A new semester has begun at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, and most students are back on campus. For Design School, however, there are still a few international staff and students who have not yet been able to return. To optimise the learning experience for all students, some modules will be delivered online, and some will be taught both online and onsite, in the new blended teaching model.

Both challenges and opportunities await the staff and students with blended learning. For teachers, the main challenge is the organisation of classes and group work, as well as ensuring that the students are engaged with the content, especially in the online context.

However, the blended method allows academic staff to rethink the design of their modules, says Dr Papadikis: “There are opportunities for assessment review, curriculum review, and new programme development – and not only for students and new learners, but also for lifelong learning, in terms of continuous professional development courses in online distant learning.

“Now we’re able to use the tools and applications to further develop and evolve our teaching methodology and our assessment design. I think this is the biggest opportunity right now.”


Challenges are opportunities

Not only are teachers having to update their teaching methods, but students are also facing changes in the new learning environment. From Dr Papadikis’ perspective, the biggest difficulty for students is time management.

“Many students are not able to effectively manage their time when it comes to online learning. It is very common for students to say ‘if it's online then I can review it at any time, but this never happens. They reach the end of the semester and realise they have to listen to 24 two-hour presentations. This can lead to some unpleasant results,” he says.

“But I think the biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity – learning effective time management skills now is something that will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” says Dr Papadikis.

Despite the challenges of using unfamiliar technology, the School and the University are doing all they can to ensure the quality of learning for students.

Firstly, academic staff are being given comprehensive training to be able to utilise the available resources to the fullest extent.

Secondly, the School is engaging with students to make sure they understand how they can take full advantage of the resources provided to them for their own benefit.


Teaching tech

“There are different ways to use technology to enhance ‘learning by doing’ or active learning, such as the organisation of flipped classes, additional teaching, and so on,” says Dr Papadikis.

Currently for Design School, two new technologies will be applied in the new semester: the HyFlex class system and an assessment tool called Gradescope.

“The HyFlex system allows online and onsite modes of teaching to take place at the same time using a combination of technologies like webcams, document cameras, and conferencing software. It very nicely addresses the issue of how to use different tools within the blended class, like the whiteboard, PowerPoint presentation, or any kind of electronic document that needs to be displayed,” says Dr Papadikis.

While the HyFlex system deals with class teaching, Gradescope is an assessment-focused software that integrates AI technology in the classification of submitted coursework. This function is especially important for cross-disciplinary teaching, which is something extremely crucial for Design School.

“To give you an example, our new taster module DES001 involves six different academics delivering six different topics to introduce their discipline to the students. There's only one assessment to cover all of these areas. We are talking about a class of thousands of students: how do we mark this? With the help of Gradescope, we can actually do it within the time given to us. The students will have continuous feedback provided to them online, and they will be able to revisit the feedback because it will always be available to them in the system,” says Dr Papadikis.

Still, while the Design School has acted quickly in the rapid transition from onsite to online mode in the last semester, Dr Papadikis believes there is space for improvement: “We need to explore more ways to increase the interaction with students through various platforms like BigBlueButton for further Q&A sessions and one-on-ones.

But Dr Papadikis is optimistic about this semester: “I think now everyone is prepared for what is actually coming. I can see many people have started really enjoying the new system because it provides opportunities to rethink a lot of issues like assessment design, student engagement, and so on.”


By Yi Qian, edited by Patricia Pieterse

Photo by Yanyin Ni

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