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Ms Laura Alexander

Profile summary

  • Regional Academic Staff
  • Staff Tutor
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Physical Sciences
  • l.alexander

Professional biography

After completing an MSci in Physics and Electronics at St Andrews University, I then moved into industry via an MoD graduate programme, so chose to work towards Chartered Engineer status rather than pursuing a PhD. I gained a broad range of experience in industries as diverse as defence, telecommunications and medical, and became a Chartered Engineer through the IET.

Over the last 12 years I have built up a portfolio career with the OU, before taking a staff tutor role in 2014. Over that time I have taught a range of modules, mostly in the area of first year science and engineering, or career development for engineers. Alongside the teaching, I have undertaken a wide range of day contracts and consultancies for the OU, mostly in the areas of Science and Engineering. I currently act as Lead Staff Tutor in the School of Physical Sciences, but still tutor on two Engineering modules, T176 and T276.

Research interests

I was involved in an eSTEeM project which looked at sonification of depictions of numerical data to help blind and partially sighted students. The aim was to evaluate an alternative way of getting across the ‘shape’ of a graph that did not involve a subjective written/verbal description. The results were presented in a session at the eSTEeM conference in 2015, and the final report can be found online

I currently lead a project looking at how students have to adapt their learning skills as they move from online modules to ones with books, or vice versa, and the effects this has on student success, completion and retention.

In 2017 I completed a project for my MSc in Technology Management on remote working. This involved carrying out a survey of the tools and practices used in the STEM Faculty to facilitate virtual team working. I'm currently preparing a paper on this, and am interested in expanding this to look at how we support our students when they have to work in virtual teams.

Teaching interests

Particular interests in encouraging students to become more confident in using and applying mathematical concepts to solve real life problems, a theme I have focused on in my OU work on both science and engineering modules. I have developed diagnostics for students beginning level 1 modules, created a Maths for Engineering website to provide guidance to these students, and was the Maths Champion on the new level 1 Science modules S111 and S112.

I was involved with S104 since its first presentation,  facilitating the move to a ‘team teaching’ focused approach to S104 in R11. I also pioneered the use of Elluminate and then OULive, supporting less confident AL’s in this as it was rolled out more widely. Iheld a wide range of S104 additional consultancies, including TMA question checking, exam marking and TMA monitoring, ran the S104 national resit forums for a number of years, and was involved in a new initiative to develop a nationwide S104 online revision resource using forums and OULive sessions.

From 2000 to February 2014 I worked one day a week on as a Pathway Tutor on the Engineering Student Support Team pilot. I was involved from the inception of the project to its handover to the new R04 SST, and had a key role in its development and success. The Engineering SST pilot was conceived as a geographically disparate project, and pioneered the use of Lync and online document stores as a means of facilitating such a virtual team. Although initially based in the Edinburgh office, I worked mostly from home, with annual face to face meetings. The rest of the team were based in OU offices in Newcastle, Cardiff, Milton Keynes Bristol, Birmingham and Wiltshire The project was perhaps the only SST Pilot to be viewed by its members and by students as an unqualified success, and I think this was down largely to the communication and teamwork of all concerned. We supported around 4000 engineering students to provide qualification based support, largely via email and phone. This experience of a successful virtual team led to my interest in virtual teams, which I built on through involvement in the Distributed Working Working Group and an MSc Project in this area.

Among other consultancies and contracts I have held with the OU, I have been involved in a range of projects aimed at improving retention, and also at employability and building links with Scottish companies. After tutoring on T160, a module part funded by the UK government, I was a key member of the module team who rewrote T160 to become T161, an entirely online module for STEM returners.

I have been involved in various outreach and science education projects with local schools including running a STEM club at our local primary school, Higher (equivalent to A level) projects, WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) events etc, as well as taking part in the Bang Goes the Theory roadshow when it came to Edinburgh. One of my other roles is as chairman of the Ofcom Advisory Committee for Scotland, which has a focus on the availability of broadband to all. The issue of ‘digital poverty’ is important, and I am working to improve understanding of how this can disadvantage people in terms of lack of access to education – something we see at firsthand in the OU. I have been at the forefront of many online teaching innovations the OU has seen in the last 10 years – including several online only modules

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