I really enjoyed attending the SQAA The Future of Learning and Teaching: Planning and Delivery of Digitally Enhanced Blended Learning on 20 September in Glasgow. Here in Scotland, there is now a focus on developing approaches to learning, teaching and enhancement across tertiary education. You can read more about the work on developing a common approach here.
The event was very much focused on the learning and teaching aspects of the wider quality framework work. And, as the title suggests, exploring approaches to the planning and delivery of digitally enhanced blended learning.
Over the past year, SQAA have led a cross sectoral agency project around defining and delivering and inclusive digital/blended learning for across tertiary education. This is the first cross sector enhancement project, as well as the first cross agency one, including CDN, ES-HMIE, and sparqs. Thework includes Scottish universities and colleges.
The team shared the an outline of the research they have been undertaking to discover the current balance of delivery across the sector. They are using the terms f2f, hybrid, and online, but were very clear that they recognise that there are issues around definitions – or perhaps it is contextual use of definitions. Hybrid in particular has quite a range of practice interpretations. The overall aim is to establish what the current balance of delivery is across the sector. A key question the partners are hoping to address is how can institutions re-balance their provision to “get the blend right” for all students.
Using a mixed methods approach of desk research and interviews the team have been exploring 4 lines of enquiry with colleges and universities, namely: what they state they are offering, what learns want, what learners are experiencing and what does the evidence suggest is best for learning. A report with the initial research findings is due for publication soon.
The focus of this year is to establish the effects of different modes and to facilitate national conversations, around the theme of designing and delivering blended learning to improve leaner outcomes in a tertiary landscape. The meeting on Wednesday was the start of those conversations.
The team shared some of their early findings which included:
- Need to focus on getting the blend right
- All provision should be accessible and inclusive
- Digital poverty is recognised and being addressed
- Sense belonging key to learner engagement regardless of modality
- Active and peer learning are essential
- Learners and staff need clear, consistent info about what blended means
- Ongoing promotion of digital literacies with a shift to pedagogical understanding for staff and learners
- There are tensions between institutional estates and learning and teaching
- Institutions need to build in times and have a particular strategy for designing and delivering high quality blended learning
These findings resonated with the research Helen Beetham and I have been doing with Jisc around curriculum and learning design. In our recent “Beyond Blended” report we share our findings particularly around evolving understandings of the changing relationships of time, space and place of learning post pandemic. In terms of tensions between estates and learning and teaching, we have recognised this and have developed a series of strategic lenses one of which is focused on use of space. These lenses provide a series of prompts which we hope will foster richer, curriculum focused discussion between stakeholders.
The day was designed really well in terms of engagement and discussion. A big shout out to Susi Peacock and the SQAA team for that. There were plenty of opportunities for discussions, and I was delighted to be asked to be participate in the lightening presentations to share our Beyond Blended work. Though I was slightly out of breath running up and down the stairs to each group!
In the plenary session the perennial issues of time, finding and developing evidence, senior management support were all raised. Simon Thomson highlighted the need to explore the value of different modalities of learning so we can share them with students. If we want students to turn up and participate in any mode of learning, they need to recognise the value of it. Equally at institutional (and sectoral ) levels we need to ensure we aren’t making knee jerk reactions to perceived issues. Foro example stopping lecture capture to get students to turn it could actually disadvantage students. I just spotted this excellent paper from Emily Nordmann which provides evidence of the benefits of lecture capture.
In terms of senior management support, I have been reflecting on how quickly that has changed again. From research and conversations I had with colleagues here in the UK and in Ireland, it was very clear that during the pandemic senior management were very focused on learning and teaching. So many people told me that “they had a seat a the table” they never had before, that they were listened to and supported. And now . . . well I’m not sure if the seats have totally been removed from all the tables, but the “back to normal” mentality does seem to have meant that senior management focus isn’t as sharply focused on the key issues of delivering flexible, accessible, equitable learning and teaching opportunties.
During and just after the pandemic, I talked quite a bit (well in one keynote at least!) about pandemic amnesia. By that I mean forgetting the experiences of lock down, of thinking that everything will be like before. It can’t be and it isn’t. If we are going to provide flexible, accessible and equitable learning that really engages our students, an meets all the claims of various strategic goals, then we need to be changing our practices and attitudes to planning and designing learning and re thinking our workload models so we can allow educators (and students) to develop, engage with, reflect and share evidence around the different modes of learning we are using. That needs serious senior management engagement. But it might also take a little bit of bottom up subversion of “normal” practice too.
The SQAA work is a such an important part of developing and sharing evidence and practice and I’m looking foward to seeing their report and being part of the discussions moving forward.