Ghent University Goes Blended
What is Blend@UGent?
Blend@UGent is a well-considered and well-aligned mix of online and on-campus education. This means students actively work with learning contents, both individually and in interaction with each other and lecturers.
Ghent University transforms its learning environment into a blend of activating, evidence-based education, learning opportunities and evaluation methods, both online and on cam
Opportunities and challenges
Ghent University transforms its learning environment into a blend of activating, evidence-based education, learning opportunities and evaluation methods, both online and on campus. In doing so, Ghent University aims to:
- stimulate student engagement
- offer optimal learning opportunities
- optimally develop students’ competencies
- obtain a higher programme success rate
Given that, in a blended learning environment, students are pushed more towards independence and self-management, additional attention and care should be given to:
- support of students’ learning process
- promotion of interaction
- creation of a warm(er) learning environment
The crucial role of lecturers
Lecturers will not only take on the role of content experts, but also the role of developers/facilitators and supervisors/coaches. Lecturer orchestrate students’ learning process by offering them content and structure, by monitoring and guiding their learning process and by aligning all learning activities.
To this end, educational technology will be used as a well-considered tool, but it will not replace the lecturer. On the contrary, “the best app is the lecturer”. In turn, the study programme (i.e. all actors involved in education such as (the chair of) the Study Programme Committee, all lecturers, members of the Education Quality Control Unit, schedulers, members of the Faculty Educational Services, student representatives, etc.) monitors the cohesion within the organisation of the education and the quality of the design process.
Blended education, learning and evaluation activities
In a blended learning environment, both synchronous and asynchronous learning activities are possible:
- Synchronous learning refers to learning activities in which students participate within a fixed time slot. During these activities, students can engage in interaction simultaneously, both with the lecturer and with each other.
- Asynchronous learning refers to learning activities in which students participate at their own time and pace. They do not interact simultaneously with each other or with lecturers.
The ratio between online and on-campus activities is dynamic and always depends on subject-specific and educational, socio-psychological, practical and technological factors such as the competencies that you are aiming to achieve, the composition of the student group, safety measures, classroom capacity or the available technology.
Blended education offers lecturers the possibility to deploy a multitude of educational, learning or evaluation activities, always in function of the intended competencies (cf. constructive alignment).
This table offers a number of examples by way of illustration:
Livestream with possibilities for chat, virtual classrooms, online Q&A, workshops, etc.
Practicals, seminars, supervisions, discussions, etc.
|Asynchronous||Online texts, recordings of synchronous classes, knowledge clips, assignments (possibly with automated feedback), FAQ, online tests, online individual or group assignments, announcements, blogs, vlogs, e-mails, etc.|
Blend@UGent: 8 principles
Blended learning at Ghent University starts from eight basic quality principles:
1. Align the blend of online and on-campus educational, learning and evaluation activities in a thoughtful manner
- determines for which programme-specific competencies on-campus activities remain necessary (e.g. practicals, lab classes, research for bachelor’s or master’s thesis) and add value for students (e.g. discussions, interaction, collaboration, community-forming).
- ensures a balanced ratio between synchronous and asynchronous activities.
- takes specific student groups into consideration (e.g. first-year students or vulnerable groups)
- takes into account the workload for lecturers
- aligns the use of educational technologies at faculty level, as students use different devices (e.g. smartphones, laptops, tablets).
- plans the academic calendar logically (e.g. choice of semester or year-full course units, modular education, etc.).
- ensures an alignment of ‘blends of course units’ within a model year, both within the curriculum and across educational years.
- an optimal mix of individual and group activities aligned with students’ learning outcomes.
- a good combination of synchronous and asynchronous education, learning and evaluation activities within the courses
- blending in an integrated manner, which means, for example, that students prepare a theoretical chapter independently and send their questions to the lecturer in advance, and that the teacher then answers these questions and focusses on difficult parts of the chapter with specific examples in an online Q&A or a workshop.
- learning materials that are aligned with the selected educational and learning activities, available on time and usable in the long term (and therefore: durable). The creation of qualitative knowledge clips about basic knowledge that does not change much over time (e.g. anatomical structures) are a good investment of time.
2. Activate and motivate
- Synchronous learning activities are used to stimulate direct interaction, collaboration and discussion e.g. via a voting system, the Think-Pair-Share-method, the one minute paper, etc.
- Asynchronous learning activities allow students to actively process learning contents, e.g. via specific assignments, application on a case, a self-test, interaction via a discussion forum, etc.
3. Structure students’ learning process
- offering a good lay-out and planning of online and on-campus educational and learning activities
- providing clear, timely instructions
- creating clear expectations
- providing regular deadlines, intermediate evaluations and feedback moments throughout the semester or the year
- The Study Programme Committee shapes the programme as a whole and defines general agreements for lecturers with regard to the organisation of blended learning. The study programme (Committee) provides, amongst other things, a feasible and clear schedule that mentions online and on-campus educational activities.
- The study programme also provides a timely, clear planning of online and on-campus (student) counselling and aligns the planning among all lecturers in function of the planning of online course units. A particular point of attention in this is the distribution of deadlines across courses, in function of an achievable workload for both students and lecturers.
4. Communicate clearly and transparently
- Inform your students about:
- the course objectives and how they are blended;
- the relations between the different educational and learning activities;
- the form and the timing of the evaluation (deadlines, moment of evaluation) and the expectations in terms of content-specific evaluation.
- Give clear instructions and use clear language in the descriptions of assignments.
- Make agreements about how students can communicate with you, which is even more important for blended education than for ‘regular education’.
5. Offer sufficient guidance
6. Blend learning and evaluation
- A short assignment after an online class can provide information about what students have learned during the class. In a following class, the lecturer can then focus on learning contents that appeared to remain difficult for students, or students can watch the video recordings of that specific class topic again.
- Besides feedback from the lecturer, self-feedback and peer-feedback are also very valuable. Students take an active role in this by focussing on their own learning process and that of their peers, after which they process the information from intermediate assessment and feedback in order to adjust their learning process.
7. Create an accessible and warm learning environment with attention to the sense of community
- (Digitally) accessible learning materials, meaningful and authentic assignments that are aligned with the prior knowledge and the background of students and the use of examples, audio-visual materials, cases, applications or research with which students with different profiles can identify themselves are hereby important.
- The online learning environment must feel secure for students. Moreover, online learning also requires lecturers to create a welcoming learning environment. Especially at the start, extra interventions such as a warm welcome and an online meet-and-greet with the team of lecturers and peers is recommended.
- Online interaction also entails possible obstacles. It is important to explicitly stress that it is all right to make mistakes and that doing so even offers learning opportunities of its own. In addition, make sure to welcome all ideas and viewpoints (as long as they are expressed with mutual respect), which is inviting and reassuring for students.
- Connection between students amplifies their involvement and stimulates their learning process. Stimulating the interaction between students and providing opportunities for focussed and gradual collaboration are crucial aspects of online education.
8. Create shared responsibility
Would you like to know more?
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- Salmon, Gilly. (2017). From lecturing to engagment – with video. https://www.gillysalmon.com/blog/from-lecturing-to-engagement-with-video
- Improving Teaching. (2020). Motivating distant learners. Schools under coronavirus. https://improvingteaching.co.uk/2020/03/19/motivating-distant-learners-schools-under-coronavirus/
- Jonge Academie. (2020). Crowdsourcing #CovidCampus. https://jongeacademie.be/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/JA_CrowdsourcingCovidCampus.pdf
- Open Universiteit. (2020). Digitale didactiek. https://youlearn.ou.nl/web/hulp-bij-online-onderwijs
- ScienceGuide. (2020). Toolgericht of doelgericht? https://www.scienceguide.nl/2020/03/toolgericht-of-doelgericht/
- Educational Technology Team. (2019). The blended learning design framework. https://sleguidance.atlassian.net/wiki/spaces/BL/pages/36962416/The+blended+learning+design+framework
- Van Valkenburg, W.F., Dijkstra, W.P., de los Arcos, B., Goeman, Katie., van Rompaey, Veerle., & Poelmans, Stephan. (2020). European Maturity Model for Blended Education (EMBED).
- Boelens, R., De Wever, B., & Voet, M. (2017). Four key challenges to the design of blended learning: A systematic literature review. Educational Research Review, 22, 1-18.
- Raes, Annelies, & Schellens, T. (2016). The effects of teacher-led class interventions during technology-enhanced science inquiry on students’ knowledge integration and basic need satisfaction. COMPUTERS & EDUCATION, 92–93, 125–141.
- Montrieux, H., Raes, A., & Schellens, T. (2017). ‘The best app is the teacher’ Introducing classroom scripts in technology-enhanced education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 33(3), 267-281.