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Sylvia Vink on Activated Blended Learning at FSW

15 December 2021
Sylvia Vink, education director at the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSW), is affiliated with the faculty Blended Education Teams from her position. Since 2018 the faculty has worked on making courses more active and curriculum wide adaptation of didactics. Since COVID19, this has been done in the light of the transformation to Activated Blended Learning. We interviewed Sylvia about the way FSW shapes this development towards activated blended learning and got inspiration about forms that support activated learning, like team-based learning and case-based learning.

What is Activated Blended Learning?

Activated blended learning is first and foremost about activating education: students must actively acquiretheir knowledge and skills on the basis of previous knowledge.The more active the acquisition of knowledge, the deeper the learning process and the better you can remember and put it into practice. We are therefore actively working on all kinds of didactic forms that bring about activation. FSW sees blended learning as support for active learning. 

Can you tell us anything about those teaching methods?

We have a variety of activating teaching modes in our teaching: Team-based learning, Case-based learning and Transdisciplinary learning. Team-based learning means that students first study the content of their subjects themselves and try to master it, then work together with other students, thus learning from each other. This didactic method is used in the bachelor course Communication Sciences. To make Team-based learning work, students must first be well-prepared for the lectures, i.e. they must read articles, watch knowledge clips and sometimes complete assignments. The students are then given an individual test about the content of the lectures. In this way, they can immediately test the knowledge they have acquired. After that, they get the same test, but this time they have to do it together with their group. When making the test, the students help each other to better understand the material. Sometimes it is better to learn from fellow students than from experts - who sometimes do not know where to start! By learning from each other, the performance of the group as a whole increases. Finally, they get a corrective lecture: all problematic points that emerged from the group test are discussed. After this corrective lecture, students in the same groups will apply the knowledge to specific cases. This is done by means of multiple choice questions where no 100% correct answer exists, so through discussion the best answer must be chosen. The conclusion of the subject consists of valuing your own contribution to the group. The advantage of this method is that students are well-prepared and actively participate in the lectures. If you do not, you cannot keep up with the pace of the courses. 

Can you talk a little bit more about Case-based learning? 

Yes, Case-based learning uses authentic cases that are discussed in groups. Videos and digital support materials are used, which are available on Canvas. Students work on a real-life case, study the literature to analyse  and answer questions about the case. Working through the case is done in small groups. The cases are discussed during the lectures, during which the teacher asks in-depth questions that can only be answered if the case has been studied thoroughly. If students are unable to answer these questions adequately, the lecture should stop. This way students learn how to present cases in the safe environment of the lecture rather than with stakeholders. We also have Transdisciplinary Learning, in which some topics are taught in cooperation with stakeholders from outside  VU. These stakeholders come up with assignments for the students, so they immediately learn why their knowledge is relevant, which has a motivating effect. They also learn how to formulate  their knowledge according to the question. They also practice other skills, such as communication with stakeholders outside the university, listening empathically and adapting research questions. They also need to have something to present to the stakeholder, something depends on it, and you never know how a stakeholder will react. Sometimes the stakeholder just reacts to the solution and sometimes they collaborate with the students on a solution. 

How is support provided, by topic or by course?

We have a Blended learning team that also focuses on activated learning. We use the Quality Agreement funds to really innovate topic and make them activated and blended. We make sure that these teachers have time to implement activated learning by scheduling this before the start of the year. If lecturerse do not get any development time, the blended team can't help either. The courses that are being adapted were chosen by the course directors. In addition, at the request of the Joint Assembly (GV), 40,000 euros were reserved for lecturers with innovative plans for their subject. Many (junior) lecturers have fantastic, innovative ideas and this will give them the opportunity to put these ideas into practice. In this way there is room for enthusiasm and inspiration from teachers. 

Are there any bottlenecks?

Developing education is a process, it's not bingo the first time. There is experimenting and fine-tuning, I do not see that as making mistakes. Ultimately, teachers have been given time, but sometimes during the year, you are "overtaken" by other developments, such as the changes brought about by COVID-19. Then, for example, people don't have time to offer everything online as well as implementing activating techniques directly. 

What are you proud of?

We are proud of many of our courses! It's great that some courses take the adventure with Team-Based Learning, other courses create a real community by organizing all kinds of binding activities, and there are courses where students have to explain difficult subjects on film. Actually, there is too much. It is even more interesting when an entire curriculum is made active, as is the case with the bachelor's programme in Sociology. We have now developed a very nice didactic line that is case-based and transdisciplinary. You can see that it pays to tackle an entire curriculum! It is great if individual subjects are given the opportunity to develop, but as soon as a learning method is applied to an entire curriculum, you really set the tone. Then the culture becomes: you come prepared to the lectures! It's not always the case, but it's no longer the norm to come unprepared. So can a whole curriculum be tackled? If so, do it, because you will be changing the culture. We have started in September and the first experiences are positive!