Thank you to everyone for all of the continuing work that you have done in ensuring that we have been able to deliver our Education to all of our students in academic year 2020/21. As part of our approach to working consistently and coherently across the University, we agreed a set of Principles for Blended Learning.
The Principles have been revised to support our work for AY2021/22 in light of our learning from this year both internally in the University and at sector-level. We will work closely together over the next few months and into the new academic year through our University Education Committee and other groups to implement teaching, learning and assessment for AY2021/22.
Key principles for blended learning
These Principles are provided for academic staff to support their preparations for blended learning. In delivering teaching, learning and assessment in a blended way, we have committed to providing our student community with their learning even if they are not able to come to their campus (e.g. due to travel restrictions). We need to continue to ensure that our academic provision is resilient to any changes to the external context which may lead to increased or reduced Covid-19 associated restrictions.
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 their teaching, learning and assessment in the context of Covid-19.
Course Development Timeframe: Building resilience
It is important that there is resilience in core teaching activities both in terms of any impact of Covid-19 and more generally. Schools should give consideration to how to ensure resilience.
Courses should be developed ahead of time where possible however there is no requirement that all materials will be developed in advance of the start of teaching. It is however important that MyAberdeen course areas do contain in advance of the start of teaching guidance on the course structure, when course materials will be made available and information to inform the expectations on students in relation to their learning.
Teaching for the first half-session will commence on 27 September 2021 for most students and will consist of 12 weeks of teaching and assessment with the first half-session ending on 17 December 2021. The second half-session will commence on 24 January 2022 and will run across a 13-week period running to 20 May including a three-week Easter vacation from Monday 4 to Friday 22 April 2022. Within the 13-week period, one week can be used for non-teaching purposes (e.g. reading week, assessment, revision, or fieldwork). The timing of this week can be determined at a School or Course level. There will be no exam period at the end of either half-session unless there are exceptional accreditation requirements. All delivery of teaching and assessment should be completed in this period, and Schools should determine how they use that time. Schools will inform students about how teaching and assessment will be delivered in that period.
Teaching for some areas and for some postgraduate taught students, in particular, will continue beyond the second half-session and over the summer period. The Principles and other resources apply to the remainder of the academic year 2021/22.
Mode of delivery
We expect that students who can return will come onto campus for their teaching and other available activities. For those unable to return (e.g. who are constrained by travel restrictions or quarantine/self-isolation), all courses should be able to be completed fully online.
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. It may not be always be possible to deliver an equivalent online experience to a classroom experience. The classroom experience should continue to be delivered with a suitable but not necessarily equivalent alternative being offered for those online. 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. In addition, students should be encouraged to attend additional non-academic activities where these are available so that they can further develop a sense of community.
Accessibility & Inclusivity
All course design should take account of accessibility and inclusivity, including use of captioning in video content where appropriate.3
Reading lists created in 20/21 will be rolled over with courses in the VLE. Guidance and instruction on how these can be amended or enhanced will be available in July. New reading lists can also be created. The Library will endeavour to purchase a maximum of two key resources if identified within the reading list process.
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.
Schools should confirm to students, once known, the contact time for each course so that students understand what teaching to expect (asynchronous and synchronous), whether that is on campus or online.
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.
The learning and contact points on each course must be strongly structured to maintain motivation and student engagement.
Guidance for Simultaneous Online and On Campus Delivery
Some dual simultaneous delivery of teaching may be possible subject to availability of appropriate IT kit and teaching space. Staff considering such an approach should read the Guidance for Simultaneous Online and On Campus Delivery. Training and further guidance on dual delivery will also be provided by the Centre for Academic Development.
1 Work is ongoing to manage timetabling in the context of 1m+ physical distancing.
2 Synchronous teaching is undertaken in real time; Asynchronous teaching materials are prepared and are accessed by students at different times.
3 Work is ongoing to enhance support for staff in regard to captioning. Guidance is also available to help staff understand where captioning is required and where it is not.
4 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
On Campus Delivery
- There will be no large group1 teaching on campus.
- Schools have the flexibility to determine what form small group teaching should take place on campus, whilst adhering to timetabling restrictions. Online alternatives should be provided for those unable to come to campus.
- While most lectures should be delivered online due to class size, lectures may be delivered on campus to small groups.
- Lecture material should normally be available online asynchronously and be recorded and captioned. Where live synchronous lectures are delivered, these should also be recorded and captioned. Materials previously developed and recorded for 2020/21 may be re-used where appropriate.
- A consistent approach at course or School level should be agreed for the release of course materials. The timetable for release should be clearly outlined to students (e.g. in course handbook or on MyAberdeen).2
- 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.
Practicals, Fieldwork & Placements
- Laboratory and other practical sessions should be able to take place on campus subject to government guidance. Where restrictions limit capacity and scale of activity, focus should be placed on training in practical skills and techniques.
- Online teaching for those unable to come to campus 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. Where it is not possible to replicate on campus practical activities without impacting learning outcomes, Schools should provide a suitable alternative for students unable to return to campus and ensure that on campus opportunity is offered when students are able to return to campus.
- Physical distancing outdoor working is possible but there are constraints around transport and student numbers – see fieldwork guidance.
- Placement activity (e.g. in Education / Medicine) is subject to national guidance and health & safety requirements e.g. from NHS or GTCS.
- There will be no formal exam period in either half-session unless accreditation requirements necessitate in-person examinations.
- 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. Exceptionally, where group size is sufficiently small, written assessments may be able to be delivered on campus in particular circumstances where there is pedagogic need to do so (e.g. language assessment).
- All assessments should normally be submitted online.
1 Numbers to be confirmed in line with Scottish Government guidance and room availability / capacity but currently large groups are considered to be above 50.
2 Requires compliance with accessibility and inclusivity requirements for students.
- Evaluation of Blended Learning
Since the start of the first half session 2020/21, the University of Aberdeen has been delivering blended learning. As part of the process of implementation there has been a collection of student and staff views across the academic year to enable approaches to be informed by good practice.
The findings of this evaluation have been presented in the attached report: Evaluation of Blended Learning, by Kirsty Kiezebrink, on 10 November 2021.