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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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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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