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The new OU Psychology Programme


The New OU Under Graduate Psychology Programme

By Alison Green

With Summer upon us, this is an opportune moment to reflect upon the year and to share with you some highlights from that year. For us in the Psychology Department at the OU, the icing on the cake was confirmation late last year of accreditation by the British Psychological Society (BPS) of our existing Psychology Honours degree, and our three new Psychology degrees in the areas of counselling, forensic psychology and social psychology. To say that we are proud of our new programme is something of an understatement!

It all started back in 2010, at a point when I had just taken over as Psychology Programme Director from Troy Cooper. We had long wanted to increase the amount of choice we were able to offer our students, but prior to that point it simply hadn't been feasible. The Browne review turned out to be a major catalyst for change in many ways, and re-ignited the debate on how we might develop a new Psychology programme fit for the new 'qualifications world'. They do say that 'hindsight is a wonderful thing', and had we known at the beginning just how big a challenge it would be to develop an entirely new Psychology programme from scratch, we might have paused, or compromised our objectives. But it has also been said that 'nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm', and enthusiasm we certainly had in spades. So, discussions started in earnest and we began to develop a plan…..

There were a number of key challenges for us in developing a new Psychology programme, which we knew would have to meet the exacting requirements for accreditation by the British Psychological Society while also enabling us to innovate and to diversify. We set a number of targets for our new programme:
 We had to ensure that the new programme met the Quality Assurance Agency subject benchmarks for Psychology.
 Crucially, we had to ensure that students who had started studying on our existing modules could complete their BPS-accredited degree      by studying the newer modules. In short, if they had started, they had to finish, and there had to be no 'blind alleys'.

 We wanted to develop the new programme around a coherent core 'spine' of 180 credits points, which would deliver the curriculum     required for BPS accreditation.
 We were all driven to develop a programme that would be exciting and innovative, not just in its content, but also in how we deliver it.
 We wanted to develop modules that would allow students to develop their interests in areas of psychology that aligned with our research strengths - in counselling, forensic and social psychology.

We certainly set ourselves a challenge! In setting ourselves such a big task, we realised that we had a wonderful and quite unique opportunity to do something that is often quite hard to do at the Open University. Usually, we modify our curriculum in a sequential fashion, modifying perhaps one module at a time. The Psychology programme re-development enabled us to design an entire suite of new qualifications from start to finish. This meant that we could work in a holistic way on the 'learning design' for the qualifications, and put the student experience right at the heart of the qualification design. The learning outcomes for each module have been carefully developed to build on those of the previous module, and to develop skills and knowledge incrementally.

As the development of the new programme was very much a team effort, it seemed only right that I should ask some of my colleagues to contribute a few words for this article. First, I asked Jean McAvoy, co-chair of 'Investigating Psychology 1' (or DE100, as those of us fluent in OU module codes refer to it!) to elaborate on the thinking that underpins DE100. Jean writes:

"One of the most vital things we wanted to talk about when we put together DE100 was the notion of not taking anything for granted. Because our subject - psychology - is the study of ourselves and other people - there are many things that we feel we know intuitively, just from being in the world, from mixing with people, from 'common sense'. What DE100 wanted to teach students was to ask about the evidence; to ask 'why do we think this? and 'might something else be going on instead?'

All the sciences have to test the evidence and tease out the hidden assumptions that underpin our thinking. In psychology, like all the sciences, there can be serious consequences for people's lives if we act on the basis of flawed knowledge - so we need to make sure we have scrutinised it from every direction to see whether it stands up.  Importantly, thinking critically like this is a valuable skill for other areas of our lives too. When someone is insisting on a particular viewpoint, it's quite useful to have developed the critical skills to step back and think, 'Really? And what exactly are you basing that on?' Of course, hand-in-hand with that goes a willingness to be proved wrong. We have to subject our own beliefs to the same kind of scrutiny. Sometimes we'll find evidence that suggests we were wrong, and that is not always a comfortable position, but being open to new ideas is the hallmark of psychology at the OU."

'Investigating Psychology 1' is the Level 1 module that is common to all four of our BPS-accredited Psychology degrees. It plays a vital role in harnessing the skills in thinking critically that are developed further in the next core module, 'Investigating Psychology 2' (or DE200). The first presentation of DE100 was in October of 2014, and thus far the signs are good. This bodes well for DE200, which will have its first presentation in October of 2015.

I spoke to Rose Capdevila, co-chair of DE200, and asked her about some of the challenges in making the module. She writes:

"Our main challenge was getting our heads around the module as a whole - keeping an overview so to speak. The DE200 team does not lack enthusiasm but in the early days we lacked experience. DE200 carries a heavy load in terms of the qualification. DE100 has been designed to be a gentle introduction into the discipline and DE300 has to manage the dissertation element of the qualification. This leaves DE200 with a lot of material to cover. Our aspiration was and is to produce an online module that works with the student and acts as a companion, so the student never feels left on their own."

DE200 play a vital role in the core psychology 'spine' of modules, as it has to mesh with both DE100 and DE300.
Rose goes on to talk about some of the key aspects of DE200:
"DE200 has been designed as a VLE driven module so there are lots of great online resources; audio, visual and interactive exercises. The module is organised around two, closely intertwined themes: Asking questions and working across boundaries.

Each week the module asks an everyday question that can be answered by looking to psychological theories and research. For instance, Why don't we like one another? Why do I feel this way? Can I do two things at once? What is the point of childhood? The module highlights that in asking specific questions, psychologists often have to rely on different sub disciplines. For instance, students will learn how, in order to help patients who have suffered a stroke, psychologists will draw on biological, cognitive, developmental and social psychological approaches. Students will also be learning how to conduct research.
In DE200 students will be able to:
 Participate in original research
 Replicate classic studies
 See research in action
 Hear directly from active researchers
 Reflect on the research process
We are all really excited about the module and looking forward to its first presentation in the autumn."

I certainly share Rose and her team's enthusiasm for this module. If our external assessor's positive remarks are anything to go by, students should benefit from a rich and rewarding learning experience in studying this module, which has some really fantastic multi-media resources to support their learning experience.

The final module in the core 'spine' is 'Investigating Psychology 3' (DE300). As I write this, DE300 is still in production, and so I can only pass on a few details at this stage. DE300 will be designed principally as the final element in the four BPS-accredited psychology qualifications. The overarching topic will be a critical exploration of the methods of investigation used in psychological research. This will enable students to carry out an extensive piece of independent research, formulating their own research question, carrying out their own investigations in Psychology and communicating their findings in a specified way.

A major module theme will be the relationship between the nature of the research question and the method used to address it. While DE200 introduces students to the nature of Psychology as a contemporary academic field, DE300 will build on this in considering how qualitative and quantitative techniques are used in advancing our knowledge and understanding of Psychology.

Alongside each of the core modules at Levels 1, 2 and 3, students can now take an optional module. For the first time, we can offer choice at each of Levels 1, 2 and 3, and this really gives students flexibility, either to specialise, or to develop a broader understanding across a range of topics. Whichever qualification students choose, students will gain a wide range of valuable skills that will stand them in good stead in the employment market. It's worth bearing in mind that Psychology graduates are amongst the most employable (see http://www.theguardian.com/careers/careers-blog/experts-view-why-are-certain-grads-less-likely-to-be-unemployed). I asked David Messer, Psychology Programme Director, to say a few words about the new programme, particularly from the perspective of employability. This is what he said:

"More generally we would like the new psychology qualifications to provide both support for employability skills and be able to respond to employer needs. We believe that psychology qualifications already provide a range of skills that are valued by employers (e.g. numeracy, group work, IT skills, critical thinking abilities, writing abilities, etc.). Our agenda is to help students think about the skills they need when starting the qualification and to be able to present these skills effectively when seeking employment. A beginning step has been the very successful employment forums in the last two years which have increased in popularity. "

I hope this article has given you some insights into the thinking behind the programme, and very much hope that you enjoy your studies with us. All that remains for me now is to wish you all a very enjoyable Summer, and good luck in your future studies!

Alison Green
Associate Dean (Curriculum and Qualifications)
8th June 2015

Dr Alison Green

This article originally appeared in News & Views Summer 2015.


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