A splash of colour

This article was sent to us by a student living in a secure environment (SiSE) to be contributed to the second edition of the printed Hoot magazine for SiSE.


In our May edition we invited you to send us your own contributions to the magazine. Here, one reader does just that.

Now in my 6th year as a SiSE student, I have found that the use of colour in module materials has a significant impact on my learning. I ask why this is, and whether it should be a consideration in developing future module materials for SiSE learners.

Since SiSE learners in Scotland have no access to the ‘virtual campus’ all module materials come as hard copy readings, AV files or printed versions of the online weekly activities. These print-offs are occasionally printed in colour but mostly come as monotone.

Why different modules appear in different formats is unclear. Perhaps there is a cost consideration, or it is left to random chance where ‘black on white’ is simply the default; this mix in the provision of media provides an opportunity to explore the impact of colour versus mono.

There are two questions: are there practical reasons to print in full colour and are there aesthetic reasons to provide attractive resources?

Firstly, many diagrams, images or graphs do not easily translate into monotone from full colour; demanding extra effort on the part of learners to glean the necessary information. In fairness I have rarely encountered an entirely incomprehensible graphic which defied understanding while in monotone, although with graphs with coloured lines this has been irksome!

Secondly, are materials which are well designed using colour more engaging and effective? My experience suggests that working through resources with colourful diagrams and images is more memorable, conveys information better and sustains one’s ability to study. Indeed, in modules where there has been a mix of colour and monotone booklets, those in colour have had positive effects on my motivation.

Lastly, despite the excellent efforts of the OU, SiSE learners are often constrained by their environments, reinforcing the need to make the most of every opportunity to ensure they feel a parity of esteem with mainstream learners. Ensuring all students can access well-designed and engaging materials ‘on’ or ‘off-line’, is possibly an easy win. Indeed, it is a disservice to underuse these materials by printing them out in a less than optimal format.

Going forward, this question is perhaps one which demands some academic attention, researching the impact of well-designed and colourful resources on outcomes for learners. I would be interested to hear if other learners feel the same.

A response from the Students Association

Firstly, thank you for your submission to this edition of the Hoot Newsletter. It's so valuable to read about your experience and to have a student perspective on an important topic.

We wanted to be able to respond to your article so did some investigating on your behalf, seeking advice both from the OU's SiSE (Students in Secure Environment) team and the OU's printing and distribution services team. We found out that there are two reasons why we currently have to print this newsletter in black and white.

Firstly, at present the printing and distribution services team cannot print in colour for arge-scale distribution. Anything in colour will likely be from smaller printers elsewhere, where the volumes needed are not as high. This may change in the future but for the moment these are the printers we have available for bulk printing.

The second reason is that a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) directive instructs us to send printed materials to SiSE in black and white only, not colour. Unfortunately, this is of course not something that either the Students Association or The Open University can control.

While the reasons outlined here explain why unfortunately we cannot currently send you this newsletter in colour, we also wanted to look for a solution. So for those who are able to access it, we have uploaded a full-colour electronic version to the OU home page on the Virtual Campus. We appreciate that not everybody will have access but we hope that for those who do, this will be a positive step.


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