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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.