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April 12, 2022

Report: A study of blended learning shows high student participation


A faculty member teaching an online course in an on-campus studio at the University of Gaziantep.

Fast transition into online learning during the pandemic has kept many wondering if online tools work to sustain academic achievement. Research shows that students use the tools frequently, and high achievement in exams tends to correlate with high interaction with online learning tools.

Soon after the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, higher education institutions around the world were closed and attention quickly turned to how to deliver effective education online. The shift towards online learning was fast and without precedence in many places, resulting in a less than perfect delivery of educational services. Even before the pandemic, SPARK has been working with the blended learning method so that vulnerable communities, such as refugees, have more options to access higher education.

Blended learning, simply put, is a learning technique that uses both in-classroom teaching and online learning. Students can get the face-to-face teaching they need, while having access to online course materials such as videos, reports, forums, quizzes and tests compatible with different styles of learning.

Many youths that SPARK supports face barriers to their education. Blended learning particularly helps students without the ability to physically participate in higher education because they live far from universities, they do not feel comfortable to travel or they lack the financial resources to travel.

Students often also express the need to work to assist their families financially. With blended learning, youth can pursue higher education while working by watching recordings at times that suit them, granted they have a reliable internet connection.

Syrian student, Diaa, uses a tablet to access online courses. Tablets and other tools were distributed to the University of Gaziantep and its students with the funding of European Union © 2021, SPARK

Ensuring university students have access to and benefit from the opportunities that blended learning provides during the pandemic is a component of a project SPARK implements with the financial support of the European Union, that elevates Syrian and Turkish students’ academic success and professional competence via scholarships, capacity raising and entrepreneurship support. 

Our latest report outlines the findings of a study of blended learning in Turkey at the University of Gaziantep, which hosts around 2,460 Syrian students. The report outlines how we upskilled university staff, worked with students and evaluated the effectiveness of blended learning methods for students.

Upskilling teachers
SPARK began with upskilling faculty members at the University of Gaziantep on how to use online learning methods effectively, with an emphasis on student engagement. Trainers gave teaching professionals the tools to use learning management systems and virtual class platforms. These tools helped lecturers administer, track, document and deliver classes over two semesters. SPARK monitored the effectiveness of this new method across nine different online courses.

Students’ engagement with online tools
SPARK’s evaluation showed that students engaged highly with the provided tools. Almost all of the 779 students used the learning management system to participate in online courses. In most of the courses, the student participant in online tools reached more than 90%. This shows that the online infrastructure used in blended learning was easily accessible by the surveyed students.

Students reflect on their positive experiences with using the online learning tools. Hatim, a junior studying Optical and Acoustical Engineering has used the online learning tools in Introduction to Optics course. According to Hatim, online tools are “very simple and easy to interact with.” He has used the system to re-watch the online courses and to refer to the course materials uploaded as pdfs. “I watched the lessons. repeated the course before the exams. This helped me to learn the courses better,” Hatim says.

“I think online classes are better. No one likes to waste time. Traffic on the way to university is wasted time, so is the time spent in between classes. Sometimes I wait for two hours. Online classes prevent wasting time between classes. It saves your time. I study more with this extra time,” Hatim says.

Hatim, photographed during a soft skills training delivered by SPARK at Gaziantep University.

Effectiveness of different online learning
Blended learning consists of several types of activities students can interact with. There are online courses, where the lecturer delivers the course live (and recorded) via a video stream. Then there is course preparation content that students can refer to prior to the classes, and lastly, there is post-class content to help students reinforce their learning.

SPARK found that students not only attended or watched the recordings of online lectures, they also made equal use of the pre and post-class content. Students used course preparation content at the rate of 26% and using after class content at the rate of 27%. The results of the study showed that active participation in all areas of blended learning helped students get higher grades, as exemplified by the general tendency among the highest-grade earners to have high levels of access to the online learning tools.

Homework and online exams
While students used the homework and exam materials the most, the frequency of the use of interactive course materials and videos remained at a steady rate. This shows that students did not resort to using these materials only before exams. Students effectively customised their learning process to suit their learning styles and schedules.

This report is published in partnership with the University of Gaziantep, with the financial support of the European Union.