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Open Foundation by Distance

The aims of Week Zero and the full-year regional and online supports mechanisms are to increase student engagement


The University of Newcastle’s off-campus enabling program for mature-aged students, Open Foundation by Distance (OF by D), has been offered since 2003. In 2011, HEPPP funding provided an opportunity to review “almost every aspect of the vision, goals and practices” of the program. A team of academic, professional and teaching staff identified a number of critical concerns relating to student support and engagement, and a substantial redevelopment of the program began. The six OF by D courses were remodelled from paper-based to fully online delivery, and a five-day online orientation, Week Zero, was designed and implemented for commencing students. A program-level Blackboard site was also established as a centralised online ‘support hub’ and regular guided study sessions were set up in seven regional locations across NSW. The aims of Week Zero and the full-year regional and online support mechanisms introduced in 2012 directly related to opportunities identified through the review process: increasing student engagement and building a sense of confidence for commencing and current students, many of whom were entering study with disrupted educational backgrounds. Week Zero was a particularly successful initiative, creating a vibrant and supportive ‘learning community’ of OF by D students and staff.

The objective of this project was to enhance the experience and engagement of students from diverse backgrounds seeking entry to higher education through Open Foundation by Distance.

HEPPP Funding
This project has been fully HEPPP funded for three years. HEPPP funding has enabled the appointment of key staff, including a distance support coordinator and a team of study advisers. It has also enabled critical staff development and training, and the production of innovative materials and resources.

Student feedback, institutional data on retention and transition and software usage statistics have been continually collected and monitored. Continuing evaluative research confirms the success of the changes implemented in response to the HEPPP-funded review. Some measures of student engagement have increased by more than 500 per cent compared to previous years.

Key outcomes include:

  • Rates of Blackboard access:
    60% by end of Week 2 in 2011
    94% in 2012 and 2013
  • interaction in online discussion boards:
    986 posts in 2011
    5,878 posts in 2012
    5,066 in 2013
  • access to Counselling and Learning Development:
    17 consults in 2011
    84 consults in 2012
    126 consults to-date in 2013.

“I have been extremely impressed with all the resources available to help you study as well as how much interaction there is between lecturers and students. I am blown away by the support available and am really enjoying my study experience, thank you so much :)” – OF by D student.

The Future
A culture of reflection, collaboration and continual improvement now drives innovation in OF by D. The introduction of an online orientation and the coordination of online and face-to-face support resources have made a significant positive impact on the quality of student experience and engagement in an online enabling program. Several new online courses are now being developed for future cohorts. Week Zero has been so successful that it will be rolled out across the university’s suite of on-campus enabling courses.

Image of the Outreach Access Support key with the Access and Support circles filled with colour

This case study is one of a series of 39 presented in our case study publication, Access and Participation in Higher Education: Outreach – Access – Support.

Posted 12 February 2014 Posted in General