by SUSAN BLACKLEY and LISA TEE
As universities in Australia scurry to off-set the impact of diminishing onshore international students and the income that they bring, blended learning now appears to be the learning and teaching mode of choice. But whose?
Student representation suggests that the option of attending on campus, of engaging in real-time collaboration in physical spaces with corporeal peers and educators, will continue to be a preferred mode of instruction, especially for most young undergraduate students – recent school leavers. International students in particular are unhappy with high tuition fees paid for on-line learning, while universities have invested large sums of money to entice students onto campuses, to utilise precincts for study, research, and relaxation. It seems a false economy to corral our principal stakeholders – our students – into, what for many, is a disengaging, challenging, and unsatisfactory learning environment.
To suggest that moving to a blended learning model will provide significant financial relief for universities does not acknowledge the additional training and hours of work needed for lecturers and tutors to prepare for implementing this mode of learning as an accepted and comparable alternative to face-to-face, on-campus instruction. With universities being funded based on student satisfaction rates (amongst other criteria), there is a very good chance that the move to blended learning models could actually cost universities money rather than relieve fiscal distress.
A recent study at Curtin University (Blackley et. al) revealed that the emergency remote teaching into which students and staff alike were plunged in Semester 1, 2020 was not a satisfactory substitute for face-to-face classes and laboratory activities. Some students reflected that the purely on-line mode affected their confidence and mental health, and, importantly, that they missed the opportunity to develop their professional identity. It was clear that students who opted for face-to-face instruction did not want to move to a fully on-line mode. They conceded that a blended model could allow them more flexibility and agency, providing the experience was well-planned and high-quality; a sentiment that is being echoed by university Learning and Teaching decision makers.
Given that blended learning looks like it is here to stay, it is imperative that more effective on-line and blended learning environments and practices are created to motivate student engagement and learning. Working in partnership with students to hear what they want would be a good starting point.
Associate Professor Susan Blackley, Executive member and Curtin Academy Fellow, School of Education, Curtin University Susan.Blackley@curtin.edu.au
Associate Professor Lisa Tee, Curtin Academy Fellow, School of Pharmacy, Curtin University L.Tee@curtin.edu.au