Alex Ismail and Gemma Cockrell
Our new section, ‘Two Sides’, sees two writers with opposing views debate an issue of importance.
This week, as students at Nottingham return for another year of ‘blended learning’, our writers look at the benefits and drawbacks of this style of teaching.
For Blended Learning, Alex Ismail:
Blended learning combines online education with traditional classroom-based teachings. It existed long before COVID-19, but it was the pandemic that forced an unprecedented change in university teaching.
When it was first introduced, the method had its critics; many students believed it was no replacement for in-person teaching, others claimed it was poor value for money, and most students were anxious for everything to return to ‘normal’. Despite how it emerged, this should not become a discussion about Covid-19, but about quality of learning, and what blended learning provides for students moving forward.
As the pandemic progressed, lecturers became more competent at using online technology and seminars returned to provide some semblance of normality. The 2021 JISC survey of ‘student digital experience’ found that over 60% of students felt overall positive about online learning and that for 51% of students the online environment made them feel safe.
Blended learning has brought positive change
The first year of any new method of teaching was bound to be criticised, so for blended learning to have a majority, albeit small, supporting it, suggests that it could become not just an accepted method of teaching, but a popular one.
For those in non-practical courses such as myself, blended learning has brought positive change. Pre-recorded lectures are not only more convenient as they can be watched outside of your typical 9-5 day, but they are also more accessible to students who cannot get to in-person lectures.
The newly introduced ‘lecture engagements’ have also been a success and are an excellent way of enhancing learning as they provide greater engagement with lecturers, and for this reason many departments plan on continuing them post-pandemic.
It also has its advantages for people on practical courses. They are still able to attend their labs like any other year, but online recorded lectures mean they can either attend at the usual time but just online, or they can watch their lectures when it’s convenient, providing greater flexibility to previously rigid courses which is, I believe, a step in the right direction.
My own experience of blended learning has certainly contributed to my opinions on it. My online lectures were generally of high quality. The ability to pause, rewind and re-watch was especially helpful for me to take effective notes. Lecture engagements allowed me to consolidate and further my knowledge and seminars provided me with stimulating, enjoyable discussions that provided me with some of the traditional university experience.
I felt that my seminar tutors and lecturers put time and effort into ensuring that I received high quality teaching and had everything I needed to thrive in my first year at Nottingham.
It provides accessibility, flexibility, independence and great value for money
Blended learning is a breath of fresh air. It should be the future of education, not only The University of Nottingham, but at universities around the world. Blended learning may require increased effort from lecturers, but if done correctly, it provides accessibility, flexibility, independence and great value for money whilst keeping the quality of learning high. Returning to in-person teaching, therefore, would not be a ‘return to normal’, but a step into the past.
Against Blended Learning, Gemma Cockrell:
Not every university course involves seminars or tutorials. For example, I study Psychology, and my timetable consist of four two-hour lectures – therefore, I have no in-person contact hours scheduled on my timetable.
This means that blended learning isn’t the same for me as it would be for people who have multiple seminars a week. Instead, my course very heavily relies on online learning and I am sure that many others are the same.
I struggle to understand the reasoning behind why lectures can’t be held in-person, especially when activities such as clubs and festivals have been going ahead since 19th July.
Schools have gone back in-person this September, so why can’t we?
If hundreds of people can attend Rock City or Ocean every night, then I fail to see why a hundred people can’t attend a lecture at university. Surely education should be being prioritised over these other things? Additionally, all primary schools and secondary schools have gone back in-person this September, so why can’t we?
I feel as though I have missed out terribly on the university experience
I am going into my third (and final) year at Nottingham, and so far, the only normal university experience I’ve had was between September and March of my first year.
I feel as though I have missed out terribly on the university experience – being able to visit campus, attend lectures, and live life as a normal student would. I struggle to believe that the risk of catching Covid-19 from attending a university lecture is higher than the risk of catching Covid-19 from going to a club, pub, or music festival.
It’s much harder to engage online
I also feel that since it is my final year, it is the year that I need to be surrounded by the best facilities and resources to succeed, and I want my degree result to reflect my abilities. In first year, we were told that we must attend lectures in-person, because just watching the lecture recordings online wasn’t enough. But now, this narrative has shifted, and we are being told that online learning is just as effective as in-person, which I find difficult to believe.
I think it’s much harder to engage online, and it isn’t healthy to be sitting indoors all day working without a change of scenery – the walk to campus is very beneficial for your mental health.
Furthermore, most students are double vaccinated now, including myself. I feel that by getting our vaccines, we have done our part in stopping the spread of Covid-19, and therefore should be rewarded with some normality again in terms of education.
The narrative was always that Covid-19 wasn’t as dangerous for those who were younger, and yet we are the ones who are still facing restrictions, whilst the rest of the population are able to live freely.
Finally, I do not think that blended learning is worth the high tuition fees that we are paying.
I just hope that the second semester after Christmas will be completely in-person, so I can at least get a taste of the university experience that I crave and deserve.
Alex Ismail and Gemma Cockrell
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