The OfS have published their Blended Learning Review; comprising both the independent panel report, as well as the OfS response on things they think have regulatory implications. The panel report is very good, and is the first that I have seen that really tries to look at the landscape post COVID (while acknowledging that responses are still very much COVD influenced). So many reports and research on the pandemic to date have focussed on what students “liked” and “didn’t like” in COVID (with what seems to be a common finding that 66% of students “like” something that “33% “don’t like”). This report is a valuable addition as it looks to the period the panel define as an “emerging context”, where HEIs are looking to see what paths they tread from hereon out. I think it is quite useful in that regard.
Headlines for practice
The good news is that everyone wants more blended, digital skills awareness is high on the agenda, asynchronous lectures are (unsurprisingly) not as great as they might seem, and there is a recognition that good (or bad) teaching is not correlated with the mode. There is quite a lot to unpack in each of these themes, and the report doesn’t have (or try to have) all the answers, but as a collective, they are a great benchmark to base “where next” conversations on. These can be initiated by the provision of some useful headline recommendations. For example, the meaning of “blended” is grappled with early on, and I liked that the focus on what an institution means by blended is prescribed in terms of the learning experience of student: and especially in the context of a coherent experience. Indeed that simple (hah!) suggestion would go a long way to address several of the concerns raised about practice noted in the research, and several of the major problems generally with curriculum design, be it on or offline.
Online lectures are also discussed, as is the experience of recycling online lectures. If you had to identify a “most contentious” issue at the coalface during COVID, this must certainly be a top contender. I wondered about the discussions the panel must have had behind the scenes about this one – I felt the associated recommendation was a bit weak; and was hoping for something a little more far-reaching here in relation to considering the pedagogical benefits (or lack of) and also thinking through how this recommendation manifests in practice. Pre-recorded lectures alongside recording of live events are going to tot up to a lot of recordings. And to what benefit?
Because this issue feeds directly into student workload concerns, and the panel has documented significant concerns about the large (usually hidden) workload that moving online caused for students. They point to the need for more considered learning design to elaborate on how much time on task learning and engaging with materials is expected to take, and further that course documentation should explain all this to students. This was deemed very necessary, and dovetails nicely with consistency considerations above. Of course as last week’s JISC report very forcefully documented, staff workload and staff upskilling in “blended” approaches and the use of digital in learning and teaching is now one of the major issues facing us in this “emerging context”. (With that in mind, the forthcoming Kent Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars (14th December) is on the theme of learning design, with one of the speakers being Prof Susan Orr, chair of the review panel.)
Overall it’s a useful good report with a lot of sensible recommendations at strategic, regulatory, and practical levels. OfS have also published a response to the panel report in which they have taken out a lot of the observations noted by the panel in their research, and commented on whether these would (and it usually would!) or would not raise regulatory concerns. There are a variety of responses to the panel report, and I found WonkHE’s response is a particularly good read. Further, Dr Melissa Highton has published a blog post on being a member of the panel and gives a useful perspective on it.