UK universities growing keen on block teaching

Suffolk is the first institution to roll out immersive modules across undergraduate curriculum, and others may follow

September 27, 2021
Putting the final bricks in place lego Ice Age display as a metaphor for UK universities growing keen on block teaching
Source: Getty

“Block teaching” is poised for take-off in the UK, with a university set to implement it across its courses for the first time.

The University of Suffolk is set to adopt the model of immersive modules, where students are taught one subject at a time rather than multiple courses simultaneously, a system that was pioneered in Sweden and has been adopted with significant success by Australia’s Victoria University.

Suffolk has piloted block teaching over the past year in its business school and on most of its social science and humanities courses, with four weeks at a time spent focused on a single module followed by a fifth week for assessment.

THE Campus resource: Teaching with LEGO - using plastic bricks to encourage play and interaction in class

Ellen Buck, Suffolk’s director of learning and teaching, said that block teaching had originally been trialled as a response to pandemic-related disruption, but that the technique had proved so successful that it would be used across all undergraduate courses during 2021-22, apart from those that require apprenticeships or placements. It will also be used across several postgraduate courses.

Data from the first term of the last academic year show that the average student grade on modules taught via the immersive approach rose from 56 to 66 per cent.

Although Suffolk is planning further analysis, the “unequivocally positive” response to block teaching showed that “there was no reason not to push it out more widely and more permanently across the institution immediately”, Dr Buck said.

Suffolk is thought to be the first UK university to adopt block teaching across its undergraduate curriculum, but several others are believed to be considering the model, with Dr Buck saying that Manchester Metropolitan University had piloted it. The University of Plymouth recently found success in block teaching for first-year undergraduate teaching.

“It provides a different way of learning. It may not work for all universities [and] student populations, but based on evaluation so far it is for us,” Dr Buck said.

Learning management operator D2L connected Suffolk with Melbourne-based Victoria, which has led the way in rolling out block teaching and has found that the method improves student attainment.

For Suffolk, the key driver was widening participation. “We’ve got a lot of students who are juggling a lot of balls: jobs, caring, digital poverty, illness, and none of that will have been made easier by the pandemic,” Dr Buck said. “We wanted to think about how to enable students to better manage their time, better engage with their learning, and to manage themselves as part of that learning process.”

Making such a significant change had not been entirely straightforward. “There was absolutely reticence and concern [among staff]; it’s a very different design for learning, but I went out with our deputy vice-chancellor to talk to members of staff in every single school, listen to their concerns [and] respond to their concerns,” Dr Buck continued.

“It’s a whole different pedagogy – and needs to be intentionally designed as such. And as with any kind of learning and teaching, it evolves as you work through particular challenges, and find solutions. You can’t know everything at the start or get everything right first time.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Rather an exaggeration based on one very new university that can easily set up modules from scratch and some rumours from a few modern universities. It is not really justified to claim that "UK universities" are keen on the approach since the headline implies widespread introduction.