As the nights draw in and the newspapers give us little to be cheerful about, it can be particularly hard to stay optimistic at this time. The changes made over the spring and summer to embed blended learning were conceived through hard work and agility. As we continue into a busy TB1 it can be easy to focus on the ongoing challenges of teaching in a time of covid, but there’s also a case for stopping to reflect on all that has been achieved in the transition to blended learning, and considering some of the benefits.
It is with this in mind that we have compiled observations from across the University which demonstrate some of the positive impact witnessed from the adoption of blended learning. We hope these reflections will provide (at least) 8 reasons to be cheerful and enable you to reflect on your own personal, School or Faculty blended learning success stories from the past few months:
- The Health Sciences Faculty have received positive feedback from students following the summer online assessment period. PGT students have commented that they liked and even enjoyed the take-home exam format and that this change in format enabled them to better demonstrate their knowledge compared to traditional exam conditions.
- On-campus practicals taking place within the School of Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Physics have got off to a great start this term! Students are happy to be there and are clearly enjoying the opportunity to engage with their peers. Students are complying with social distancing rules and feel privileged to be provided with the opportunity to take part in face to face practical sessions whilst restrictions take place elsewhere. As a result, students are more engaged with experiments and are enjoying these interactive learning opportunities.
- Lecturers in History are finding great success with using OneNote notebooks to facilitate collaborative discussions and Word-based worksheets to complement live teaching sessions. Whether completed individually or as a group, students like the fact that these asynchronous activities result in a permanent record of the work they have undertaken, provide a central point for links to online resources such as videos or Padlet activities and give students space to capture their own thoughts and key outcomes from their learning.
- Liberal Arts lecturers are experimenting with a range of simple approaches to support student engagement in mid-scale online synchronous sessions. Examples include the Ready-Set-Go approach to using the Collaborate group chat: students are asked to type out a brief response to a discussion question independently before pressing enter at the same time, producing a flood of messages that the lecturing team then review with the students. This simple format produces richer, more reflective responses and avoids discussion being taken down the path of the fastest responder.
- In the Science Faculty, the summer online assessment period saw far fewer students opt to defer their exams than in previous years, perhaps as a result of students feeling an increased sense of confidence in achieving success with the online exam format.
- Although the transition to online PhD vivas has involved some additional work for staff, and has meant all parties having to adapt to the constraints involved, vivas have mostly been running very smoothly online. The new format has in fact provided opportunities for students to benefit from a much wider pool of external examiners, including many more examiners from overseas. This has enhanced both the quality of the experience for students (and staff), and international recognition of their work.
- Some staff within the School of Chemistry have witnessed benefits from moving all delivery of lectures to asynchronous pre-recorded content. Live online sessions then take the form of ‘radio shows’ where staff engage with student questions and provide responses in real time. Students can tune-in to ask questions or simply listen in. This format has received initial positive feedback from students and is working well for staff as a way of engaging with students and fielding/responding to commonly asked questions.
- In the Engineering Faculty staff have demonstrated great innovation by utilising drone footage to create virtual field trips to replace cancelled in-person trips. These have been working so well that the Faculty have decided to continue to use them, even after social-distancing rules are relaxed, in order to complement real-world experiences due to the different perspective drone’s offers (quite literally) that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
If you would like to find out further details about any of these individual reasons to be cheerful, please contact the BILT Team who will put you in touch with the relevant contacts.
Bristol Institute for Learning and Teaching