The project begins with the assumption that universities in the United Kingdom (Warwick inclusive) are increasingly relying on postgraduate teaching assistants in order to enable them to teach small classes. Most postgraduate teaching assistants engage in small group teaching through either seminars or tutorials. These seminars are small group discussions (with up to 14 students) which enable cooperative and active learning to take place (Stenhouse 1972:18) Students are also encouraged to exchange ideas (Griffiths 1999.95).
In the midst of government cuts to teaching budgets, postgraduate teaching assistants may become more prevalent in universities. Universities are facing reduced annual funding from the government of £398 million in the financial year 2010-2011 (BBC news). Lord Browne’s review, which is preceding the government’s proposed changes to the Higher Education Bill 2011, has led to the introduction of tuition fees in order to try to meet this shortfall. This will have implications for the higher education. A University of Warwick Survey in 2011 suggested that positioning students as consumers will lead to a demand for more innovative teaching in order for the students to get more value for their money. The Student Union is already engaged in talk with the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL) about the direction that such innovative learning could take.
One such form of innovative teaching technique that post graduate student teachers could be ideally place to provide is blended learning through the use of e-learning technology. The project will involve primary research undertaken by a postgraduate teaching assistant (Sharifah Sekalala) under the supervision of the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Law (James Harrison) Sharifah teaches both in the law school (tort seminars) and in the Warwick Business School (the Critical Issues in Law and Management course). She is therefore ideally placed to harness her experience of teaching from two different departments within Warwick and make recommendations which will have relevance at a strategic level for the university. James Harrison has experience of running successful projects in the past (Reinvention Centre Grant 2008-9) and of ensuring the dissemination of learning from projects to a wide audience (e.g. see http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/chrp/projectss/humanrightsimpactassessments/cwv/). He also has considerable experience of using e-technology in his courses (e.g. turningpoint, e-quizzes etc.)
What is blended learning? There is no uniform definition of blended learning. It has been referred to as integrative learning, hybrid learning and multi method learning at different times within education research. (Node 2001)The ultimate aim of blended learning is to, ‘provide realistic practical opportunities for learners and for (emphasis added) teachers to make learning independent, useful, sustainable and ever growing.’ (Graham 2005)
E-learning is defined for our purpose here as, ‘the use of any of the new technologies or applications in the service or learning or learner support.’ The e-learning that will be used can be described in its widest sense as instruction delivered via electronic media including the internet, intranets, audio video and tape, interactive video, and CD Rom. (Bixler and Spotts 2000) .This form of e-learning is what (Bates and Poole 2003) refer to as technology enhanced or supported learning. Thus unlike other e-learning definitions this one very much focuses less on eventual automation and more on the postgraduate teachers management of the e-learning technology for the benefit of undergraduate students.
E-learning can make a significant difference to how students learn. This may be in terms of mastering skills, ease of use and also enjoyment within the learning process. (Ashwin eds. 2005) From the university and academics point of view, e-learning can enable them, ‘to manage the difficult trick of making the learner’s interaction with the academic feel like a personalised learning experience focused on their needs and aspirations, developing their skills and knowledge to the high levels...’ (Ashwin eds. 2005:6)