‘Tweaking’ a blended learning approach to increase student engagement and embed formative assessment tasks – Dylan Scanlon

The current Covid-19 pandemic has greatly influenced on our teaching and learning at higher education. This influence has shifted our teaching from a face-to-face environment / blended learning environment to a fully online environment; a challenge for both teachers at higher education and their students. For someone who is somewhat critical of the level of student engagement in online teaching (when compared to face-to-face) and a big advocate of formative assessment in face-to-face teaching practice, these were two concerns of mine entering into this fully online environment. As part of the Graduate Diploma in Teaching, Learning and Scholarship I am completing, we had to do construct a teaching innovation plan and enact it over the last semester. I used this opportunity to try and address my two concerns with regards to the use of recorded lectures.

I co-teach on a module titled ‘Sociological Concepts of Teaching and Learning in Physical Education’ to third year undergraduate pre-service physical education teachers. For the past year, this module has been taught in a blended learning approach. The 12-week long module is broken into four blocks (three weeks per block) and each block is structured the same, i.e., week one is face-to-face lectures and tutorials, week two is face-to-face lectures and online ‘live chat’ tutorials, and week three is recorded lectures and online ‘live chat’ tutorials. Based on research colleagues and I conducted on this blended learning approach (Calderon, Scanlon, MacPhail, & Moody, In review), the balance between online learning and face-to-face learning was welcomed by the students and the teachers. This is important in a blended learning environment so that both online and face-to-face learning supports the teaching and learning in a meaningful manner (Mitchell & Former, 2010). Given the teaching on this module can be considered ‘innovative’, my teaching innovation plan sought to ‘tweak’ one aspect of the blended approach to increase student engagement in one aspect of the online learning activities, i.e., the recorded lectures.

Before this teaching innovation plan, we, the teachers, recorded lectures and prompted the students to watch them. We had no evidence that the students watched these lectures or had opportunities to formatively assess their learned knowledge from these recorded lectures (or for the students to self-assess). This prompted me to think of opportunities to address this. The lectures were recorded using screencastomatic and the use of PowerPoint. At the start of the recorded lecture, I gave the following instructions:

My ‘tweaking’ plan sought to have two goals: (1) increase student engagement with the recorded lectures; and (2) embed formative assessment tasks into the recorded lecture to allow self-assessment and teacher-assessment.

  1. Increase student engagement with the recorded lectures. In addressing this goal, I made the following changes to the recorded lecture
  2. Throughout the recorded lecture, there are prompts to pause the video and reflect on the content shared. Reflective questions are asked to encourage critical thinking and have a deeper engagement with the content. Please see image below of example slide:

Doing this ‘pause and reflect’ practice throughout the recorded lecture allowed me to embed a two minute YouTube clip. Having such activities and allowing the students to pause and reflect encouraged a self-paced environment (Castro, 2019). Please see image below of example slide:

(2) Embed formative assessment tasks into the recorded lecture to allow self-assessment and teacher-assessment. In addressing this goal, I embedded the following formative assessment tasks:

  • Constructivist alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2007): I continued to operate within the constructivist alignment approach in the recorded lectures. I broke the chosen learning outcome down into three learning intentions and then aligned success criteria. These are shared with the students at the start of the recorded lecture and then at the end of the recorded lecture, I revisit the learning intentions/success criteria and ask the students to type down a score (1 a low score to 5 a high score) if they have met the success criteria / learning intentions. This allows the students to self-assess on their own knowledge but also provides the teacher an opportunity to assess their self-assess scores. This gives me an indication of how successful the recorded lecture was and if the students provide low numbers, I revisit these learning intentions in the next lecture / tutorial. Please see slide below for learning intentions and success criteria:

  • Muddy points: At the end of the lecture, students are prompted to write down their muddiest / most confusing / needs more explaining point of todays lecture. This is then revisited in the next lecture or tutorial. This allows the teacher to assess the students’ knowledge of the lecture and where the gaps are to be addressed in the next lecture / tutorial. These muddy points are then addressed when the class meets again. Please see muddy points slide below:

  • Key take home messages: Students are asked to take down their key take home message and an action point for their own future teaching practice. This allows the students to reflect on the content and think about how it might help shape their teaching practice going forward. Please see key take home messages slide below:

Overall, I believe (informed by student feedback) the teaching ‘tweaking’ plan was successful in engaging students in the content through reflective writing tasks and embedding formative assessment tasks in the recorded lecture. I plan to continue to use this plan in my future teaching practice and outline some key take home messages that I have learned from implementing this activity:

  • The importance of engaging with the students’ responses (particularly with the muddy points) and relaying this information back to the students in the next tutorial class. By doing this, and prompting a conversation on these muddy points, the teacher can facilitate a dialogue between students where they have the opportunity to share knowledge and learn from each other. Feedback from the students highlighted how they appreciated this ‘muddy points’ approach.
  • Based on student feedback, do not overload students with long recorded lectures (15 minutes max) and a lot of reflective questions (5 max). This has the opposite effect and disengages students!
  • In this fully online teaching environment we find ourselves in due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to be cognisant of the amount of (extra) work students are receiving from all their modules. Sometimes less is more!
  • To end, the blended learning approach of this module and teaching ‘tweaking’ plan was constructed in ‘normal’ pre-Covid19 times. While I looked to increase student engagement and enhance the use of formative assessment in recorded lectures, this type of teaching (or delivery) should not be replaced by face-to-face teaching. It should complement it in a blended manner to facilitate different types of learners in the classroom and provide a relevant, meaningful and worthwhile learning experience (Mitchell and Former 2010).


Dylan Scanlon is a Postgraduate Researcher in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  His current research interests include curriculum development and assessment re physical education.  You can contact Dylan via email dylan.scanlon@ul.ie or follow him on twitter @DylanScanlon1

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