Reflections on a semester of teaching the Bath Blend: Independent Learning

Posted in: Bath Blend, Independent learning, learning and teaching

Along with the rest of the UK educational community, Dr Steve Cayzer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been working to ensure that his courses are Covid-ready. Here at Bath, this has meant designing them according to the Bath Blend, which includes independent (self-paced) learning, Live Online Interactive Learning (LOIL) and In Person Time (IPT). This is the first of a series of blogs in which Steve reflects on what has worked well (and less well) and what he would like to keep in the ‘new normal’.

My reflections on a semester of teaching the Bath Blend

These are my thoughts on how to design the blended experience in a social and inclusive way, while sharing best practice.  I hope this might be of use to other educators and I’d be keen to hear about your experiences too.

In March 2020, along with other HE educators, I rapidly transitioned to online-only delivery of my classes. The whole experience was exhausting but somewhat exhilarating, opening up some new possibilities of delivering my courses in different, and in some cases, better ways.

So, as the semester drew to a close in May 2020, I started thinking about how blended learning means moving away from the lecture-centred view of education.  Is there a parallel to the way that nutritional thinking has moved away from the proverbial ‘meat and two veg’?

So, for example a typical ‘lecture’ is rarely a 50-minute monologue. Rather, most lectures I have observed contain elements of content (didactic teaching), questions (posed by the lecturer for the students to answer), and teamwork (working with peers on class exercises).

Lectures consist of content, questions and team working

The elements of a traditional lecture

My thinking at that time was that it was better to think about each element separately. For example, questions can be answered either alone (self directed) or with others (connected). This suggests several modes of delivery: online asynchronously (e.g., through forums); online synchronously (e.g., through real time polling); or during in person (face-to-face) sessions.

Modes of delivery can be online or in person, synchronous or asynchronous
Mapping the pedagogical core to mode of delivery

Continuing the thinking in this way led to a more complex diagram that allowed me to think about my teaching in a different way. This means that the pedagogic core is a set of four elements: self-directed learning, connected learning, practical learning and personal learning. The delivery elements are asynchronous online (aka independent learning in the Bath Blend), synchronous online (aka Live Online Interactive Learning, LOIL) and in-person time (aka IPT).

The full mapping from traditional description (lecture, tutorial, lab) to pedagogical core (self directed, connected, practical, personal) through to mode of delivery (online or in person, synchronous or asynchronous)
The full mapping from traditional description (left hand side) to pedagogical core (coloured boxes) through to mode of delivery (yellow boxes)

Fortunately, many of the elements were already in place in my teaching but needed to be reconfigured.

What follows in this blog series are my reflections about what happened when I put this model into practice, starting here with Reflection #1 on Independent Learning. I include, as quotes, some student comments derived from an end-of-semester whole class focus group.

Reflection # 1: Independent Learning does not mean recorded lectures

One temptation when translating to the online world is simply to take your existing lectures and record them. I discovered that this leads to a few issues:

  • Hour-long lectures are really not very engaging
  • They also overload students, creating an expectation of students sitting through at least 10 hours of recorded content a week, plus associated self study, before they even get to the live online sessions.

Instead, I have tried a more holistic approach, including video snippets, self-assessment quizzes, games, asynchronous forums, ‘try at home’ activities and whatever else I can think of that is engaging, relevant, valuable and pedagogically sound. For this reason, I avoid the term ‘pre reading’ and prefer the phrase ‘pre learning’. My pre learning for game theory took the form of an online game (thanks, nickycase) and a series of short video snippets, each building up to a self assessment question (answered in the next snippet). There were 6 snippets each of 5 minutes – this cuts down the recorded content from 2 hours (had I just recorded traditional lectures) to a much more manageable 30 minutes, divided into conceptual chunks.

Pre learning, signposted from moodle site and consisting of an online game followed by 6 short video snippets
Pre learning, signposted from the LMS and consisting of an online game followed by 6 short video snippets

“[pre-learning allows] you to prepare ahead of time and thus allows you to  focus on lecture materials with a basis of knowledge. However, if it is too long it can be overwhelming and unrealistic.“

The great thing about recording video snippets is that if you mess it up, you just record again – no time consuming faffing about in video editing suites.

Incidentally, this example was used in a session on game theory which I blogged about here. 

Steve Cayzer, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Coming next in the series: Reflection #2 - Live Online Learning: even better than the 'real' thing


Posted in: Bath Blend, Independent learning, learning and teaching


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