“Regulatory Concerns” in Blended Learning Report – Times Higher Education | Team Cansler

The “balance of in-person, online, and blended delivery is not key [determinant] of instructional quality,” according to a review of blended learning, which led the Office for Students to say it had identified approaches with a potential “regulatory problem.”

The Blended Learning Review, commissioned by the Office for Students following the pandemic’s turn to online teaching and led by Susan Orr, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at De Montfort University, released its report Oct. 19 and said she’s found examples of “high-quality” blended learning approaches, as well as “bags” of low-quality online offerings.

OfS said of the review’s recommendations: “In response, OfS has identified approaches to blended learning that may raise regulatory concerns related to OfS’s quality and consumer protection requirements.”

Ministers have urged the OfS to respond to concerns about the inappropriate use of online teaching.

The review focused on blended learning approaches at six UK higher education providers. A review panel conducted desk research, collected survey data, and conducted interviews with staff and students at each provider.

“All providers were able to explain their blended learning approach and embed it in their educational strategy, but the rationale for blended learning approaches at the course level was not clear to students,” the review reads.

It adds: “The panel’s desk research showed that prospective students have not been given clear enough information about the balance of in-person, online and blended study that a student can expect and the digital skills and knowledge they need to successfully engage in their studies. The student interviews confirmed this finding.”

And while students “appreciated the flexibility of asynchronous online lectures, which gave them the opportunity to review and review material at their own pace, the panel heard that many of the students surveyed valued on-campus lectures that allowed peer Learning supported and gave the students the separation between living and learning environment, supported their learning motivation and helped them to engage in demanding study content.

Students “also reported that, in many cases, they received less timely and lower-quality feedback about learning in online learning contexts,” the review says.

“The panel identified examples of high-quality blended approaches and innovations that supported student learning, but areas of poor online teaching practice and online learning resources were pointed out by students,” it continues. “The judging panel felt that the balance between in-person, online, and blended delivery is not key [determinant] the quality of teaching.”

The review’s recommendations include that providers “should ensure that student enrollment growth is not driving the blended learning approach and that the blended approach should instead be based on sound pedagogical principles” and that they “should ensure that applicants have clear Internet information about the blended learning approach in the courses you are applying for”.

Providers should also “ensure that unedited lectures from previous years are carefully checked before they are used again, incorrect course information is identified and shortened and the up-to-dateness of the teaching content is ensured”.

OfS Chief Executive Susan Lapworth said: “We recognize the speed at which universities and colleges transitioned the way their courses were delivered at the start of the pandemic. Significant changes and innovations have been achieved by university staff under the most difficult of circumstances. It is now important for universities and colleges to think about what has worked well for students and what has not. Today’s report seeks to reinforce those considerations and provide lessons for universities and colleges that wish to continue pursuing blended approaches.

“We have also provided guidance to help vendors understand where the OfS may have concerns about compliance with our registration terms. They now have the opportunity to change their approach to ensure courses meet our quality requirements and we expect them to do so.”

Andrea Jenkyns, the Skills Minister, said: “Students should receive face-to-face teaching at pre-pandemic levels as this offers them the best value for money and the most enriching experience.

“While virtual learning is a fantastic innovation, it must never detract from a student’s quality learning experience and, as outlined in this report, should never result in a lack of face-to-face feedback or a lack of a poor standard of online instruction.

“Students deserve much better, so we asked the Office for Students to put ‘Boots on the Ground’ and investigate universities where there are concerns about in-person teaching.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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