In March 2002 the Office for Students announced their plan to review blended learning provision in English universities. I was delighted to be invited to be part of the expert panel doing the review.
The OfS currently hold no sway in Scotland, but they shape the ways in which some of the universities in England and Wales describe their provision, and students have a choice. I am very aware that we in Scotland need to pay attention to the regulatory environment in the rest of the UK as students, parents and teachers will compare and contrast.
Blended learning is not a phrase I use much anymore, but it is what seemed to have caught the headlines. Reviewing the provision was an interesting research task. As a panel we met with staff and students in a number of universities of varying size, shape, age and mission. We developed a set of questions specific to each group which would ensure we collected the data necessary to get a clear understanding of blended learning approaches being taken. It was important to speak to a range of people within each provider to allow us to triangulate the information we collected and gain as full a picture of the situation at each provider as possible. The technology context was different in each provider, and this technology context was essential for understanding how blended learning provision was enabled, quality assured and available equally to course leaders and students across their institution. I asked that each provider identify someone as the most senior learning technologist or head of e-learning so that their viewpoints could be heard. l met with a senior member of staff in each institution to ensure that the panel had good information about the technology available for high quality, up to date and inclusive blended delivery.
The panel members brought different backgrounds and positionality to the review, but we all agreed that an effective relationship between in-person and online or digital elements is important for courses delivered through blended learning, and we all agreed that considerations of equality, diversity and inclusion were key to quality provision.
We worked closely with the OfS’s student panel throughout our review. Four student panel members joined us on the review panel in the fieldwork interviews. A student panel member attended and asked questions at every meeting with staff. Student panel members led all interviews with student groups. The views and perspectives of students informed the approach taken and the questions asked of providers throughout the fieldwork phase. I was able to provide learning technology expertise to help unpick/interpret some of the things the students were saying about how they find and use their learning materials, VLE, library catalogue etc. I was very pleased to hear the ways in which the learning technology teams had responded and scaled their services to keep the universities in the business of teaching and learning.
The themes in the report arose partly from the literature, but mostly from the data. We worked quickly to get a lot of data which meant we had time to engage in a process of checking, reflecting and reviewing the data before drawing our recommendations.
The report has been published. I hope you find it useful. Blended learning and OfS regulation – Office for Students
There is the panel’s report: Blended learning review panel report (officeforstudents.org.uk)
the OfS response: Blended learning and OfS regulation (officeforstudents.org.uk)
and various commentary responses so far: