Providing specialist advising support to target awarding gaps and inequalities.

Dave J Lochtie (Open University)
Olivia Purcell (Open University)

Tuesday, April 5, 2022 10:00 AM - 10:45 AM

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Session Outline

The Personal Learning Advisor service provides coaching and mentoring support for students from under-represented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds to help them achieve comparable levels of success to the wider student population. The service was launched in Spring 2021 as part of a suite of Access and Participation Plan (APP) initiatives and is provided by a team of 21, central Personal Learning Advisors as part of a professional model (Earwaker, 1992) of advising, incorporating the use of ‘helping’ therapies linked to Egan’s Skilled Helper Model (Egan and Reese, 2018).

The ambition for the new team is to ensure no gaps exist between undergraduate students identified within the APP and the wider student body, in module completion, continuation, awards and progression to higher skilled employment or further study. We are currently prioritising our Black students, looking at improving student experience/satisfaction and supporting individual students to achieve their goals. This is just one part of the University’s work to improve our degree outcomes, eliminating gaps between our Black and White students informed by the wider work being conducted in the sector (Department for Education, 2017; Thomas et al, 2017; Webb etal,2017)

This presentation will focus upon what we have learned from the first year of the service - on an individual and departmental level. Advisors will detail what they have learned working specifically with students from under-represented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. We will reflect upon their experience of engaging this diverse group of students over a course of up to six virtual 1-1 sessions to support student success - what challenges they came across, how they responded to them and what this means for future good practice.

Videos and measurements of student reflections on their development will detail their feedback including scaling questionnaires utilised at the beginning and end of the coaching sessions to measure distance travelled/personal perception of growth. Deeper insight, gained by student interviews, into perceived impact of PLA support on their self-worth and attitudes will be discussed. Service leaders will reflect upon the challenges in launching a new central service including targeting and communicating with the students who need support most and building relationships and processes with internal stakeholders - we will consider how a specialist advisory service can best work alongside academic tutors.

We will discuss how we have sought to measure impact in relation to Access and Participation goals, working with Data & Student Analytics teams to establish clear procedures and embed evaluation from outset adopting a Theory of Change approach. We will detail how the statistical measurement of outcomes from PLA activities versus comparison/control groups we have implemented. We will consider the overall lessons learned and discuss with participants the relevance to the wider sector.

This session addresses the following competencies of the UKAT Professional Framework for Advising and Tutoring
I5 - The characteristics, needs, and experiences of major and emerging student populations
R3 - Motivate, encourage, and support students to recognize their potential, meet challenges, and respect individuality
R5 - Promote student understanding of the logic and purpose of the curriculum