Thank you to everyone for all the work that you are doing to prepare for the new academic year. We know that the 2020/21 academic year will be subject to ongoing disruption and that these disruptions will certainly impact on first half session and could also impact on second half session. We therefore need to prepare for a resilient student experience - one where we can welcome students on to campus when we can, and also ensure that all our students can start or continue with their studies no matter what their circumstances are.

As part of an approach to guiding and supporting the move to blended learning, the Blended Learning Implementation Task and Finish Group has collaboratively developed a resource for our staff which aims to give clarity, offer inspiration, and provide a set of tools for our staff to utilise in their preparations for blended learning. Given the evolving nature of the Covid-19 situation, the webpages will be updated with additional guidance and examples of good practice from across the university.

Ruth Taylor
Vice-Principal (Education)

Key principles for blended learning

These Principles are provided for academic staff to support their preparations for blended learning for the first half session1. In moving to blended delivery, we have commited to providing our student community with the same opportunities for learning, albeit the teaching may be delivered differently in some cases as that previously offered.  We need to ensure that our academic provision is resilient to any change in lockdown or restrictions which may be imposed. Given the uncertainties caused by Covid-19, the Principles aim to provide direction so that Schools and individual academics can make decisions about what will deliver the best possible experience in the circumstances.

Where there are programmes or courses for which there are professional, statutory and regulatory body (PSRB) requirements, those requirements will take precedence over these Principles.

These Principles should be read in conjunction with the guidance for Blended Learning provided in the resources on this website. The guidance is not prescriptive but provides recommendations and a toolkit for the development of blended learning so that academics can decide how best to prepare for blended learning in the context of Covid-19.

1 Applies to the first half session until we know how the Covid-19 situation impacts on second half session
Delivery

Course Development Timeframe: Building resilience

First half-session courses should be developed and ready for delivery by the start of the first half session. Ideally all core teaching activities should be in place by 14 September to provide resilience in the event of staff absence or potential Covid-19 related events.

Teaching period

The first half-session will start on 28 September for most students and will be 12 weeks in length.  There will be no exam period at the end. All delivery of teaching and assessment should be completed in the 12 weeks, and Schools should determine how they use that time. Schools will inform students about how teaching and assessment will be delivered in that period.

Mode of delivery

While we hope students will be able to come onto campus, all first half session courses should be able to be completed fully online.

Learning Outcomes

All learning outcomes must normally be fully achievable and able to be assessed through fully online delivery. Where this is not possible (e.g. practical-based learning), Schools will provide information to students directly and will also provide an opportunity for students to experience missed elements at a later stage where this is a compulsory element of the programme. Learning outcomes can be adapted where practical-based learning is not a compulsory part of the programme.

Sense of Community

All courses should provide timetabled1 synchronous2 opportunities for peer to peer engagement and engagement with academic staff. These opportunities can be part of the assessed course (e.g. tutorials) or additional non-assessed activities.

Accessibility & Inclusivity

All course design should take account of accessibility and inclusivity, including use of captioning in video content where appropriate.3

Reading Lists for courses should be sent to readinglists@abdn.ac.uk, by 10 July. 4

Student feedback on the academic experience

All courses should include opportunity for early informal feedback from students to staff on their learning experience so that adjustments can be made during the course where possible, together with clear mechanisms for closing the feedback loop.

Contact time5

Schools will need to clarify, at an appropriate point, the contact time for each course so that students understand what teaching to expect (asynchronous and synchronous), whether that is on campus or online.

Staff contact

Students should have the opportunity to engage in (normally) weekly face-to-face contact with academic staff, whether online or in person, as individuals or in groups, so that they can ask questions, seek guidance or for other reasons. This contact can be part of tutorials or other classroom-based activities.

Structure

The learning and contact points on each course must be strongly structured to maintain motivation and student engagement.


1 Work is taking place to manage timetabling in the context of physical distancing and other restrictions, and to ensure reasonable timings of sessions

2 Synchronous: teaching is undertaken in real time; Asynchronous: teaching materials are prepared and are accessed by students at different times

3 Discussions are ongoing in relation to the implications of the legal requirements and to determine how this requirement can be supported centrally

4 Information needed by 10 July: course code, course title, course co-ordinator, estimated student numbers, up to three key items highlighted 

5 Contact time should be laid out in course handbooks at the start of every course and relates to both asynchronous and synchronous teaching activities

Course Design

Lectures

  • There will be no in-person lectures on campus in the first half-session.
  • Lecture material should normally be available online asynchronously and be recorded. Materials can be released at a rate chosen by the academic and the timetable for release should be clearly outlined in the course handbook.1
  • In place of hour long or longer on-campus lectures, an alternative online approach may be adopted to avoid problems with screen fatigue and to encourage active learning. For example, short videos or use of other resources or activities to stimulate learning and engagement could be used. 

Small Group Activities (e.g. tutorials)

  • Small group online sessions should be delivered for those unable to come to campus.
  • Small group on campus timetabled sessions should be provided in line with national guidance and University guidance when this becomes available.

Practicals, Fieldwork & Placements

  • It is hoped that laboratory and other practical sessions will be able to take place on campus subject to government guidance, however safety constraints may mean the scale of these will be reduced and may need to be focused on training in practical skills and techniques.
  • Online teaching should be as comprehensive as possible, including where possible demonstrations of practical methods and student activities focused on data analysis and interpretation rather than data collection and practical skills.
  • Physical distancing outdoor working is possible but there are constraints around transport etc. You may wish to reschedule such activities to later in the year or consider if virtual alternatives are possible.
  • Decisions around placements (e.g. in Education / Medicine) will be guided by national guidance and health & safety requirements e.g. from NHS or GTCS.

Assessment

  • There will be no formal exam period scheduled at the end of the first half-session.
  • Alternative assessment approaches to replace in person examinations should be developed for all courses. For disabled students, the Student Support Disability Advisors will work closely with academic staff and with students to ensure appropriate support and arrangements are in place.
  • Examinations should be replaced with alternative assessment wherever possible. However, where there is no alternative to timed exams (e.g. for PSRB requirements) these exams must normally be accessible to students for at least 48 hours.

Requires compliance with accessibility and inclusivity requirements for students