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Course Design Blueprint

 

Block and Blend


 


Block and Blend Essentials

Here we set out the characteristic features of the University’s Block and Blend pedagogy and briefly set out what each means for those seeking to implement the pedagogy on their course. The Block and Blend pedagogy enables students to focus on individual or complementary aspects of the curriculum at the same, usually as single modules. Delivery is through a blend; developed through strategic use of the online learning environment. Students access instructionally designed learning resource rich materials and activities which scaffold learning across learning environments and affords students the flexibility to take control of their learning. 

 
The Student Learning Experience 
  • Responsibility for learning progress is shared between students and tutors, with space provided for constructive and critically supportive conversations and debates. 

  • The content and activities remain in the students’ consciousness and focus – once the module has started, the last thing studied is always something in this module.  There should be less need to ‘recap last week’s work’. 

  • All learning activities, whether situated on campus, online, on placement or in the students own time and space, are clearly linked together and mutually supportive of each other. 

  • Learning activities are designed to ensure students’ engage with active learning, and to foster collaborative and supportive learning relationships.   

  • Student assessment is integral to learning, engendering a formative philosophy, and takes many distinct forms, leading to the students’ development and achievement of multiple skill-sets.  

  • The development of skills and knowledge is progressive, in line with the University's Learning Teaching and Assessment Strategy.

  •  Students will inhabit physical and digital learning spaces, often at the same time.   

  • Students on a block will focus solely on one module – tutors do not have to make space for other learning, and the students will be able to devote all their learning attention to the learning activities planned.  

  • While there is a degree of ordering to those activities students are guided towards, there is also flexibility that allows students to make  effective use of the learning spaces and to  tailor their engagement in line with their own situation, needs, progress, passions and achievement. 

  • On completion of each block, students have confidence that they have completed the associated learning. 

Framing concepts 

On this page we explore some terminology that is fundamental to understanding how the Block and Blend pedagogy will be implemented. 


The learning that students engage with to achieve the outcomes associated with any module or course will comprise of those activities that that tutors set out for students to do, and independent learning in which they determine how they spend their time (often in response guidance from tutors as to what may be helpful). We use the term ‘Tutor structured learning’ to encompass all of the former, including learning activities that take place on campus, in placement, at home or online, with tutors present (virtually or in person) or not, with students working in groups or individually.

Our intention is to avoid the implicit devaluing of any activities that are not deemed ‘contact’ time. While there is clearly a high value to students of having time interacting with tutors, other learning activities will have similar, and in some cases, even higher value to students in progressing and completing their learning.
All interactions that students have with their tutors will be either synchronous, with both parties consciously engaging with the interaction at the same point in time, or asynchronous, with the timing of contributions spaced over time.

Fundamental to the Block and Blend pedagogy is our recognition of the high value that asynchronous interactions can have for students’ learning. Most asynchronous learning activities can be accessed by students as fits with their own circumstances and opportunities: unlike timetabled learning on campus, asynchronous activities can be postponed to when a student has the capacity to invest the appropriate attention and headspace to the work. For some students, the immediacy of synchronous sessions can create barriers to their effective engagement with the opportunities for interaction with tutors afforded to them. Many asynchronous tutor facilitated activities, such as those enabled through discussion boards or online tutorials, make such interactions far more accessible for students who find synchronous interaction daunting or too immediate to allow them to gain from it effectively. The provision of on opportunity to gain individual feedback on a short piece of writing from a tutor, an asynchronous learning activity, will in many instances be more valuable for a student than an hour spent listening to the tutor responding to other students’ questions.
The integration of asynchronous learning opportunities can be an effective tool in making our learning more inclusive, allowing students with specific needs to access the curriculum at their own pace, allowing students to identify with subject matter, and thus improving engagement and learning. A recent discussion at the University’s Learning, Teaching and Assessment Committee explored how assessment can be made more inclusive. The discussions explored how providing students with options in how they respond to an assessment component (in terms of subject matter or case studies, and the format of their submissions), and how the need for concessions in respect to particular learning needs might be mitigated through effective assessment design. The use of learning and assessment activities which enable all students to engage effectively is a key aim for the University, and in the coming months we will be developing further guidance on how course teams should enhance their provision to better meet this aim.
Students’ learning involves many different processes through which they extend their existing knowledge and understanding, gain experience in employing this in problem solving and evaluative situations, and test and deepen it through social and professional dialogue and practice. All planned learning programmes need to integrate numerous activities that prompt each of these types of learning process, engaging students in various cognitive (and physical for some courses) challenges, and enabling them to perceive their success or progress clearly and constructively.
Traditionally, lectures have formed the main means by which subject content is conveyed to students. This model has been challenged through the flipped learning model where students are expected to review content (through online provision, reading, and other learning activities) in advance of time spent synchronously with tutors. This allows the students to make effective use of tutor’s time in gaining insight, exploring questions and debates, and receiving feedback on their own learning. This model of delivery is already being used on a number of University of Suffolk courses.
The University’s strategies prioritise ensuring students are equipped and ready to take up employment and career progression opportunities. Consequently, the regular use of authentic learning activities, those where students explore, interact with, and inhabit real contexts and situations as an arena for applying and challenging their learning, should be a significant feature of all our courses. Such opportunities also support students in realising the relevance of their learning, and enable them to develop and apply graduate attributes and skills.
Providing many opportunities for students to gain genuine confidence in their progress and feedback to inform their future learning activity, particularly at level four, is a key element of the University’s learning, teaching and assessment strategy. It is expected that all modules’ learning and teaching will integrate regular formative opportunities throughout their delivery plans. Teams are encouraged, where reasonable, to structure such opportunities so that students are able to build on them in producing their summative assessment submissions.
Learning in Block and Blend is expected to be interactive, with staff and students forming learning communities within which each is expected to contribute to each other’s learning and development. This will take time to nurture within any cohort of students and the course team will need to consciously plan learning activities to enculturate this.
Course and Module teams are expected to plan the tutor structured learning that is set for their students with care and consideration. Further guidance on this will be emerging in the coming months based on the Block and Blend pilot work, and will be integrated into the course blueprint.

Storyboards are a valuable tool for planning learning activities.  An example story board is provided to illustrate how these can encapsulate a module’s planned learning, and further guidance and support on the use of storyboards.

 

Key Principles and Priorities

In designing a module for Block and Blend, there are a number of key areas  that should be carefully considered as set out below.


Varying learning activities 

It is important that any module’s learning activity is varied between different types of activities to enliven the experience and prevent those who find a particular type of activity uninspiring from disengaging.  Teams are encouraged to interweave flipped learning, active learning activities, opportunities for authentic learning, and formative tasks throughout their block learning plans, providing structure and prompting learning activity throughout each week. 

It is also preferable to include a variety of types of activity that could be done in parallel or in different orders depending on the student’s contexts, opportunities to engage, and preferences.  This makes the learning more accessible for students according to their circumstances.  This approach  also seeks to avoid students coming across an activity which acts as a barrier to their engagement and thus stops all learning until it is surmounted.  Having alternative activities that can be engaged with can allow students to gain understanding or confidence, or simply enable a change of mood or mindset, such that the problematic activity can be approached more positively or effectively. 


Overall learning aims and approaches 

Concentrating a module’s learning into a focussed period will have a large impact on the look and feel of the learning.   

For some courses, the approaches adopted previously will not easily work in block delivery—students may not have sufficient time to reflect on and digest material, or to develop, practice and refine skills or critical abilities.  In recognition of this, there may be a need to  

  • review outcomes for early modules in a year to ensure only those achievable will be assessed (possibly recognising partial rather than full achievement at that stage of the course) 

  • reposition learning outcomes across a year’s modules. 

  • postpone the assessment of outcomes to later modules in the year once they have been more expansively developed. 


Blended learning 

Brightspace should be integral to all learning activities, including those taking place on campus, in seminars and tutorials. Learning should be set out with explicit links between activities showing how they all complement each other, whether on campus, in the workplace, online, or contributing to assessment.  The storyboard illustrates how this might look within a module, although there are a multitude of ways in which learning activities might be configured to best meet the needs of the students and the course content. 

Guidance on use of Brightspace in and across learning environments is available in the Digipath series as well as on https://libguides.uos.ac.uk/celt/brightspace/tutorials 

 

 

 

 

Planning Assessment for Learning 

When planning assessment in the block and blend approach, it is important that each assessment component plays a clear and articulated role in the students’ learning experience, and that none form a distraction from planned learning activities and thus divert students’ attention. 


Factors impacting assessment strategy design for Block scheduling 

Within a focussed period of learning (four weeks in the university’s standard block model) we should ensure that everything that a student is guided to do within this period will contribute to the module’s learning in some way. To have an assessment piece in the middle of a module that both distracts or draws students from other learning activity and fails to form an integral part of their learning, can be a significant issue.  On the next page we consider some examples of what might be considered distracting and integrative assessment components. 

It is well known that many students will plan and manage their engagement with learning activities on the basis on their understanding of how each contributes to their achievement as indicated by the marks awarded for summative assessment.  Thus, if such a student does not see a value of an activity in these terms, they are less likely to focus their attention on it.  Conversely, where summative assessment forms, or is integrated into, learning activity the level of student engagement is likely to be higher. 

Our assessment regulations require students to achieve at pass or near pass level on every assessment component set.  Consequently, having many assessment components provides creates numerous barriers to student achievement or progression.  This can be mitigated by making assessments non-core so allowing in-module compensation.  Other approaches are outlined below. 

  • Ensure all mid-module assessments are integrated into the learning experience and will not distract from students’ engagement with planned learning activity. 

  • Plan assessment to be clearly linked to the learning that students need to engage with.  Ensure that preparation for and completion of assessment tasks contributes to the students learning such that they can see how it has played a part in their personal progress. 

  • Embed work in learning activities that will result in the students producing artifacts or pieces of writing, some of which are permitted to form part of final assessment pieces (for example, within a portfolio or as sections or case studies in a larger written piece).  Students can be encouraged to experiment or take risks within the smaller pieces or artifacts if they know that a limited number of their pieces will be required. 

Mid-module summative assessment components can distract students from their learning activities, a significant issue when learning is focussed within a short block delivery schedule.  Here we explore what we might mean by ‘distracting’ and ‘integrated’ summative assessment tasks.  

 

Distracting Assessment

  • Polished work : Expecting a student to complete a full essay will involve students taking time to polish their presentation and ensure well-formed academic writing and referencing.  This significant task will take priority over any learning activities set out for the week in which the essay is due.  Similarly, full reports presentations and other complete pieces will require students to pay attention to polishing their submission and away from other learning.

  • Mid-module Exam or TCA: Setting an exam or TCA within a module will encourage students to prioritise their efforts on preparing for this component.  Unless the preparation for the component is   clearly integral to the planned learning, students will be distracted and valuable learning time will be lost. 

 

Integrated Assessment

  • Short answer response papers: Learning outcomes associated with higher order thinking can often be assessed by asking students to respond concisely (possibly through a TCA) to a number of problems, scenarios or questions.  Practice questions can be provided, with opportunities for discussion and peer feedback, as constructive learning activity in advance. Summative submissions can be easy to mark quickly thus allowing speedy production of feedback for students. 

  • Shared learning: Particularly for higher levels, allocate (through negotiation if possible) specific topics to each student and require them to produce an annotated bibliography and overall summary.  Allocating a short period of time for this, and making the focus the contents rather than the style, would encourage a focus on the learning activity.  This work would be allocated a low but meaningful weighting, and students would build upon this to create their final module assessment. 

  • Patchwork text:Through the module students are asked to produce and submit a series of unpolished short written pieces.  These are shared for mutual learning, and students are asked to construct their module assessment through the combination of these pieces (at which stage the students can respond to any feedback received, reflect further learning gained since initial writing, and create a polished piece for submission) 

While four weeks delivery time alongside a week for assessment sounds fairly inflexible, there are a great many ways in which the learning for a module could be scheduled, each with particular benefits for students and their learning.  Using the tabs below we illustrate some possibilities to inspire your ideas and imaginations. 

 

Examples

 

Standard Four Plus One

                                                     

            

 

            

Standard four week schedule with each week focussing on an area of content and a single assessment piece due in at the end of the block that covers all learning outcomes 

            

 

Single days

 

Delivery focussed on single day of intense contact each week. After an introductory two days (using on-line activities and pre-reading) the first session (1) feeds off the introductory content, and provides a base for the first phase of learning materials. Sessions (2) and (3) provides a review of the previous week of learning (possibly including student presentations, posters, … and even a TCA) and then introduces and sets up the next phase. Session (4) draws the course together and provides support for students to complete their assessment work. The contact day in the fifth week could provide tutorial support or could be used for summative presentations, TCAs, assessed practicals, exhibitions with peer reviews, …

 

Weekly TCAs

 

Students are expected to engage with tutor structured learning in three day blocks each week with a time constrained assessment held on the Friday of each week. The structured learning days would be a blend of contact, non-contact guided, independent and practical sessions as appropriate to the subject area. As indicated, the fifth week could alternatively be dedicated to bringing the separate parts together and revision rather than the introduction of new material, and thus the final TCA would assess all the module’s learning outcomes. Some or all of the earlier TCAs could be formative, but to encourage engagement probably better as either pass/fail components or non-core summative assessments of a relatively small weighting (10% each) or gradually increasing weightings (5%, 10%, 15%, 20%).

 

Standard Plus Learning Hub

 

Standard four week schedule with each week focussing on an area of content and a single assessment piece due in at the end of the block that covers all learning outcomes. However, within each week a day is set aside for learning hub activity that supports the block’s learning and/or assessment activity. The hub days could be of a number of formats, and need not have the same form every week.

 

Four Day Block

 

Contact delivery provided in a four day block in the second week, supported by two days of supports and review in the fourth week. Students are expected to engage with on-line activities and reading in preparation for the contact sessions in week 2, and with further guided and independent study activity through weeks three and four leading into their completion of their assessment in week five.

 

Problem Based Learning Block

 

Where a block is modelled around the students being set to explore a significant project, problem or case study scenario as the driver for their learning (as occurs within one model of problem based learning), a block could be scheduled such that contact and peer learning is distributed across the module. One day a week (Tuesday in the diagram) is an on-campus day with negotiated tutor led and student led sessions along with opportunities for group learning and discussion of progress. The rest of each week is set aside for independent and group activity, with OLE support for peer activity throughout. The contact day in the fifth week can be used for presentations or similar summary activities (probably group based, possibly summative assessed) with the final three days set aside for students to curate their final submission employing materials generated through their engagement with the block’s activities, possibly supported by a brief reflective commentary.

 

 

Example Block Learning Storyboard

  • The central spine of delivery is intended to be the discussion board with links to most learning activities – forms the hub of a learning community of peers working with their tutor collaboratively 

  • Structured content provided online would include a variety of activities (in terms of format, type and size/duration) to read, review, watch, interact with, participate in, or create/contribute to. 

  • Multiple options available at any point until others are exhausted 

  • Multiple directions of travel through activities as is suited to each student’s circumstances 


Learning Hubs

Where supportive of curriculum delivery, learning hubs can be included in course design:
 
  • Focus on longer term learning, usually associated with skill and competency development
  • Delivered alongside a number of blocks
    • Portions of blocks’ associated modules’ learning time allocated to the hub
    • Delivered through, for example, fortnightly sessions through the year/a semester/…
  • Provide skill development to enable block learning
    • Can enable scheduling of specialist resourcing (labs, workshops)
    • Blocks’ assessment’s incorporate the learning hub’s skills.

Augmenting block learning delivery through a learning hub
 

 


Augmenting block delivery through a learning hub II

 


Further Support 

For further guidance and advice you are invited to: 

  • Explore the Digipath provision on Brightspace to explore how our OLE can be effectively employed to support students’ learning and assessment.  Digipath 1 and Digipath 2 are already available, further instalments are in preparation and are expected to be published in the next few weeks.  You can access more Brightspace support material in this guide.

  • Contact the Educational Developer, Dr Andrew Revitt for advice and support in exploring learning, teaching and assessment strategies. 

  • Contact Aaron Burrell for advice and guidance on how to best use our online learning environment to enable blended learning approaches and to encourage the formation of learning communities. 

  • Consider booking a development session for your team to enable you to explore how the Block and Blend pedagogy can be effectively implemented for your courses, please contact either Andrew or Aaron to organise.