Blended learning at its best

HE leaders explore the latest innovations in pedagogic methods, at the brand new Blended Learning Forum. Imogen Smith reports

Held at the Kensington Close Hotel, London, on the 26-27 October, the inaugural Blended Learning Forum brought together Heads of TEL, teaching and learning, and e-learning from some of the UK’s leading universities to explore the latest innovations in pedagogic methods, and how technology should aid this. 

The Forum’s speaker faculty represented the UK’s most prestigious universities, including Imperial College London, King’s College, Durham, York and Bristol. 

Fiona Harvey, Education Development Manager at the University Southampton chaired the discussions over the two days. She also presented on the importance of developing digital literacies.

Integration is key 

The integration of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) emerged as one of the Forum’s key messages. Gavin Brown, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, University of Liverpool discussed the importance of integrating TEL within all themes of a university’s development strategy. “Without integration, there is a danger that TEL can be regarded as a bolt-on by staff. It’s important to embed TEL into course design and objectives and avoid the concept of TEL outliving its usefulness.” 

Brown went on to explain how we can create a culture of innovation, and that blended provision needs to be informed by online experience. He used the example of Liverpool’s campus-based students and their online students (Liverpool Online is the largest provider of online post-grad education) and the importance of regarding both groups as one audience – or, “one digital community through hybrid delivery”.

The notion of what constitutes learning technologies has widened considerably from online repositories of learning materials around 20 years ago, to interactive, immersive and collaborative environments for learning today

But how do we embed TEL into course design? Promoting staff engagement with TEL is clearly key. It’s vital to help staff see tech as an enabler of learning and a tool to help students engage. Brown continued: “Tech provides solutions for academics to discuss progressive level thinking. We need to develop a shared language with academics about tech.

“Barriers to TEL integration are almost always down to the conflicting priorities and time restraints that staff face, as well as a lack of confidence. Tech provides solutions for academics to discuss progressive level thinking. We need to develop a shared language with academics about tech.

“Some IT projects haven’t worked. Staff need require time to recover after failed projects. We need to empower staff for them to embrace change.”

Practical applications

It was clear that the aim of the Forum was not only to address the theory of blended learning, but also, perhaps more importantly, to explore its practical application. One of the key take-aways was learning to be agile and reflective – that it’s OK not to try and not succeed.

Student engagement was another key focus. Fiona Harvey discussed ways of enhancing the student experience through the development of digital literacy skills. “E-books for fieldwork, blogging for assessment and interactive video for revision, are just some of the digital tools on offer, helping students develop an effective and consistent online presence,” she said.

Facing the HE challenges

What are the challenges universities face in achieving student engagement through technology? This was one of the key questions asked at the event. Liz Falconer, Director of the Education Innovation Centre at UWE reflected on the changing landscape of blended learning. “The notion of what constitutes learning technologies has widened considerably from online repositories of learning materials around 20 years ago, to interactive, immersive and collaborative environments for learning today.”

The two-day event also highlighted that the rate of technological change continues to increase. A key talking point was the introduction and rapid uptake of devices like 3D headsets and wearable technologies. Attendees agreed that this kind of edtech can enable a richer and more immersive learning experience for students, but that these also pose challenges to colleges and universities in developing their pedagogical approaches and techniques.

Event Chair Fiona Harvey concluded: “The event had a fantastic range of speakers and there was good representation from Russell Group universities, all of whom were being very innovative around their contributions to blended and online learning. I was pleased to meet up with so many people from around the sector and our informal chats were as useful as the structured sessions.” 

FREE LIVE WEBINAR

CURBING THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 IN HIGHER EDUCATION

we have limited spaces available for this webinar