Suffolk's university among first in UK to adopt block teaching style

Dr Ellen Buck on why the University of Suffolk has adopted block teaching

The University of Suffolk is among the first in the UK to adopt block teaching on courses. Inset Dr Ellen Buck - Credit: Archant/University of Suffolk

A trial of a new teaching method not seen at UK universities has been hailed a success by Suffolk students. 

The University of Suffolk, in Ipswich, is among the first universities in the UK to adopt block teaching, which sees students taught one module at a time, rather than many modules and exams at a later date.

The University of Suffolk's Waterfront Building in Ipswich

The University of Suffolk's Waterfront building - Credit: Archant

The approach was developed in Australia and carried out at universities in Europe and America.

Due to the pandemic, leaders agreed to trial the way of learning in business, social science and humanities undergraduate courses with students taking an assessment after studying one module for four weeks. 

Politics and history student Morgan Horton, from Felixstowe, said the block teaching would help student's mental health to have one assessment after each module, rather than sit multiple exams all at the same time at specific point of the year. 

She said: "I have two children, two jobs, two dogs, it is busy and the fact I only had one module to focus on, the homework, the reading, I do not think I could have handled all my commitments without it being that way.

"I find block learning extremely beneficial and as someone with other responsibilities; being able to focus one topic at a time is essential to minimising my stress and maximising what I can achieve.

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"The university is in the early stages of implementing it and I cannot fault them in the way they have listened to, supported, and acted on the feedback I have given."

Data provided by the university found 68% of students agreed that block teaching had helped them concentrate on their work, rising to 72% when asked if it suited their lifestyle.

Politics student Anna Girling, added: "I have never studied at university level before, but comparing it to other similar types of educational experiences I really like the block teaching.  It works well for me because it allows me to fully immerse myself in a subject.

"It removes the tension of trying to focus on various subjects simultaneously, and gives me the freedom to read and explore aspects of each subject within its own time."

Dr Ellen Buck, director of teaching and learning at the University of Suffolk.

Dr Ellen Buck, director of teaching and learning at the University of Suffolk, has shared the benefits of pupils who have trialed block teaching. - Credit: James Fletcher/University of Suffolk

Dr Ellen Buck, director of teaching and learning, said widening participation was the main driver as students learned from home and managed jobs, caring responsibilities, illness or struggled with digital poverty. 

She says academic leaders aim to ensure all students have the same experience as more courses trial the teaching this year.

Dr Buck said: "This really came about as a reaction to the Covid pandemic. We were looking at data in terms of the impact and the ability to engage with learning. 

"From our perspective, we are still learning, we are constantly learning about it, the last 18 months showed just how quickly it has had to change, what it means for expectations, for student engagement and in terms of our staffing and writing programmes. We do have to be constantly revisiting have we got this right.

"While there was concern from some academics that students would not retain learning, we have seen through engagement data with online resources, that students are going back to revisit content and materials in earlier modules."

The University of Suffolk recently celebrated rises in two national newspaper ranks. 

Other UK institutions have enquired about the method said Dr Buck to understand why they had done it.

The school of engineering, science and technology courses will trial the method this year, as well as those in their second year of social sciences and humanities courses. 

It will also be used across several postgraduate courses.