The new format of Higher Education: what will this look like?

Emma Seton·8 June 2020·6 min read
The new format of Higher Education: what will this look like?

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic this March, many UK Universities underwent rapid contingency measures to swiftly convert teaching from the traditional face-to-face lecture style, to online or virtual platforms. While in March, this online conversion was completely unprecedented, many UK universities are now looking to enhance their online presence for the 2020/2021 academic year. Before Universities begin teaching again in September, they are taking a considered and designed approach to outline safe and suitable plans for students.

Blended Learning

Many Universities have set out plans for a blended approach to teaching, including the University of Manchester, the University of Sheffield and the University of Liverpool. This involves transferring large lectures online, and providing face-to-face teaching, where possible, in smaller groups for tutorials, seminars and labs. While each University has their own unique response, the blend between online teaching and face-to-face teaching, looks to maintain the previous divisions students received between active and passive learning.

Maintaining the active v passive learning balance

Lectures take the form of passive learning; students will listen to their professor, often taking notes without participating in any discussion. Conversely, students engage in active learning in the form of seminars, tutorials and labs. Here, students will often have to prepare notes before class and engage in discussions with their tutors and other classmates, or in the case of labs to conduct a practical experiment. While many students would have preferred all their teaching to take place on-campus, the new teaching format maintains the previous active/passive learning split. While it is likely that group sizes for seminars, tutorials and labs will be reduced, Universities are still able to facilitate active and engaging face-to-face learning for students. Yet with this new style of education, where lectures are online and seminars, tutorials and labs on campus, how much face-to-face learning will pupils actually receive?

How much face to face contact will I receive?

The implications of this blended teaching approach will vary between Universities and between courses. In the 2019/2020 academic year, on average, students spent more teaching time in lectures than in other classroom settings. Through lectures students will often be taught new content; this is where much of their learning takes place. Seminars and tutorials are shorter more active sessions allowing students to discuss or debate concepts and engage in exercises to embed their knowledge. While most courses have more time devoted to lectures, the exact division between lectures and seminars is course specific.

“As an Engineering student my timetable is dense, I have 25 hours timetabled per week, split between 15 hours of lectures, 5 hours of tutorials, and 5 hours of labs."

Civil Engineering student at the University of Newcastle

Each week I have 7 hours of lectures, three that are two hours long and one for an hour. For each of these lectures I had a one-hour seminar. Seminars were organised on two-week blocks, so across a two-week period I had 4 hours of seminars."

Law student at the University of Lancaster

“I have 16 hours timetabled, split 3:1 between lectures and tutorials. Last semester, I had 12 hours of lectures and 4 hours of tutorials each week."

Maths student at Manchester Metropolitan University

“I have 12 hours timetabled each week, split between 9 hours of lectures and 3 hours of tutorials"

Psychology student at the University of Newcastle

“I have between 15-20 hours of lectures per week, with one tutorial every week, and a seminar every other week"

Biochemistry Student at the University of Manchester

“I have 9 contact hours a week, split 2:1 between lectures and seminars. I had 6 hours of lectures per week, and 3 hours of seminars"

English Student at the University of Manchester.

While the exact implications of this new style of learning will vary between students, it is clear that for the majority of students, they will receive a larger ratio of their learning online, as lectures are the dominant format for teaching.

However, students returning to campus will still receive active face-to-face teaching sessions, however, the exact format of teaching groups may undergo change. While previously students would mix between teaching groups, Universities are discussing the prospects of protective bubbles. This would mean that students remain within the same teaching cohorts across their modules, rather than mixing between teaching groups.

Safe and secure campus environment

For some time now, the world has been rapidly changing, and the higher education system too must change and adapt within the current circumstances. As the summer term comes to an end, Universities are spending time and resources to make their campuses safe for students and provide new and innovative ways of teaching and learning. It is paramount that students’ well-being is placed at the core of Universities plans for the new academic year, and while many Universities plan to increase face-to-face exposure for students throughout the year, this can only be achieved once it is safe to do so.

While students may expect their timetable to look different this September, the active/passive balance within their learning will likely be maintained.