Creating communities with blended learning UT-researchers study perceptions of community in blended education

Linlin Pei, together with her supervisors Cindy Poortman, Kim Schildkamp and Nieck Benes studied three blended learning courses at the University of Twente to find the main factors that contribute to or limit the sense of community in a group. The researchers published their findings in the scientific journal Education and Information Technologies. “Students and teachers from our university were able to raise their voices.”

Blended learning is one of the fastest-growing trends in higher education. “It is more than making a video; it’s not the same as hybrid learning where a teacher livestreams its classroom to students who watch online”, explains Linlin Pei, corresponding author. During the pandemic, many universities gained a renewed interest in blended learning. It has potential for flexible and personalised learning. However, if the social aspect of learning is overlooked, then it’s possible that the quality of education decreases.

ScienceGuide Highlight

ScienceGuide has also highlighted this research as a source of inspiration for educators seeking to enhance blended learning. (Article in Dutch)

Sense of community

For effective group learning, students need to feel that they belong and matter to the group. This feeling is called a sense of community. Creating it, however, might be more complicated than you’d expect. “Teachers are recommended to optimise their course design to integrate a sense of community. Especially when physical classroom time decreases”, says Pei. She emphasised that many digital tools cannot replace in-person contact. Pei suggests that educators use communication technologies with caution. “We all know ‘Zoom fatigue’. The same holds true for other digital communication tools.”

Group work

To strengthen the sense of community, the researchers suggest using group learning activities within the courses. According to the students, these activities increase their mutual motivation to achieve academic success. Other factors that can result in a higher sense of community are non-academic and extracurricular activities across courses. Students reported that they used WhatsApp groups without teachers to interact with one another outside the classroom. “Students really valued a teacher-free zone to converse with peers”, explains Pei.

Campus Life

Last but not least, students acknowledged the importance of campus life. “The campus is part of the experience”, said all interviewed students. The campus is a place where academic and social life can coexist. It can prevent feelings of isolation and foster a social and learning environment.

Cooperation with three faculties

Saskia Lindhoud, Marcus Vinicius Pessôa, and Lyset Rekers-Mombarg, along with students from the faculties of S&T, BMS, and ET, made invaluable contributions to this research. Our teachers are actively innovating in education. One awesome example is Saskia Lindhoud, who utilised her blended course to achieve her SUTQ (senior university teaching qualification). “It’s great to connect our research with practical examples,” says Pei. Linlin Pei is an educational consultant (CELT) for the Faculty of S&T. For her PhD, she studies the support for teachers on blended learning development.  The results of this study were published in an article entitled “Teachers’ and students’ perceptions of a sense of community in blended education”.

DOI: 10.1007/s10639-023-11853-y

K.W. Wesselink - Schram MSc (Kees)
Science Communication Officer (available Mon-Fri)