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TM470 Choosing a project

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 8 Feb 2023, 19:04

I’m a tutor for the Open University's TM470 Computing and IT project moduleTM470 is different from most other OU modules, since it is less about learning about Computing and IT concepts, and more about applying what has been learnt. 

When I was a computing undergraduate, I had to write a dissertation. I had to identify a problem, do some background reading, figure out what I needed to do, go ahead and do what I needed to do, and then write everything up. TM470 asks you to follow a similar process, whilst offering some helpful guidance.

One of the most important decisions that has to be made is choosing a project, or identifying a problem that you want to solve. 

This blog has been written for TM470 students, and aims to share some useful advice and pointers to help you with the process of choosing a project. This post accompanies earlier articles that I have written relate to TM470, which can be found by following my TM470 blog tag (OU blog). The articles about Understanding the literature reviewAcademic writingand the TM470 Project report structure might be helpful.

In essence, the project is all about showing off: showing off how you can use the skills and knowledge you have acquired throughout your studies. It is also about showing off how you’re able to plan. Finally, it is an opportunity to show off what you have learnt from the process of completing a project.

Starting points

Within the resources section of the TM470 website, there is a section called Study Materials. 

At the start of TM470, it is recommended that you have a good look through four different resource sections:

  • Study Guide
  • Project Choice
  • Sample Project Titles
  • Choosing a Lifecycle Model

Defining a project

The module materials shares dictionary definition of a project: “a carefully planned piece of work to get information about something, to build something, to improve something, etcetera.” 

It goes onto mention some of the key characteristics of a project:

  • They are unique – i.e. specific to a particular set of circumstances and not part of routine activity – and would not arise without deliberate intervention.
  • They are planned around a collection of available resources, schedules, budgets, etcetera.
  • They are self-contained around aims and objectives, and it is possible to decide when they are complete, and whether they have been completed successfully.

For TM470, the module team suggests that a project should:

  • identify a problem,
  • be practical or have a strong practical context,
  • have a proposed solution using (or related to) computing and IT,
  • include aspects of planning, evaluation and revision,
  • be broadly based on one or more level 3 computing and IT modules
  • will not be pure research but will extend and apply what has previously been learnt at level 3 to a practical problem.

Types of projects

There are, broadly speaking, three different types of TM470 project:

  • Development projects: involve creating something: processes, algorithms, software, hardware, interface design, etc.
  • Research projects: involve addressing a research question or analysing the possible solutions to a research problem, making detailed recommendations. This typically involves investigating the relevant academic area in depth.
  • Evaluation projects: are sometimes named ‘compare and contrast’. You might compare processes, analyse an implementation, assess different user interactions, etc.

The most popular type of project is the development project. This is where you build something, and then write a report that describes what you have built, and how you have built it. You would, of course, start the building after you have done some detailed planning and shared a detailed summary of all the resources and skills you need to start the project.

Sometimes, projects will not have a clear boundary between each of these categories. A development (or implementation) project might contain bits of research, and also bits of evaluation too. A project that is based on the interaction design module is a good example of this, where you might ask the question “is my design any good?”

Project choice guidelines

Your project should address a non-trivial question. The question should not have an obvious answer, and this means that it should be “reasonably difficult” (but not too difficult). It should ideally occupy the time that you have available, the resources that you have access to, and draw on many of the skills that you already have. 

Here are a set of collated and edited tips from both myself and fellow tutors:

  • Your project should ideally be based around a clear, concrete problem or scenario that needs a solution.
  • Your project must have a clear focus and ideally focus on a specific level 3 modules that have been previously studied.
  • Your project should be sufficiently detailed to allow you to achieve significant depth of analysis and reflection about what you have learnt and achieved during your project.
  • You should not attempt to do too much.
  • You should choose something that enables you to play on your existing strengths rather trying to learn an entirely new skill set.
  • You should choose something that you are interested in; this will keep you motivated. Make sure that you have fun whilst working on your project.

Starting your project

The first TMA is all about setting the scene and sharing your project ideas with your tutor. It is also used to help you to plan what you are going to be doing:

  • Choose (and justify) an appropriate lifecycle module; always ask why you have chosen the approach you have chosen.
  • Create a project plan and include this in the TMA (and all subsequent TMAs); create a Gantt chart.
  • In your plan, outline very concrete 'deliverables' (including your TMA submission dates), regardless of the type of project.
  • Take time to identify risks: what are they? Write them down and submit them in your TMA.
  • Make notes of what you have read; this can feed into your literature review, and have a look at the OU library to carry out some further research.
  • Write about the resources that you need, the skills that you need, and the skills that you need to develop.
  • Start to think about ethics.
  • Take time to review all the marking grids that are provided with the TMAs: you can almost mark yourself!

Projects connected to your workplace

If you are thinking of basing your project on something that you do in your workplace, there are a number of things that you need to carefully think about:

  • Timing: does the timing of a work-based project align with the timing of TM470? For TM470, you need to go through a complete project lifecycle, from beginning until end.
  • Who is involved: sometimes work-based projects involve teamwork. If this is the case, whatever you do on a work-based project might not be suitable for TM470 for the simple reason that everything that you do, and you submit in your project report must be all your own work.
  • Planning: are you able to do your own planning for the project? If someone else is doing the planning, or deciding on deadlines for your project work, your work-based project might not be suitable for TM470.
  • Complexity: some work-based project address a very small part of a much bigger project. Are you able to choose something that enables you to demonstrate a breath of skills and abilities?

Essentially, TM470 is all about what you do, and what you learn through the process of completing a project. Another way to choose a project is to think about what skills you might like to develop. Only choose a work-based project if all the above criteria can be met.

The degree apprenticeship version: TMXY475

There are two versions of TM470; a degree apprenticeship version, which goes by the code TMXY475, and the non-degree apprenticeship version. Although the aim and structure is broadly similar, TMXY475 has a slightly different focus to TM470. 

Apprentices who are taking TMXY475 have the challenge of identifying a project that aligns in two different ways: it connects with the level 3 OU modules they have previously studied, and also relates to some task or activity which relates to their workplace. Working with their module tutor and line manager, apprentices must choose a project that aims to address a particular business need, or to provide a clear benefit. Their project must also fit within the module timescales.

An important difference is that apprentices will need to not only write a project report, but also to prepare and deliver a presentation about their project.

Reflections

Choosing the right project at the start of TM470 is really important. If it is too simple, there might not be enough to get your teeth into; you need something that really allows you to show off your skills and abilities.

A TM470 must always link back to Computing and IT, irrespective of how technical it is.

Whilst it is often great to see technical skills demonstrated through an implementation or development project, some of the best projects I have seen have been about design. Rather than developing lots of a code, a project might share a series of detailed designs, which are then thoroughly evaluated, by applying the concepts presented through the interaction design module.

TM470 is all about sharing a technical story about what you have done within your project. Within this wider story there will be other stories, such as a story about your reading and what you know (which is presented through the literature review section), and what you have learnt (through the reflection section). 

The key bits of advice I have are: play to your strengths, and try to have fun with it. If you’re having fun with your project, you’re likely to be motivated. Also, do some thorough planning, write down potential risks, and consider the resources and skills that you need to do what you need to do.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank fellow tutors Chris Thomson and Eleanor Dare, who were kind enough to share some PowerPoint materials which offered useful advice and guidance about TM470 project choice. I would also like to acknowledge the TM470 module team, some of whose words I have creatively shared through this post. I would also like to acknowledge Alexis Lansbury, who is my TM470 line manager.

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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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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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