Universities and colleges should ensure they meet the requirements to provide a quality academic experience when using “blended” teaching approaches, the Office for Students (OfS) said today.
The call follows a Blended Learning Review commissioned by OfS and led by Professor Susan Orr, Pro Vice Chancellor Education at De Montfort University. OfS has urged universities and colleges to review their approaches to blended learning and teaching to ensure courses comply with OfS registration requirements.
Experts appointed by the OfS surveyed students and employees of higher education providers as part of their work. The review panel found examples of good practice and identified bad practice. The expert panel made 23 recommendations.
In response, OfS has identified approaches to blended learning that may raise regulatory concerns related to OfS quality and consumer protection requirements.
Key findings from the review panel include:
- There are examples of quality blended approaches and innovations that support student learning.
- There are areas with poor online teaching practices and poor online learning resources.
- The balance between face-to-face and online offerings is not the decisive factor for the quality of teaching.
- Students reported receiving less timely and lower-quality feedback in online learning environments than in face-to-face settings.
- Students reported feeling isolated while studying online during the national lockdown, and they found that there was a negative impact on their sense of belonging to an academic community due to the lack of peer networks and support during times of isolation.
The review panel’s report includes recommendations urging universities and colleges to ensure:
- Students need to have clear information about the approach to expect in blended learning when considering applying for a course and after enrolling.
- Unedited lectures from previous years should be carefully reviewed before reuse to ensure all course information is correct and course content is up to date.
- Student growth does not drive their approach to blended learning, and instead the blended approach should be based on sound pedagogical principles.
- Approaches to learning and teaching should allow academics to identify where students are struggling or falling behind with online content so that their learning needs can be addressed.
- You will work with students to identify and remove barriers to participation and engagement.
- They work with students and student associations to develop tools (including surveys, focus groups, reference groups) for students to assess their blended study experience.
In response, the OfS has set out questions that universities and colleges should consider to ensure they continue to comply with regulatory requirements, including whether:
- Online lectures are up-to-date and of good quality.
- Online feedback is timely and of the same high quality that students would expect from in-person learning.
- Decisions about the balance between online and face-to-face instruction are underpinned by sound pedagogical arguments, not a desire to accommodate increased student numbers or to compensate for limitations in the physical space required for face-to-face instruction.
- Students receive clear and detailed information on how their course will be conducted.
- Students and staff are supported to develop the skills they need to engage effectively in online learning.
Susan Lapworth, Executive Director of the OfS said:
“I thank Professor Orr, her judging panel and the OfS student body for their work. This is an in-depth, timely and important report that highlights the potential benefits and opportunities as well as some of the challenges of blended learning. The OfS has always made it clear that our regulatory interest focuses on the quality of higher education courses, however those courses are delivered.
“We recognize the speed at which universities and colleges transitioned how 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.’
Professor Susan Orr said:
“This review was carried out in the period after the emergency switch to online teaching. We examined how universities and colleges have developed their combined teaching and learning in the months after the lockdown.
“It has been a privilege to have the opportunity to meet with students and staff at each of the providers and hear them discuss their post-lockdown and post-lockdown teaching and learning experiences. Their carefully considered insights have laid the foundation for this report.
“We have found many examples where universities and colleges have applied the insights from the ’emergency pivot’ to support thoughtful blending approaches. Students have often told us that they appreciate the flexibility that blended learning can offer.
“We have noted with concern the negative impact of prolonged online study during lockdown on students. Students reported feeling isolated and less able to receive feedback from tutors and fellow students while learning online. This reminded us of the importance of helping students rebuild peer networks and communities.
“Some students reported online lecture overload and found it difficult to fit this into their on-campus learning activities. It is important that blended courses are well designed so that the online and face-to-face elements work together to support student learning.
‘I would like to thank my review panel and the OfS student body for their commitment to this project.’
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