By Laura Ellery
2020 has been a rollercoaster so far for all of us. Traditional higher education teaching and learning strategies have been challenged and shaped as we have endured a global health pandemic, social isolation and now an economic crisis across the world. How are we going to cope as we move forward into the next academic year?
Coventry University appear to be on the crest of the wave, with many changes to institutional practice planned before we were all grasping the basics of online learning and video calls. Before we had heard of Covid-19, Coventry University had a plan for curriculum 2025. Covering strategic pillars such as creating inclusive curriculums, generating a sense of belonging, encouraging strong mental health and wellbeing, whilst delivering a flexible and personalised education. Assessment is planned to be authentic and curriculums can be developed with and by the learners who will work towards success. The key teaching and learning design principles for all academic staff at CU state an active and applied curriculum, with social and inclusive learning. These key drivers for the future of higher education at CU are ideal for a blended learning approach to higher education – and ideal for coping in a global health pandemic.
So we were already going to be utilising a different approach to teaching and learning. Blended learning is not a new concept. Garrison et al (2004), identified that using a blended learning approach generates community of inquiry, establishing cognitive and social learning communities. The teaching role, changes from traditional formats, with the lecturer adopting a facilitator role, managing the environment and learning topics.
However, asking students to change their learning strategies can be a challenge (Roe et al, 2019). What really is blended learning and how can students excel? It is a lot to ask students to change their learning techniques without much guidance and chance for self-reflection. Blended learning by definition is the combination of face to face teaching and online education, utilising an active approach and peer learning (Chipchase 2013). This is very different from teaching in schools and colleges.
What can educators do to ensure success?
Above all else, the directives from curriculum 2025 must be met. The new software will be ideal for ensuring academics meet the directives and social learning software such as AULA will make this simple and accessible. Module leaders can instil creativity into their learning resources, and facilitate a social learning environment that promotes flexibility and autonomous learning (Alexander et al, 2019). Educators need to think differently and carefully about planning useful and supportive seminars that relate overtly to the learning objectives and previous tasks set online – particularly if adopting a pure ‘flipped’ classroom approach.
A note about ‘flipped classroom’:
In earlier studies, a flipped classroom simply meant that learners watched a video before attending a seminar, relating to the footage. However, there is a risk of students assuming that is all they need to do to succeed. In the array of online learning resources available to us today, there are plenty of opportunities to utilise more interactive online techniques such as ‘flipping’ a classroom. The concept of preparing for a lecture in advance, rather than reading up after face to face delivery goes beyond traditional learning techniques again for students. This means that students must have authentic work to complete which is relevant to the face to face teaching. This will encourage individual inquiry and generate a collaborative effort, promoting high order thinking and self – regulated learning (Roe 2019). Also achieved through blended learning; high order thinking and critical evaluation will be achieved with these strategies. It may be worth having a copy of Bloom’s taxonomy pinned to your wall to remind you of the levels of learning and which parts should fall into the online content and which should be in discussed in the face to face teaching opportunity.
A study by Alexander et al (2019), looked at the use of a blended learning approach with a group of Physiotherapy students. Students were generally satisfied with a range of interactive resources such as videos, quizzes, and highlighted that the filtered materials for their use was also of benefit. However – it is worth noting that they felt that they were far more useful towards the time of assessment and exams. The benefits are also supported by Aguilar-Rodriguez et al (2019) who also found an improvement in student attitude when using blended learning approaches.
So, what about students? How do learners adapt to this new shift in the teacher/learner relationship?
Firstly, is important to ensure that each student understands that they have a responsibility for the success of their learning journey. If all the outcomes are to be achieved – then participation and responsibility are key to success. They must engage with all the activities in a timely manner (Roe et al, 2019), contribute to the development of the modules and offer constructive feedback. Students must work hard to remain motivated and must learn to plan and manage their workload. All students must contribute to the ‘feed’, making them contributors, facilitators, and assessors. Again, this is very different to previous models of learning. Effectively, students require a sense of ownership. They must own their learning, and understand that they will get out what they put in. Learners will be apart but together – contributing to a learning community (Garrison et al, 2004). And if they need some motivation – it can been seen – but not entirely proved that a blended learning approach can improve grades and therefore future opportunities (Hew, 2018). A great incentive to embrace and ride the wave of change.
A ‘new normal’ has been quoted by politicians, health leaders and key speakers over the last few months, and although it has been more accelerated than planned – students must understand that we were already working towards innovative teaching and learning models and that student achievement and success are always our aims.
Laura Ellery, PgCert HE, FHEA, MCSP
Lecturer in Physiotherapy, Coventry University