A Tutor's View

DE300 Investigating Psychology 3: A Tutor’s view

This week we start a new series in which Associate Lecturers introduce Psychology and Counselling modules that they tutor. We begin the series with the dissertation module DE300 Investigating Psychology 3.

Hello there, I’m Sarah Howcutt.  I’m a former OU psychology student myself, having done a Postgraduate Conversion to psychology between 2005 and 2010.  So, I’ve known the excitement and anxiety of TMAs, study deadlines and learning psychology through the OU.   I’ve been teaching with the University since 2013 on science and psychology modules and I have been an Associate Lecturer on DE300 since its start in 2016.  In my other work, I do teaching and research in how to get people answering survey questions about their health.  I also do research on bowel cancer screening – but no one wants to talk about that!   

What do you like about this module?

As a tutor, I love the variety.  I get to supervise projects on anything from healthy eating and cheating in exams to conspiracy theories and politics.  However, the real highlight for me is when students have their ‘eureka’ moments of finding out something new about their chosen topic, or simply realising that they can do things that they thought were beyond them.  

What do students find interesting about DE300?

I have never had a student come to me and say that they are bored on DE300!  Even those who haven’t ended up doing the project that they’d imagined at the start have found some love for their subject.  This is the first time that many of you will really get your hands dirty doing research on a topic that interests you.  You’ll be designing a study, collecting real data and developing knowledge on something.  I’ve also had feedback that students have loved being challenged and extended.  Often, they’ve found that they could achieve much more than they imagined.  We cover some great topics as well, including memory, language, creativity, child development, relationships and jealousy! 

What do students find different about DE300?

There is no getting away from the fact that DE300 is very different to what you may have experienced before at the OU.  In September you’ll do a method selection survey, for one of three methods (experimental, survey or text-based). Then, at the start of the module you’ll be assigned a tutor who will help you to focus on one of the methods – most students get their preferred method but it really doesn’t matter as you do cover all three in the module, and your tutor will help you to use your allocated method to follow your interests.  You’ll work more closely with your DE300 tutor, compared to previous interactions with tutors, as you’ll have a forum for just the two of you to develop your ideas. The tutors are very hands-on and experts in the methods that they teach.  Another major difference is that you don’t just follow the study planner in the website but you get to study topics in an order which works best for your method.   

What’s the special importance of DE300 for a student working towards a psychology qualification?

DE300 is the capstone of your degree and so it brings together a lot of your learning and lets you use that.  It’s a great preparation for Masters study, if that’s your next aim after your OU degree. Employers too should be happy to have DE300 students as you’ll become skilled in project management during this module.  However, the greatest benefit is that you can start to follow something new that grabs your interest or take something you have already studied to a deeper level. That freedom will feel scary at times but worthwhile.  

What do some students find challenging?

As I’ve already hinted, you’re going to be in charge of your progress to a greater extent than in previous module.  Some students love that, but others find the time management daunting.  My advice is to get an early start on reading and be disciplined about making time in the week for blocks of study.  If you’re doing two modules together, then be aware that the project and final EMA will need your time and attention so plan your other work carefully.  

What’s your advice for students who are starting DE300?

While you’re waiting for the module to get started, I would recommend that you take some time to look at the methods teaching from previous research-focused modules such as DE100 and DE200.  If you found some of the methods concepts terrifying, don’t panic, we will help you a lot in DE300.  

Another thing you can do is to think about what topics interest you.  Don’t come to your tutor with a project fully formed in your head which we then have to bend to fit DE300, but jot down thoughts about the areas of psychology that you want to explore further.  

Final thoughts… 

DE300 is brilliant!  However, every year I see that students on social media and the welcome forum feel a strong mix of anticipation and worry as they near the finish-line of their degree.  Try to remember that you’ve been working towards this module for several years and the OU has been planning the transitions in your degree very carefully. Research is always full of highs and lows because you can’t control everything. Yet there’s nothing else like it because finding out new knowledge and working with participants can’t be beaten. So be prepared for a roller-coaster but also be ready for the ride of your life.  Believe me, you’ll gain a lot from DE300 and we’re looking forward to working with you!  

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