Rombald green texture

Creating a more equitable learning experience through a block & blend pedagogy

22nd November 2021


Author: Ellen Buck, Director of Learning and Teaching at the University of Suffolk

The provision of flexible higher education speaks to multiple agenda, not least those of access and participation and lifelong learning.

As Universities consider their place as educators in the wake of the pandemic we all work to reimagine provision, reflect on the impact of the transition to online learning for our staff (Watermeyer et al., 2021) and what opportunities and challenges it provides as we emerge back onto a hybrid space (Bryson and Andres, 2020, Neuwirth et al., 2020). Empirical studies are surfacing the impact of the pandemic, and self-isolation on our communities (Knight et al., 2021) and the longer lasting impacts on resilience (Versteeg and Kappe, 2021) globally. These last two issues directly impact sense of community, belonging and wellness to access education that is so important for student engagement, retention and success; and arguably need to be considered as inherent to the design of curricular and pedagogic practice.

Alternative models of learning delivery are actively being explored across the sector, including those of fully online, blended learning and now block. Used effectively, these models, or a blend of them take our pedagogies into a space where universities can deliver quality education that is accessible for all. This cannot, of course be done without wider consideration of the digital landscape in which our students, and staff might be living. Strategic conversations about organisational and household infrastructure, literacies (digital and information) and of course resources at macro (society) and micro (university) level must run in parallel.

In my own work, at the University of Suffolk, I am looking at just this. Moving beyond the pandemic, how can our academics, professional support services and students work collaboratively to create flexible, accessible, compassionate learning intentionally, while also repositioning themselves, both professionally and in terms of learning environment and enhancing their own practice (Buck, 2021, Buck and Nunn, 2021)?

Our strategic response has been the development, piloting and evaluation of a block and blend pedagogy. Block and blend has been shown to afford real opportunity to increase engagement and success (Swain, 2016, Mccluskey et al., 2019). The move from a semesterised model has forced the recreation of the active learning community across and between learning environments, and the embedding of a holistic approach to the acquisition of knowledge, skill, confidence and resilience. Such redesign is learner led, refocussing attention on the “why” and “who for” of learning, and as such becomes intentionally inclusive in design.

References

Bryson, J. R. & Andres, L. 2020. Covid-19 and rapid adoption and improvisation of online teaching: curating resources for extensive versus intensive online learning experiences. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 44, 608-623.

Buck, E. 2021. Should we return to pre-pandemic teaching and assessment? [Online]. WONKHE. Available: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/should-we-return-to-pre-pandemic-teaching-and-assessment/ [Accessed 25th June 2021].

Buck, E. & Nunn, A. 2021. Libraries, learning, and porous boundaries: reimagining the library landscape and its inhabitants. In: BAKER, D. & ELLIS, L. (eds.) Libraries, Digital, Information and COVID: practical applications and apporaches to challenge and change. Oxford: Chandos

Knight, H., Carlisle, S., O'connor, M., Briggs, L., Fothergill, L., Al-Oraibi, A., Yildirim, M., Morling, J. R., Corner, J., Ball, J., Denning, C., Vedhara, K. & Blake, H. 2021. Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Self-Isolation on Students and Staff in Higher Education: A Qualitative Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18.

Mccluskey, T., Weldon, J. & Smallridge, A. 2019. Rebuilding the first year experience, one block at a time. Student Success [Online], 10. Available: http://uos.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.uos.idm.oclc.org/docview/2200496853?accountid=17074 [Accessed 21st May 2020].

Neuwirth, L. S., Jović, S. & Mukherji, B. R. 2020. Reimagining higher education during and post-COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education.

Swain, M. 2016. Block teaching and the three A’s: attendance, attainment and attitudes. Research in Practice [Online], 10. Available: https://openjournals.ljmu.ac.uk/index.php/iip/article/view/57 [Accessed 21st May 2020].

Versteeg, M. & Kappe, R. 2021. Resilience and Higher Education Support as Protective Factors for Student Academic Stress and Depression During Covid-19 in the Netherlands. Frontiers in Public Health, 9.

Watermeyer, R., Crick, T., Knight, C. & Goodall, J. 2021. COVID-19 and digital disruption in UK universities: afflictions and affordances of emergency online migration. Higher Education, 81, 623-641.