Students should expect high-quality teaching, however lessons are delivered – OfS responds to blended learning review – FE News


Universities and colleges must ensure they meet requirements to deliver a high-quality academic experience when using ‘blended’ teaching approaches, the Office for Students (OfS) said today .

The call follows a review of blended learning commissioned by the OfS and led by Professor Susan Orr, pro vice-chancellor for education at De Montfort University. The OfS has called on universities and colleges to review their approaches to blended learning and teaching to ensure courses meet the OfS entry requirements.

As part of their work, examiners appointed by the OfS interviewed students and staff of higher education providers. The review committee found examples of good practice and identified bad practice. The review committee made 23 recommendations.

In response, the OfS has identified blended learning approaches that could pose regulatory challenges with respect to the OfS’s quality and consumer protection requirements.

Key findings from the review panel include:

  • There are examples of blended approaches and high-quality innovations that support student learning.
  • There are pockets of poor online teaching practices and poor online learning resources.
  • The balance between face-to-face and online delivery is not the key determinant of teaching quality.
  • Students reported that they received less timely and lower quality feedback in online learning settings than in face-to-face settings.
  • Students reported feeling isolated while studying online during national shutdowns and they identified a negative impact on their sense of belonging to a university community due to the absence of peer networks and support during periods of isolation.

The review panel’s report sets out recommendations that call on universities and colleges to ensure:

  • Students should have clear information about the approach they can expect to blended learning when considering applying to a course and after enrolling.
  • Unedited courses from previous years should be carefully reviewed before re-use, to ensure that all course information is accurate and course content is up-to-date.
  • Student growth is not driving their approach to blended learning and, on the contrary, the blended approach should be informed by sound pedagogical principles.
  • Learning and teaching approaches should enable academics to identify areas where students struggle with online content or fall behind, so that their learning needs can be met.
  • They engage with students to identify and remove barriers to attendance and engagement.
  • They work with students and student unions to create tools (including surveys, focus groups, reference groups) for students to evaluate their blended study experience.

In response, the OfS has set out the issues that universities and colleges need to consider to ensure they remain compliant with its regulatory requirements, including if:

  • The online lectures are up to date and of good quality.
  • Online feedback is timely and of the same quality that students expect when learning in person.
  • Decisions about the balance between online and in-person learning are supported by sound pedagogical reasoning, not a desire to accommodate increased numbers of students or compensate for limitations in the physical space needed to teach. in-person teaching.
  • Students receive clear and detailed information on how their course will be delivered.
  • Students and staff are supported to develop the skills they need to engage effectively in online learning.

Susan Lapworth, Chief Executive of the OfS, said:

“I thank Professor Orr, his review committee and the OfS student group for their work. This is a comprehensive, timely and important report that outlines the potential benefits and opportunities, as well as some of the challenges, of blended learning. The OfS has always been clear that our regulatory interest is in the quality of higher education courses, however these courses are delivered.

“We recognize the speed with which universities and colleges transformed their course delivery at the onset of the pandemic. Significant changes and innovations have been made by university staff under the most difficult circumstances. It is now important for universities and colleges to reflect on what worked well for students and what did not. Today’s report should inform this thinking and contain lessons for universities and colleges that want to continue to embrace blended approaches.

“We have also provided guidance to help providers understand where the OfS may have concerns about meeting our registration requirements. They now have the ability to change their approach to ensure courses meet our quality requirements and we expect them to do so.

Professor Susan Orr said:

“This review was carried out in the period following the emergency shift to online teaching. We explored how universities and colleges expanded their blended teaching and learning in the months following lockdown.

“It was a privilege to have the opportunity to meet students and staff from each of the providers and hear them discuss their experience of teaching and learning from lockdown and post-lockdown. Their carefully considered ideas formed the basis of this report.

“We found many examples where universities and colleges were applying ’emergency pivot’ learning to support well-considered blended approaches. Students have often told us that they appreciate the flexibility that blended learning can provide.

“We have noted with concern the negative impact on students of long periods of study online during the lockdown. Students said they felt isolated and less able to get feedback from tutors and peers when studying online. It reminded us how important it is to help students rebuild peer networks and communities.

“Some students have reported online class overload and struggled to incorporate this into their on-campus learning activities. It is important that blended courses are well designed so that the online and face-to-face elements work together to support student learning.

“I would like to thank my review committee and the OfS student group for their commitment to this project.”

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