Developing study skills through online interactive workshops by karen foley, open university
Developing study skills through online
Student hub live at the Open University UK
• Focus of this webinar is on the way that extracurricular skills based online workshops help distance learning students
consolidate skills and facilitate academic community and a sense of belonging
• The workshops, that are the focus of this session, address a specific issue for the OUUK: facilitating community and
belonging in distance learning
• The workshops are popular with students since they focus on consolidating key academic skills such as essay planning
and critical thinking
• In addition to developing academic skills, students benefit from sharing experiences, meeting others, and feeling
connected to the institution
• The design of the workshops facilitates development of skills through a taught component, anonymous group activities
and finally small group activities. This enables students to understand, practice and then apply skills.
• The workshops are non-modular and cater for students at any level of study. They also do not require preparation. Using
everyday situations and carefully constructed activities so that student can focus on skills distinct to their qualification
• This webinar will explain how these sessions work, the learning design, how students experience them, and key findings
that may apply to others interested in similar online workshops or supplementary skills development opportunities.
Developingstudy skills through online interactive workshops
• “Community” and “belonging” have been identified as important in student
success (Thomas, 2012).
• Community means different things to different people, and can change over
time. It doesn’t need to be limited to time or space, but it needs to involve
some aspect of purpose and be clear about gains to manage expectations.
• In part-time, distance education with mature students, “student identity” can be
challenging to integrate into all of the other identities and roles. This can lead
to isolation and drop out.
• Some Open University students want to feel a sense of belonging, others do
• For those who want to feel involved in a community, SHL offers one way to
interact with a range of people from the university in a non-modular context.
• This additional support network also offers students a way to benchmark their
studying behaviours and achievements, and to normalise some of the
concerns they have.
The problem:Isolationin a distancelearning environment
Finally, I wanted to say that I appreciate
the work of Karen Foley and Student
Hub Live. Although it takes a light
hearted approach at times I really
appreciate what SHL is trying to
achieve. It is the only place where I can
see and hear OU staff talking about their
work in a meaningful way and giving
people a chance to ask questions on the
SHL is a great opportunity to allay
anxieties about study and provide
interesting information about
courses. Although it cannot replace the
human contact of tutors and tutor groups
- I can't emphasize enough how
important real, human contact is to
learning - but it does provide a window
on the OU and OU study which is not
• The OUUK has 174,000 students in the UK and internationally
• Many students are mature learners, many study part-time and there is a higher rate of students who have disability
profiles. These factors can present risks in terms of progression and retention.
• Modules, which are components of qualifications, tend to last for 9 months and be 60 or 120 credits (120 credits is FTE).
• Academic skills are developed within modules and throughout qualifications.
• Modules are assessed on both skills and knowledge.
• Students have optional online tutorials and some modules have face to face tutorials.
• Students have a tutor who provides personalised feedback on assignments which tend to be 6 weekly.
The institutional challenge is that many students are juggling other commitments with study and can feel that they are not
performing well. When students are behind they can feel reluctant to seek support and can passively withdraw, particularly
in their first year of study.
The Open University:Learning design and studentpopulation
• Student Hub Live (SHL) is the Open Universities online, interactive,
live platform to facilitate academic community
• Since it began in 2014 with Freshers events, events have evolved to
include study skills bootcamps, faculty/programme specific induction
events, debates, Open Days and events to support results and
• Using livestream technology and synchronous online
communication platforms, all participants log into events from their
laptop or device.
• Participants can talk to other participants and also ask questions to
those who are delivering the sessions. Participant contributions are
an integral part of the session, and facilitating a meaningful
discussion in the participant chat adds insight, solutions, and overall
value to the topic in question.
• There are currently two formats for SHL events:
1. Studio broadcasts (top image)
2. Study skills workshops (lower image)
• This discussion focuses on the studio broadcasts only
The StudentHub Live
Top left: Student Hub live website; top right, broadcast event.
Lower image: essay writing workshop in adobe connect
Study skills workshops
The workshops focus on one key skill and are 1 hour in length.
The adobe connect, online room, is open 15 minutes before the start time, and is closed 5 minutes after the end.
Students are welcomed to the room and a loop of notices are played. These provide information about volume and settings
but there are also slides with photographs that students have submitted showing their study spaces or study buddies (pets)
Students can chat in the chat box at the beginning of the session.
The workshop is divided into four main components:
1. Taught component, largely theoretical with examples
2. Anonymous and broad activities to apply the idea in a group context using polls and multi-choice questions
3. Small group discussions using microphones and also chat
4. The workshop ends with a combined large group plenary.
Students can participate as actively or passively as they choose to. There are no compulsory requirements.
Brief summary ofthe StudentHub Live Adobe Connectworkshops
Chartshowingtotal tickets,waiting list, and live attendance.Attendanceideally 200 max
The OU’s StudentHub Live – studentfeedback
This live i think has made us all
realise were not alone and that
there are going to be people who
we can support and get support
Oh gosh, I'm welling up with relief,
i was really worried i was going to
be the loner and getbehind, thank
This session is making me
feel more confident and
comfortable - really well
Who else is really excited to
get cracking now?
Thank you so much to the
guys at Student Hub for a
really informative and fun
couple of hours
I knewthe OU was flexible but hearing everything
that's being said in the studio is so encouraging
I wasn't going to watch this
section of the programme
but I am glad I did.
this chat has really put my
mind at ease so i now feel i
can ask my silly questions
and not be judged
I love the live sessions. It
makes me feel like I am in a
student bar chatting with
Thank you, Idon't feel
• 1 hour workshops are a good length of time
• Controlling the start time and using welcome notices is a helpful way to welcome participants
• Using a minimum of two moderators/presenters allows one to focus on presenting the content and the other moderating
the discussion and controlling the polls and interactive aspects
• Controlling the environment and limiting functionality such as private chat limits interventions and manages expectations
• Using anonymous polls enables people to contribute and receive validation for the points they raise
• Multi-choice questions combined with short answers enable all willing participants to contribute
• Frequent and regular opportunities for interaction enable participants to retain focus and engage
• Microphones are reserved for small group discussions which are limited to 10 minutes
• When using breakout rooms it is important to explain the task and re-present it in the new room. The transition between
virtual spaces can lead to a disjunct
• Encourage groups to nominate one person to capture notes and feedback from group discussions
Learning design for largegroupsessions
from the ‘Essay
Poll: What would you
consider is your main
area of study?
from the ‘Essay
Poll: Have you been to
any Student Hub Live
• Students are most interested in topics like essay writing and critical thinking – the topic area is important in terms of
demand and also attendance.
• Students appear motivated to attend events based on the perceived value to their studies (the topic).
• When asked about what has been of value, the tutor led discussion is commonly the most featured answer, but learning
from other students and small group discussions also features highly.
• Creating a supportive learning space is important. Setting the scene with the welcome messages, the layout of the room,
way in which questions are worded and the general topics for discussion enable a diverse population to participate.
• Non-modular/discipline-specific learning enable students to focus exclusively on skills
• Handouts are welcomed and are offered for download at the start of the workshop. These can be used as an alternative
from the ‘Essay
Poll: What are your
main reasons of
from the ‘Essay
Poll: What will you do
Data collected from
the ‘Essay writing
Poll: Which of the
following elements of
today’s session did you
• Supplementing learning with extracurricular events offers students an acceptable way to catch up or refine skills.
• Online workshops can reach a lot of students with low levels of resource from the institution.
• While students learn skills, the secondary benefit is that many of then feel more connected to the institution and to other
• Synchronous activities that are structured but have an informal and fun element relax participants and enable them to
engage on a personal and emotional level. This can facilitate their learning.
• Structuring sessions to tell, apply and then consolidate for each individual appears to work well.
• While SHL sessions can be seen as complex in terms of interactivity, the concept can be replicated in a range of
synchronous online places.
• Ensuring appropriate access points for contribution ensures that all participants can feel validated that their additions are
meaningful and appropriate. Complexity can increase if necessary but should always offer an immediate way in.
Data collected from
the ‘Essay writing
Poll: What other
workshops do you think
would be useful?
The OU’s StudentHub Live: Studio broadcasts
Student: Finlay’s ‘BehindtheSHLscenes’ vlog: