The University has insisted that its shift to blended learning is “totally” worth the full tuition fee, as it gears up for a new approach following the coronavirus outbreak.
In an exclusive interview with The Mancunion last month, April McMahon, Vice President for Teaching, Learning and Students, said that blended learning presented opportunities for a better learning experience than usual face-to-face teaching.
Blended learning combines online materials with traditional ‘place-based’ classroom methods. If the guidance allows, the University wants to get students into the classroom for tutorials in September.
But as the need for social distancing renders even the largest of lecture halls out of bounds, all lectures will be delivered online.
When asked if the University could still justify charging full tuition fees, MacMahon said: “Totally. We’re following government guidance on this, we’re absolutely committed to this being a high-quality experience for students.
“This is not an online product .. that we’re producing and selling, it’s something that is designed to be blended and have an on-campus component.
“That’s what we’re working towards – to have that really vibrant, innovative mix of on-campus and online [learning].”
Danielle George, Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning, who is in charge of preparing the University for blended learning, added that blended learning would ensure students still got face to face engagement with tutors while having access to all the necessary resources.
George said blended learning was not a “reduction in the provision” of teaching but in fact better than the current system.
And McMahon went on to say that students who try online and blended options report a better learning experience.
She said: “We know we can do this in Manchester, we’ve got a great track record. And actually, although nobody wants a global pandemic – and we certainly don’t want the impact it’s having on our communities, and our staff and our students – it does give us an opportunity to really accelerate offering those blended options to more students.”
She said blended learning could help with student confidence, and means some are more likely to ask questions and engage through video conferencing software.
But students remain split on the shift, with some questioning the viability of the new system.
Reece Ritchie, a second-year economics and politics and politics student, told The Mancunion he wasn’t optimistic.
He said: “I feel like blended learning in September is only going to hinder me in figuring out where the gaps in my knowledge lie from first year.”
However, some students were feeling more positive.
Elle Delilah, a second-year English Literature and Drama student, said: “My course doesn’t [usually] give access to lecture podcasts, which we will now be having.
“For me personally, I need time to listen and make notes and the speed [of] lectures often leaves me feeling quite defeated because I don’t have time to listen, understand and write.”
During the interview, MacMahon and George were also asked whether smaller classroom sizes due to social distancing could lead to greater workloads for staff.
MacMahon said decisions on staffing were made at faculty level, but that staff may have to take on extra work.
She said: “Everybody’s concerned because we don’t know what exactly the situation is going to be for next year.
“We know that there’s a lot of students who still want to come to Manchester but we don’t know if they’ll be able to come.
“If those students come, then the money situation is better, and if the money situation is better we don’t need to worry about the staff because most of our funding that goes into teaching and learning comes directly from student fees.
“We’re being honest and giving as much time as possible to staff for preparation … there may be a few cases where we might need to double up on some things.
But MacMahon added that Manchester’s technology meant cohorts could be joined up both online and in classrooms as part of blended learning, potentially easing the burden on staff.