Creating an online mathematics and statistics community of learners

Hilliam, Rachel and Goldrei, Derek (2019). Creating an online mathematics and statistics community of learners. New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences, 14(1)



There is an increasing focus within Higher Education on the wider student experience. Student engagement and a well-developed community are associated with greater levels of retention, student satisfaction and success. Whilst creating opportunities for students to engage with each other and staff may be easier in a face-to-face environment, the School of Mathematics and Statistics at The Open University has a long tradition of engaging distance learning students outside the ‘classroom’ environment. As the opportunities for face-to-face engagement have declined over time, the School has needed to adapt how this support is provided. One such initiative was to provide a subject forum with the specific remit of offering advice on module choice – the module advice forum. This paper shows how the forum fulfils a set of criteria which define a bounded learning community. Since its creation in the early 90’s the forum has flourished and now provides students with the opportunity to engage more fully in issues such as curriculum development and delivery of student support. The key to its success is the wide-ranging community which contributes, besides the students themselves: this includes academics, part-time tutors and advisory student support staff, who all have their ‘academic home’ in the School of Mathematics and Statistics. The forum is housed on a Study website which provides dedicated resources to which students are referred via the forum to answer specific questions regarding module choice at the appropriate point in their student journey.

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