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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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?
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.