Experts and parliamentarians have welcomed a new report into blended learning by a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) expert, in an event at the House of Lords.
Professor Susan Orr, DMU’s Pro Vice Chancellor Education, was asked by the Office for Students (OfS) to head up a review into how universities were using combinations of online and in-person learning.
The report was published with a number of recommendations, which were accompanied by considerations by OfS to help ensure the quality of online and face-to-face components in a degree.
To mark its release, cross-party think tank Policy Connect organised a debate at the House of Lords, to consider the report and how its findings could help shape the future of higher education.
Speakers at the event included Jean Arnold, director of quality, Office for Students; Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor of University of Derby; former universities minister David Willetts; and Lord Norton, co-chair of the Higher Education Commission.
Professor Orr said it has been good to hear feedback on her review from a wide range of people.
“It was very satisfying to hear a positive response for the review,” she said. “We had a very intelligent debate about the findings and how we begin to push things forward as a sector.”
For the review, Professor Orr and her team interviewed students and staff at higher education providers as part of their work. The review panel found examples of good practice as well as identifying poor practice. The review panel made 23 recommendations, urging universities to be clear about the approach students can expect to blended learning when they apply.
Professor Orr said that while the pandemic had accelerated the use of blended learning techniques in higher education, online elements had been a fixture of university learning for years.
She said: “Almost every student on campus has had a mobile phone for years now, and there are numerous ways universities use this to enhance learning experiences. Virtual learning environments were in use far before the pandemic so there really is no such thing as a strictly on-campus experience.
“The problem is that there is a common misperception that value for money in higher education equates with bricks and mortar, that learners have to be in a physical space for education to be of worth.
“But in carrying out the review what was most clear was that the delivery method was not in any way linked to quality. There was just as much innovative, creative teaching happening online as there was in person.
“Equally, while we did find instances of poorer quality remote teaching, we also found instances of in-person teaching which fell below expectation.”
“Online learning has already added a lot of benefits for students – not least when it comes to accessibility and widening participation - and it was clear from this debate that there is real excitement at how this can be developed into the future.
“But what was equally clear was that the guiding principles, no matter what approach is taken, must always be a focus on well-designed inclusive curriculum and pedagogy.”
Posted on Tuesday 13th December 2022