Designing blended learning for first year social science undergraduates

Posted in: learning and teaching

This year, the Department of Social and Policy Sciences (SPS) introduced a new integrated tutorial system and course-wide portfolio assessment for its first year undergraduates. The integrated tutorial system was designed in part as a response to the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges of blended learning but also substantively drew on longer-term thinking in SPS around the needs of year one undergraduates, the importance of embedding key academic skills within and across course curricula, and the benefits of incremental and iterative learning across semesters. In this blog, we explain the aims and key features of the tutorial system and its allied form of assessment.

The wholesale move to blended learning has posed considerable challenges in Higher Education. In our early conversations about how we would manage this shift for the undergraduates we kept returning to a key issue: how could the Bath Blend be adapted to serve the needs of our first years? New to Bath, new to university, new to one another — and having experienced significant disruption to their studies before joining us — the question of how we could best use the weekly four hours of in-person teaching (IPT) time for this group became the focus of these discussions. Thinking about what these four hours should do took priority over thinking about what these four hours should cover, and we decided early on that we wanted the in-person component of our first years’ learning — and its online equivalent — to anchor the whole course.

It was out of these discussions that the idea for an integrated tutorial system emerged — a series of course-level (rather than unit-level) tutorials, designed to introduce students to key academic skills that could intersect with content on their core units, and foster a sense of belonging and identity as a community of learners in SPS. While the implementation of the tutorial system was calibrated around the challenges of blended delivery in the context of Covid-19, the underpinning pedagogy had been under development in SPS for some time. Our learning and teaching team had spent the preceding 18 months engaged in the university-wide curriculum transformation project.

That’s why, in designing the new integrated tutorial system, we aimed to use the tutorial system to institute ‘assessment for learning’ — just one of various ideas we’d considered during the curriculum transformation project. Over the course of the semester, tutorial tasks and activities contribute toward an academic portfolio in the form of weekly reflections. These reflections draw across content from SPS students’ core units. The Portfolio also contains a set of ‘Way-marker’ exercises – longer, specific tasks and directed reflections – around which Academic Tutors offer collective, formative feedback. Students then have the opportunity to integrate feedback into their Portfolio as they work toward submission each semester. The final portfolio contributes 80% of each core unit mark for each semester (the remaining 20% remains ‘in unit’ in order to ensure balance in appropriately assessing knowledge of core unit material).

In the context of the challenges for teaching and learning presented by the Covid-19 crisis, the integrated tutorial system has been a clear success for SPS. The tutorials encourage and nurture key academic skills that will better equip students for their progression into year two of their studies. Student feedback has highlighted how the small grouped tutorial activities have fostered a strong sense of community among learners. And embedding the portfolio assessment as part of students’ weekly learning – centring on assessment for learning – has helped to maximise student engagement and attendance.

Dr Sarah Moore and Dr Peter Manning, SPS

**Dr Sarah Moore and Dr Peter Manning recently shared their experiences of introducing a new integrated tutorial system and portfolio assessment at our recent CLT Lunchtime Hub. Watch the recording of this event here.

Posted in: learning and teaching

Watch the CLT Lunchtime Hub recording


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