reflective practitioner which highlight different reflective models.

Back in the plenary room, we gathered feedback from the different rooms. I’ve managed to summarise feedback from two of the groups.

Barriers to learning opportunities: this group discussed the importance of the learning environment, organisational culture, organisational understanding, and requirements. Other points included he importance of the line management engagement, and ensuring off-the-job time. A PT has the opportunity to emphasise the benefits of the degree apprenticeship to the organisation in terms of student progress and development.

Setting SMART objectives: get the employer to create 3 objectives, which are then used within the discussions that are used within the meeting discussions. Consider how they may be linked to the educational objectives.

Reflections upon supporting learners to apply theory into practice 

Following on from our breakout room discussions about reflections, the next session was facilitated by Sarah Bloomfield (Lecturer in Work based Learning, FBL), Evelyn Mooney (Lecturer, Adult Nursing, WELS) and Anthony Johnston (Staff Tutor, STEM). Rather than focussing only on reflections, this session also emphasised work-based learning, and the role that it plays in a degree apprenticeship.

We were presented a question: what is work based learning? It could be considered to be learning for work, learning at work, or learning through work. A comment was that these definitions relate to a framework that is used within the degree apprenticeship standard, which is about the development of knowledge, skills and behaviours.

Next up was a presentation of an adaptation of Kolb’s reflective cycle, which featured experiencing issues in practice, taking action and trying something new, using theories and concepts to think differently, and reflecting on practice (or, what has been done). Theories can be thought of as tools, or a lens, which can be used to how to look at problems or how things are done.

Another question was: wow can PTs help with the work-based learning? There are, of course the quarterly reviews (which can be tripartite meetings), but also practice tutors can facilitate progress reviews.

In my own work as a practice tutor, I make extensive use of a review form. It was mentioned that on these forms, it would be useful to emphasise which new knowledge, skills and behaviours have been gained. Also consider asking: has there been anything that is new and interesting?

Just like the previous session, we were put into breakout rooms. We were asked two questions: (1) What strategies do you use to help learners apply theory/knowledge into their practice? (2) What challenges do you face in doing so?

During our room, we held the view that it might be useful for practice tutors to have a discussion with a module tutor to understand not only where the student is, but also to get a more detailed appreciation of the module materials.

During the plenary session, the use of forms or prompts to help to draw out conversations were discussed. A useful question could be, “tell me something that you have read that has informed your practice”. Also, asking open questions is important, such as, “tell us about what you are doing at the moment?” Pinpoint something that is helpful for them to focus on. 

Effectively supporting learners with additional needs

This session, facilitated by Michelle Adams (Senior Manager, Disability Support Team) and Claire Cooper (Manager, Disability Support Team) was less interactive, and was more about the providing of information to practice tutors about the support the university provides to students with disabilities.

A student may disclose a disability at any point. If a student discloses a disability to a tutor or a practice tutor they are, in effect, disclosing a disability to the university. When this happens, the disability support team creates a student profile through the use of a disability support form. If appropriate, students are encouraged to apply for the disabled students allowance, and can apply to the access to work scheme.

Disabled student allowances is externally funded by the government, and there are four types of award: specialist equipment, non-medical helper support, general allowance, travel allowance. The university also provides an auxiliary aids team and a small equipment loan scheme to bridge the gap between applying for support, and receiving support. The university provides different interim loan kits. The exact composition of the scheme differs according to the needs of students.

The New AL Contract: your questions answered

I split my time between the last two sessions. I began with the session about the new AL Contract, which was facilitated by Dan Sloan (Senior Manager, AL Services/AL Change Programme) and Sam Murphy (Implementation Programme Lead), and then moved to the other session about peer support.

This session began with some definitions that tutors and practice tutors might see on their contract details. Some key terms and topics were about FTE, and the differences between contracted FTE, delivery FTE, and allocated TRA days.

If you are reading this blog as someone who is internal to the university, you will be able to find a set of resources and posts that relate to the new AL contract. A notable post is one that summarises how your FTE if calculated.

Developing opportunities for peer support

This final session was facilitated by Barbara Cochee (Senior Manager, PT Training and Development, ALSPD) and Olivia Rowland (Content Designer, ALSPD). To facilitate the discussions, we were asked who our peer were, what does peer support look like, what might benefits of peer support might bring, and what support might you need to make this happen?

This session featured quite a wide ranging discussion. We discussed the importance of face-to-face meetings, and the role of module tutors.  It was acknowledged that, for some programmes, there can sometimes be a distance between the academic tutors and the academic assessors. For some apprentices (such as those within nursing programmes), students need to pass the academic studies as well as their practice studies (or, practical skills that they need to master).

A thought that I did have is that, in some ways, practice tutors represent a bit of administrative and academic glue in a degree apprenticeship programme. They exist as glue between academic modules and tutors, glue between employer and programme, glue between the apprentice and the work-based learning, glue between academic and work-based learning, and offer pointers to additional resources, and connecting together different aspects of support together. 

In terms of the practice tutor community that I’m a member of, perhaps the best form of peer support comes from a school perspective, and linked to a particular degree apprenticeship programme that I’m helping to support. I don’t know very many other practice tutors. It would be great to know a few more, if only to more directly understand that I’m offering the right kind of support.

Reflections

I think this was the first event of its type that I’ve been to. It was a large event; there were around 100 delegates. I was a little grumpy about the earlier sessions about quality assurance. I have the view that quality emerges from the relationships that exists between people – specifically, colleagues, tutors, and students.

Hearing about the perspectives from other faculties was helpful, especially in terms of hearing different views about the role of the practice tutor, and what they contribute during the tripartite meetings. Overall, I found the discussions the most helpful, and I would welcome the opportunity to participate in more of these events.

One thing that I would like to hear more about is more stories: stories from the employers, stories from tutors and, most importantly, stories from apprentices.

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Christopher Douce

English DTS degree apprenticeship: work-based learning modules

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Saturday, 2 Oct 2021, 13:12

The OU is also a provider of English, Scottish and Welsh degree apprenticeships.

This blog provides a summary of some of the important work-based learning modules that Computing and IT students study as a part of their English degree apprenticeship programme. It has been prepared a simple ‘summary article’ that I can share with English degree apprentice students and their employers.

More information about the OU degree apprenticeship schemes can be found on the OU Apprenticeships pages where further links to nation specific programmes can be found. Further information, that is specific the English scheme, the DTS programme for English degree apprenticeship students’ page offers a useful summary of the scheme.

This post was collated during the summer and autumn of 2021. Since modules, programmes and qualifications are always subject to enhancement and review, it is important to check the latest information that is available.

Acknowledgements are extended to the module chairs, module team members and curriculum managers who helped to prepare the following descriptions. I have taken the liberty of editing some of the words and headings to create a single article.

Work-based learning modules

Degree apprenticeship study takes approximately four years. Student study a combination of academic modules, and a set of work-based learning modules. Toward the end of the programme, students must complete a work-based project, which is also summarised towards the end of this article.

An important aspect of the degree apprenticeship programme is that students are encouraged to continually reflect on how their university study relates to and links with work-place activity. An import part of the work-based modules is to encourage and develop that reflection.

Here is a list of the work-based (and project) modules that are summarised in this post:

  • TXY122 Career development and employability
  • TXY227 Change, strategy and projects at work
  • TMXY350 Advanced work-based learning
  • TMXY475 Apprenticeship computing & IT project

During study of each of these modules, students will be allocated an academic tutor, who marks their assessments, and will be supported by a practice tutor.

TXY122 Career development and employability

One of the first modules that English degree apprentice students study goes by the module code TXY122. Students are also likely to study this module at the same time as a more academic module, TMXY130, which introduces some important topics, such as mathematics for Computing.

The aims and objectives of TXY122 are as follows: 

  • To enable students to develop their ability to learn from the workplace through reflective practice.
  • To enable students to apply their skills, understanding and knowledge within the workplace.
  • To develop students’ understanding of their organisational context and their role within it.
  • To equip students with the skills necessary to carry out research within their organisation.
  • To introduce the concept of professional standards and to enable students to map their existing skills and knowledge against relevant occupational standards.
  • To enable students to evaluate and develop their personal / professional / employability skills.
  • To give students an understanding of how to align their own personal and career development needs with the business objectives of their organisation.
  • To facilitate the production of a coherent learning and development plan.

Like many OU modules, the materials are divided into a number of blocks.

Block 1: Laying the foundations

Block 1 is called Laying the foundations and it is designed to help students to develop a sound understanding of what it means to learn in order to ensure that they get the most out of this module and, indeed, any other learning experience undertaken in the future. When we talk about learning we aren’t simply talking about traditional academic studies, because that is not what this module is about. 

Block 1 is focused on learning from experiences at work, the type of learning that will enable students to perform more effectively as they learn how to reflect on your experiences and acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to improve learning and performance on a continuing basis. 

The following themes are introduced:

  • laying the foundations for studying
  • thinking about how adults learn
  • learning in the workplace
  • managing your learning and development.

Block 2: Exploring the workplace

Block 2 contains two main sections. In the first section students will be introduced to elements of research design, including methods and sources used for gathering and analysing data and information, and students will learn how to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative data. In the second section the focus will shift to reporting the results of research in a clear and structured way and learning how to use various graphical devices to present data and information effectively.

The following themes are introduced:

  • research concepts, tools and techniques
  • reporting the results of your research
  • effective ways of presenting data and information.

Block 3: Personal, academic and career development planning

This block is designed to help students to take stock of their current position, decide where they want to go and plan how to get there. Students will look in detail at the principles and processes involved in personal and career development planning, and receive advice and guidance on how to reflect productively on their skills, knowledge and experience before being encouraged to think about their personal and career aspirations. Finally, they will be given practical advice and guidance on how to develop/update their personal and career development plans.

The following themes are introduced:

  • determination of role and skills set
  • benchmarking against occupational standards and frameworks
  • future goals and career development.

Block 4: Personal, academic and career development planning – the organisational context

Block 4 helps students to see where you fit within their organisational context. They will spend some time analysing where their organisation is heading and understanding how they can contribute to the success of their organisation while moving forward with some of their career development aspirations. Students will receive advice and guidance on action planning for personal, academic and professional development and look at how they can seek support from within their organisation for their continuing professional development proposals.

The following themes are introduced:

  • What is the business context and how do I fit within it?
  • What are the key trends and challenges facing the business?
  • What are my professional development needs?
  • Aligning business needs with career and academic development aspirations.
  • Planning for the future.

Assessments

The module is assessed through 3 Tutor Marked Assessments (TMAs) and an End of Module Assessment, which is the university’s equivalent of an end of module exam.

TXY227 Change, strategy and projects at work

Students will typically study TXY227 as their third second level (second year equivalent) module. 

The module will help students to:

  • gain an understanding of how social, technological, economic, environmental, political, legislative and ethical factors drive and enable change in the workplace.
  • develop knowledge, understanding, confidence and competence in project working and related employability skills
  • evaluate, develop and review personal, academic and professional skills
  • apply skills and knowledge to planning and presenting a project proposal that is capable of being implemented in their workplace.

During this module students are encouraged to integrate work and study by drawing on and investigating workplace resources, systems and experiences. There is therefore less ‘learning material’ than in a traditional OU module. Students are expected to do approximately 12 hours of study per week, in addition their apprenticeship role. Also, during the first 6 months of study, students are also likely to be studying two other degree apprenticeship modules.

Block 1: A changing world

This first block focusses on the topic of change. Key areas of study for this first block include, amongst others: understanding perspectives on change; different types of change; readiness to change; leading change and preparing for change. In terms of topics that relate to a work based context, themes include: knowing where you’re going; doing analyses; understanding internal external contexts; identifying the way forward and carrying out a Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis.

Block 2: Projects in your workplace

This second block explores the concept of a project. It begins by asking the question:  What is a project? Other themes (amongst others) include: time, cost and quality; changing a routine process; the project life cycle; your workplace learning, work-based projects; generating ideas for your work-based project; project stakeholders and meetings; project scope, constraints, risks and contingencies; managing risk and contingency planning.

Block 3: Project planning, organisation and completion

Block 3 continues the topic of work based projects by presenting the following themes (amongst others): project teams; team roles; resource planning; project budgets; project scheduling techniques such as networks and Gantt charts; project management roles, skills and attributes; project monitoring and reviewing, and project closure, evaluation and learning.

Block 4: Reviewing and presenting your work-based project proposal

Finally, block 4 is all about reviewing and presenting your project. Key topics include: reviewing your work-based project proposal, presenting your work-based project proposal, planning and preparing your presentation, practising and delivering your presentation, and evaluating your presentation.

Assessments

The module is assessed through 3 TMAs and an EMA

TMXY350 Advanced work-based learning

This module will build on students’ learning and experience from previous work-based learning modules, and prepare them for the proposed capstone project module (TMXY475), as well as for the Digital and Technology Solutions (DTS) apprenticeship End-Point Assessment (EPA). To complete the degree apprenticeship, students need to complete both. 

The module will help students with:

  • developing knowledge, skills and experience of workplace/work role investigation
  • knowledge, skills and behaviours mapping against relevant standards and frameworks
  • portfolio development
  • project planning and evaluation
  • report writing
  • interview and presentation tools and techniques
  • alignment of personal and career development needs with the business objectives of the organisation
  • production of coherent learning and development plans.

Block 1: Understanding learning outcomes and planning

In this short first block, which occupies five weeks, student will: carry out an initial mapping exercise against the relevant apprenticeship learning outcomes/core skills; extend their knowledge of project implementation, handover, closure and evaluation; explore some ideas for a final work-based project; and develop the initial version of a work-based learning plan (WLP) detailing resources, support and scheduling related to specified WLP objectives.

Block 2: Reviewing progress, requirements and project ideas

In this second block, which occupies eight weeks, students will: review progress against the WLP and produce an updated version; study the common causes of project failure and learn more about project review and evaluation; assess knowledge and understanding of apprenticeship requirements; further develop one idea for the final project.

Block 3: Updating your work-based learning plan and refining project ideas

In this third block, which also lasts eight weeks, students will: review progress against the WLP and produce an updated version; develop a feasible proposal for the final project; practise and evaluate skills in applying interview techniques and verbal communication skills. To help students, block resources will include: worksheets containing information, advice and guidance; provide resources for developing a final project proposal; resources relating to the application of interview techniques and verbal communication skills.

Block 4: Preparing a project proposal and a final work-based learning plan

In this final block, which is also an eight week block, students will: review progress against the WLP and produce an updated version; prepare for their end of module assess by producing a final project proposal, demonstrating the application of interview techniques and verbal communication skills, and producing evidence to show how demonstrating the achievement of selected learning outcomes. The module will provide resources to help with producing a final project proposal, along with an associated business case, and provide resources relating to interview techniques and verbal communication skills.

Assessments

Assessment is through 3 TMAs (which relate to blocks 1 through 3) and an end of module TMA (which is similar to an EMA) which relates to block 4.

TMXY475 Apprenticeship computing & IT project 

The final module, TMXY475, the Apprenticeship Computing and IT Project will enable students to complete their degree apprenticeship. It gives students the opportunity to make use of their knowledge and skills they have built up earlier, and to demonstrate these in a work-based project.

Students are to choose a project in the area of their specialism using knowledge, skills and behaviours learned in their modules to date especially the specialist Level-3 modules.

They will first be required to develop a project topic to suit their individual purposes, interests and skills by an iterative process of refinement towards a more narrowly-focussed area of study. This refining process will be moderated and guided by contact with their tutor and in collaboration with their employer, entailing increasing research as they proceed. In this way they will be laying the groundwork for their project as they home in on their final topic.

Arriving at an agreed project title and aims will include a consideration of its background (through a literature search), its feasibility and a definition of its scope. Assessing this is the task of TMA01 which will also require evidence of Interaction between student, tutor and employer. Students will then be expected producing a project plan and detailed project outline as their second TMA before writing-up a complete first draft of part of their project report which is submitted as TMA03.

The EMA has two parts. The final project report is submitted as the EMA part 1. Students will be asked to complete a 30-minute presentation/interview with an assessor and their employer following the submission of the project report for EMA part 2.

Throughout the module students are asked to reflect critically on how they undertook their project and how they might do things differently in the light of their experience. Students will be expected to produce a large proportion of their work independently and without close supervision.

To summarise, students will be expected to:

  • confirm and justify your choice of project (either the one you picked in TMXY350, or a new one if your critical evaluation leads you to change your project topic)
  • define what the outcomes of the project will be
  • plan how you are going to achieve these outcomes
  • research the background and state of the art of the subject area of your project
  • complete the project
  • produce a report describing the project and reflecting on both the project itself and the way you went about it.

The module is divided into a number of phrases, which are similar to the blocks that students would have seen in previous modules:

Phase 1: Project approval

During this phase, students will be working with their module tutor and employer to refine their project idea so that it meets the requirements for the apprenticeship and organisation.

Phase 2: Setting the project context

During this phase, students will be investigating the context of their project. This will involve tasks such as: refining requirements, understanding previous professional and academic work done in the area of your project both inside and outside of your organisation, and making progress on appropriate practical elements.

Phase 3: Practical report

During this phase, students will complete the bulk of the practical work. By the end of this phase, students should have an incomplete draft of your EMA project report which provides the basis for TMA 03.

Phase 4: Completing practical work

During this phase, students will complete all remaining practical work, and address any major issues identified in TMA 03.

Phase 5: Reviewing and evidencing learning

During this final phase, you will complete your EMA project report and prepare it for submission. There will also be an opportunity to review and act on any feedback from the Gateway/Professional Practice meeting.

Assessments

The module is assessed through3 TMAs, which reflect different phases of the project, and there are 2 parts to an EMA, one of which is a presentation.

Reflections

One thing that really struck me, when editing together this blog was how thorough the programme is. It is, for a moment, useful think of the degree apprenticeship as having three components: the academic study, the actual work that takes place in the workplace, and these work-based learning modules. In some senses, these modules represent a bit of useful glue, that links the academic study together with what takes place within the workplace.

Reviewing a part of this degree apprenticeship programme has made me reflect on my own professional context and work setting. It has helped me to ask some useful questions about my situation, such as: what learning should I be doing to either develop myself or to improve my performance? Another question is: where is my main work focus? Also, if I want to change my focus, what should I start to be doing so I can get there? By asking these questions, and writing this section I am doing something that is emphasised throughout all these modules: engaging in critical reflection.

Acknowledgements

This post has been compiled and edited together from a variety of different sources. Thanks are extended to Andy Hollyhead, who plays an important role in the delivery of the DTS degree apprenticeship scheme in England and provided some of the useful text for the project module. Thanks are also extended to the module chairs and curriculum managers of all the modules that are mentioned in this summary; their words, through project descriptions and summaries, have found their way to this post.

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Degree apprenticeship practice tutor development event May 21

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In addition to being a staff tutor and module tutor, I’m also a practice tutor (PT) . A practice tutor is someone who supports the delivery of the university’s DTS (digital and technology solutions professional) degree apprenticeship programme. There is an important difference between the PT and an OU academic tutor. In the DTS scheme, PT is one of the key individuals in the student’s journey. The role of the PT is to provide a consistent link between the apprentice’s world of work and academic study.

On 15 May 21 I attended what was called a practice tutor development day. The aim of this event was to provide further training and development for practice tutors, and to enable practice tutors to share experiences with each other and the apprenticeship delivery team.

This blog presents a sketch of what was covered during the day. I’m sharing these notes just in case it might be useful for fellow delegates (and fellow practice tutors), or anyone else who might be interested in how the OU is supporting its degree apprenticeship programme. It also represents a summary of one of the useful CPD events that have taken place over the year.

Preparing for Ofsted

This first section was facilitated by Andy Hollyhead, Chris Thomson and Craig Jackson, but much of the material for this session was delivered by Craig, who began with a question: what would the result of a negative inspection be?

Craig presented a broad summary of the Ofstead assessment process, saying something about what happens when an assessment takes place. I noted that four areas will be judged: the quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management. Craig mentioned that “some inspectors will look at specific areas, such as leadership and management”.

Different types of documents may be scrutinised to gain a sense of what is happening and how learners are progressing. Inspectors may scrutinise how improvements are measured and made and may speak to different members of staff, including apprentices, practice tutors, line managers, central academics, managers and leaders from the ‘training provider’. A decision about a rating will be made via trangulation; looking at different bits of evidence to come to a final decision.

Before moving onto the next session, I noted down a few relevant points that were made by Chris: the role of a PT is to map academic wok to job activities. I also noted that work based learning modules are focussed on work based skills that are not technical in nature, such as project management and personal management.

Tripartite meetings: good practice

This next session, which was about facilitating meetings with apprentices and employers, was facilitated by Alison Leese. Alison began with an important question: why are the review meetings important? They can be used to manage expectations, establish and review individual learning plans, set and plan to achieve success, to share perspectives, they can be used to identify challenges, and to provide feedback.

For the first meeting, it is important to scheduled and prepare for it, and it should be an opportunity to finalise an individualised learning plan and prepare for the first review.

In normal circumstances, there should be one face to face meeting per year. The first meeting is likely to take place face to face. During this fort meeting, there should be the sharing of roles and responsibilities; a discussion about what everyone does, and the introduction of the concept of the module (academic) tutor, and highlighting other roles that exist within the background, such as a staff tutor (a practice tutor line manager), and the Apprentice Programme Delivery Manager, who liaises with the employer or line manager. I noted down the point that the line manager must provide sufficient diversity within a job role to ensure that sufficient experience is gained to enable the learning outcomes of the DTS scheme to be met.

For each progress review, it is important to effectively schedule and prepare. Progress should be documented (currently through the university ePortfolio system) and objectives reviewed. An apprentice’s individual learning plan should be updated should there have been any changes in the apprentice’s situation, such as working location or accessibility needs. After every quarterly review, everything should be finalised within a 10 working day period.

Some points I noted down during the session were: use an initial meeting agenda/checklist, and for each progress review have a review checklist or agenda which may contain points such as: update ILP, objectives and gateway requirements (such as English and Maths skills). I also noted down that there was some cross-faculty induction material that was available on the apprentice hub, such as a summary of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.

Practice tutors should refer or apprentices if an apprentice is not making sufficient progress, needs additional support, requests change of study programme, or isn’t being provided with the very important 20% off the job time (Gov.uk website), there is a change in job roles, or the line manager is not engaging sufficiently.

Safeguarding at the OU

Safeguarding is the process of protecting children and vulnerable adults from neglect. This is an important subject since the university has over two thousand registered students who are under the age of 18. The OU safeguarding team works with the OU student’s association, the student support teams, and the student resource and support centres (SRSC).

At the start of the section we were asked: how might PTs have contract with safeguarding in their roles? There might be phone calls or emails, or disclosures that take place in other ways, such as through assessments or one to one support sessions.

The university has a responsibility to support its students, and their children, or any vulnerable adults who a student might be looking after. The terminology used to refer to a vulnerable adult is different in different parts of the UK. In Wales the term is: an “adult at risk”. In Scotland, the term is “protected adult”.

An important point was made during this session, which was: “working with apprentices means that they [the student or the apprentice] are supported not just by the OU but also by their employer”.

To refer a student, an email could be sent directly to the safeguarding team, or a webform could be submitted.

Apprentice onboarding, on programme support and offboarding

This session was jointly facilitated by Nathalie Collins, Jackie Basquille and Charlotte Knock. Jackie began by speaking about the functional skills team. Degree apprentice students must gain the equivalent of A* to C, or scores 4 to 9 in Maths and English by the end of their studies. During the onboarding process (or, induction, as I call it), students will carry out a skills audit, will be interviewed, and there will be a review of their job role.

The onboarding (induction) process was summarised as follows: an information advice and guidance seminar, sharing of evidence of a link between job role and a chosen apprenticeship scheme, a core and specialism skills audit (the core skills audit refer to essential knowledge, skills and behaviours), a one to one discussion with an apprenticeship programme delivery manager, and the checking of prior qualifications. All this leads to a signed commitment statement and apprenticeship agreement (which gets stored to the ePortfolio system). When this is done, there is then an induction webinar.

Sometimes apprentices may require breaks in learning; a subject covered by Charlotte. There is an important difference between a break in learning (BiL) and a deferral. A deferral is a postponement of an exam or an equivalent assessment. A break in learning is possible due to a recognised number of reasons, such as (1) an economic reason, (2) long term sickness, (3) maternity leave, (4) religious trips, and (5) Covid related reasons.

The process for a break in learning begins a discussion with a practice tutor, who then speak with an ADPM, who then contacts the organisation apprentice lead. Whether a break is possible or not may depend on exactly where the apprentice is in their studies. An apprentice lead within an employer organisation will need to “sign off”, or approve a break in studies.

Building practice

The final part of the day was all about sharing experiences. We were put into small breakout rooms (with approximately 6 colleagues, mostly fellow practice tutors) where we began to share experiences of facilitating review meetings. We also looked at a short case study, and then went on to discuss the challenges we uncovered in a plenary room.

Resources

During the event, I collected some links to useful resources that were shared through the text chat channel.

Apprentices who are enrolled within the Digital and technology solutions programme are able to access the Apprentices studying the DA DTS site. Practice tutors can also access this page to get an understanding of what students can see.

Practice tutors can access an interactive mapping template (OU apprenticeship pages), which shows the connection between modules, apprenticeship specialisms and the criteria of the qualification. This page also provides a link to a more detailed mapping tool (OU apprenticeship pages).

Reflections

In my very early days of being a practice tutor, I wasn’t entirely whether I was doing the right thing. I enjoyed my first meetings with the new apprentice students and their employers. To prepare, I arrived with meetings armed with a summary of the programme, and I talked everyone through the principles of OU study and what it meant, and then summarised the programme that an apprentice was about to start. Although I seemed to be doing the right thing, I wasn’t completely sure whether I was doing everything right.

I found this session really helpful, since I felt it consolidated some of my knowledge and understanding, emphasised the importance of certain deadlines and activities, and also gave me a steer towards some useful resources which I could use with apprentices during some of their meetings. During the next meetings, I’m definitely going to take the apprentices through the mapping tool, either during online or during face to face meetings.

There were a couple of tools that I heard about that I didn’t know too much about: there were the checklists for the meetings that I need to find, and there’s the practice tutor eTMA system, where we can get more of a view about how an apprentice is getting along. On this point, I need to be clear about boundaries and responsibilities: my role is to help apprentices connect their assessments and academic study to work activity.

One activity that I need to do is to get a more thorough and detailed understanding of the work-based learning modules. I guess that every practice tutor has slightly different levels of understanding of the different modules that their apprentice students’ study. Being an academic tutor on one of the modules on a shared pathway, I feel as if I’ve got a pretty good (if broad) handle on the academic modules. I do feel as if I need to find the time to really nail down my understanding of some of the later work based learning modules. Perhaps this will be the subject of my next apprenticeship blog.

Acknowledgements

This event was organised by the Computing and Communications English apprenticeship team, which comprises of Andy Hollyhead and Chris Thomson. Acknowledgements are also extended from the wider university apprenticeship team who are based in the Business Development Unit (BDU).

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XTXY112 Practice Tutor Briefing

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On 24th in September I attended a new module briefing at the University headquarters in Milton Keynes. Rather than being the usual ‘academic’ module briefing, this was a briefing for new practice tutors (PTs). 

Practice tutors support degree apprenticeship (DA) students. DA students are funded by employers. They have one day a week, or 20% of their time allocated to degree level study. 

Practice tutors are a part of a 3 way relationship between the employer, the student and the university. Their role is to support the student, and to facilitate the students progress though the pathway by working with employer and university representatives. On the employer side, there is also someone called the APDM, who is known as the Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager, who work with all employers who have apprentices at the OU. 

One of the most significant differences between a practice tutor and a module tutor is that rather than getting a new set of students every year, a practice tutor supports a group of students over a number of years. 

What follows is a quick summary of some of the things that practice tutors have to do, along with some more general notes and facts about degree apprenticeships. One thing that I should note is that whilst the roles are clearly defined, some aspects to the degree apprenticeship scheme may change. What this means is that if you’re reading this a couple of years after its publication, it’s entirely possible that things might have moved on from what was described here.

The code XTXY112 relates to the activity of supporting Digital Technology Solutions (DTS) apprentices who are based in England.

Key components

A degree apprenticeship consists of a number of different components. 

Qualification: the result of studying a combination of academic modules and completing work based learning-modules (where a student has an opportunity to apply academic ideas and practice new skills in a real work environment).

English and Maths functional Skills: although there are no entrance requirements to begin a degree apprenticeship, there is an exit requirement. If a student hasn’t gained a certain level of English and Maths skills, they must achieve a certain level by the end of the programme.

Portfolio and work based projects: students need to complete an agreed work based project which something that relates to a business need, and create a valued body of work, which is represented by regular contributions to an e-portfolio system.

End point assessment (EPA): students need to get to this stage, which represents an assessment of the knowledge, skills, and behaviours learnt from the apprenticeship programme.

All this leads to: a recognised apprenticeship that was designed with input from industry, a recognised degree, and an opportunity (if applicable) to register with a professional body.

There are a number of different people involved: there are the academic/module tutors who deliver academic modules who assess progress and moderate forum discussions. There are also the practice tutors who check and evidence the e-portfolios, reviews progress, carry out assessment of work-based learning (if applicable), and help with the end point assessment preparation. There are also apprenticeship programme delivery managers who handle the registration, employer liaison and the EPA processes.

Introductions

Since a PT is going to be important in the life of the degree apprentice student and represent a key point of contact with the university, a positive introduction is really important. 

A face-to-face meeting is expected to take place between the beginning of the module and 6 weeks with the apprentice, the practice tutor, and the apprentice’s line manager. To arrange a meeting, the PT will (like other OU tutors) send a welcome message by email. Following the introductory email, different bits of information are shared, such as contact details, confirmation of work addresses, and telephone numbers.

The first meeting

The first meeting is all about getting to know the apprentice and their line manager. It’s also about information sharing. It’s an opportunity to introduce the apprentice to the various OU systems and ways of working. A suggestion is to bring along a laptop, or ask to have access to a computer, as that way you can use it to talk the apprentice through some various bits of the OU system, such as: the StudenHome website, the module website, where to find information about the module tutor, where to find the assessment resources, what the study calendar is, what a TMA is, what cut-off dates are, and how to submit an assessment. It’s also important to ask whether they have been through the OU study materials (studying at the OU).

Another key issue to explore or address is the importance of time and planning. Since the apprentices will be working full time and will have dedicated study time, it’s important to find out whether they are aware of the time commitment that is necessary to study, and that time is carefully accounted for.

Another important topic that must be spoken about is something called the Individual Learning Plan (ILP), which is a progress report that is also used to record at least three objectives. The ILP will be completed and signed off by both the practice tutor and their line manager. During the meeting, the practice tutor must make the apprentice aware of the ILP, what it is and highlight that it must be completed, and it will be returned to during future meetings.

An important question to ask is: what pathway are they taking? The English degree apprenticeship has a number of different pathways through it. This discussion will help everyone have an early understanding of what the different options are. (More will be covered about the pathways later).

Record keeping

An e-portfolio system called OneFile is used to keep records of the work that an apprentice does. It can be thought of a document store that can be used to confidentially store evidence of progress that can be reviewed by other people. It can also be used as a personal journal too; evidence of learning can be selectively made available by an apprentice to their line manager, or to the practice tutor. 

It is used to store copies of the module TMAs that a student submits, and also keeps a copy of the ILP. I understand that it can also be used to gather evidence to support the completion of the ‘apprentice’ part of the degree apprenticeship. 

Quarterly and end of year reviews

An important role of the practice tutor is to keep a gentle eye on the apprentice; to make sure that they’re on track with their studies. The practice tutor may also check with the apprentice’s TMA results, and also send a quick note to a module tutor to ask whether everything is going okay.

Before a visit or meeting, an apprentice needs to update their ILP. The practice tutor might also send a note to the module tutor to ask how things are going, and if there have been any problems. A key question that might be asked is: has anything changed with respect to any study plans?

Towards the end of the first year, there will be what is called an end of year review about how things have gone. Also, towards the end of the second year, the PT will have a discussion with the apprentice about the different pathway options that exist through the apprenticeship programme.

It will be important to review ILP, and to discuss the objectives that can be set on the plan. A suggestion is to use SMART targets; targets that are Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant and Timebound. Discussions may include points about progression, training opportunities, and whether it is necessary to gain exposure to different parts of the organisation. Essentially, it will be about what has happened, and what may happen. 

Functional skills and prerequisites

There are no prerequisites to start on a degree apprenticeship programme, but they need to have functional maths, English and ICT skills by the time they finish. If apprentices don’t have at least a GCSE grade 4 in English and Maths (if I understand this correctly) they can complete what is known as function skills test, a two hour exam, run by an organisation called BKSB (website). 

It is recommended that apprentices complete them within their first 18 months of study. Records of gaining the functional skills in these areas will be stored within the student’s e-portfolio.  An important role of the practice tutor will be to make sure that students do complete these exams as early as they can, so as to make room in their study schedule for everything else that they have to do.

Modules that DA students will study

In the first year, students will study the following three modules:

TMXY130 Introduction to computing technologies: this module has a bit of networking, cybersecurity and bits of mathematics that are specific to computing. Students will complete formative interactive computer marked assessments (iCMAs), complete tasks using Cisco packet tracer, and complete 3 tutor marked assessments. The final EMA covers all three components of the module.

TMXY112 Computing and IT 2: three different themes are interlaced; hardware, problem solving and computing in the wild. During the module, students are introduced to the Python language. All the topics are connected to the development of skills. There are 3 summative TMAs, each contributing an increasing percentage to the overall score. Students must also complete various block quizzes.

TMXY122 Work based learning: students must design a study planner, and consider their study skills, and write a reflective piece. There are 3 x TMAs and an EMA. TMA 2 is skills based, where students must identify an IT related issue, and consider a hypothetical research project. They must also develop a research proposal to collect data. TMA 3 is about reflection, and asks students to relate their role to a national occupations database. Finally, the EMA relates to a professional (or personal) development plan. 

Looking towards the second level, student will study MXY250 Object-oriented Java, TMXY254 Managing IT: the why, the what and the how (which is about service management, and has a bit about relational databases), and TTXY284 Web Technologies

DA pathways

There are Four pathways through the English degree apprenticeship programme (things are different for Wales and Scotland). 

Students can opt for a Data Analyst pathway, where they may study OU modules such as M269 Algorithms, Data Structures and Computability (a computer science module) and TM351 Data Management and Analysis (where students get to write programs to analyse data).

Another pathway is the software engineering route, where students may study TM352 Web, Mobile and Cloud Technologies  and TM354 Software Engineering.

The third pathway is about cybersecurity. Here students will study TM352 Web, Mobile and Cloud Technologies which has a small amount of penetration testing, and TMXY311 which is about information and security management.

The fourth pathway is all about becoming a network engineer. Here the students will study some industrial Cisco material that also enables them to gain university credit. The modules are TM257 Cisco networking (CCNA) part 1 and TM357 Cisco networking (CCNA) part 2

Tips for the Practice tutors

What follows is a summary of tips that I’ve picked up from the briefing:

  • Emphasise that they need to do programming. This makes up an important aspect of the whole programme. They need to develop their skills in level 1, since it gets a whole lot more harder in the later levels.
  • Check to make sure that they have completed their OU induction.
  • Encourage the apprentices to speak to their module tutors as soon as they need to. Emphasise the point that they are there to help. Also, a practice tutor can ask a module tutor how their apprentice is getting along.
  • Make sure that they’re using the 20% of the time that they have available and emphasise the importance of time management. Also highlight that it’s important to get a work, life and study balance right. 
  • Record keeping is important, and this means that the individual learning plan needs to be filled in for each meeting. This needs to be signed by practice tutor, the apprentice, and the line manager.
  • Suggest that the OneFile e-portfolio tool could be used as a way to gather reflections (since reflections will be important in the work based learning modules).
  • The work based project is important. If they’re not in a position to do this easily, given their current role and responsibilities, find out whether there is a way that they can be temporarily seconded to an appropriate project. 
  • When considering the quarterly review, ask the question: has anything changed such as the study plan?

Acknowledgements

This blog was prepared from notes made during a briefing day that was organised by Chris Thomson, Computing and Communications Staff Tutor who also kindly copy edited (and corrected) an earlier version of this blog. During the day, presentations were given by Christine Gardner, David McDade, Claire Blanchard, and Caroline Stephens. Contributions were also made by XTXY122 staff tutors, Nigel Gibson and Ann Walshe. I also acknowledge the important role of the three Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Managers who helped us to further understand the role of the practice tutor. 

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