Active Blended Learning at the University of Northampton

Since 2013, the University of Northampton has seen a process of large-scale pedagogic transformation towards what we refer to as Active Blended Learning (ABL). ABL is Northampton’s new normal. It is not something we do in addition to our regular teaching duties: it is our standard approach to learning and teaching. The notion of ‘blended learning’ in general, and ABL in particular, is far more complex, multi-faceted and exciting than the mere combination of face-to-face with online components, as I have argued before. At Northampton, a module follows an ABL methodology if it:

  • Is taught through student-centred activities to develop knowledge and understanding, independent learning & digital fluency.
  • Has a core, collaborative face-to-face component, explicitly linked to learning activity outside the classroom, within a single, consistent, highly interactive and student-centred pedagogical approach.
  • Helps to develop autonomy, Changemaker attributes and employability skills.

A course is not taught in ABL if one or more of the following statements is true:

  • It makes regular use of non-interactive lectures.
  • The VLE (or LMS – Blackboard in Northampton’s case) is primarily a content repository.
  • Online activity is merely an add-on to the face-to-face sessions.
  • There is no evidence of regular, systematic enhancement.

New ABL arrow Jan 2018

CAIeRO (Creating Aligned Interactive educational Resource Opportunities), referred to as Carpe Diem in the literature, is Northampton’s workshop of choice to support staff in the design of modules and programmes for ABL. In short, CAIeRO is a team approach to learning design. One of the key areas of focus during CAIeRO is the second box in the above diagram, often neglected in higher education teaching: the tasks for sense-making. The principle behind this focus is that what matters is not so much the content itself, but what learners do with it to achieve outcomes.

Over the years, research, case studies and blog posts provide evidence of the suitability and effectiveness of CAIeRO as a lever for building institutional capacity in student-centred learning design. To support staff in the deployment of ABL (i.e., teaching in an ABL-friendly way that capitalises on the design work done through CAIeRO), there is a range of other workshops that focus on teaching practice, as well as opportunities to engage in peer observation of teaching. All these activities fall under the auspices of C@N-DO (Changemaking at Northampton: Development Opportunities), which is the university’s HEA-accredited academic staff development scheme. By taking part in these activities (all of which are aligned to the UKPSF), staff can be considered for professional recognition as Associate Fellows (D1), Fellows (D2) or Senior Fellows (D3) of the HE Academy.

To establish the impact of the shift to ABL in different academic settings, the Institute of Learning and Teaching in HE at the University of Northampton has funded a number of project over the past two years. Some have already produced research outputs, such as Overcoming barriers to student engagement with ABL. Seven additional projects on aspects of ABL are being funded in the 2017-18 academic year. These projects will report their findings by July 2018.

Prof Alejandro Armellini
28 January 2018

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