'Revolutionary' teaching model delivers amid online transition

Victoria University (VU) students have continued to reap the benefits of the University’s Block Model even as it transitioned from classroom to digital and remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As one of the first universities in Australia to report student outcomes during the outbreak, new VU data revealed that academic success was similar, and in some cases slightly higher, compared to the same time in 2019 despite the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Data from Block 2 in 2020 showed an uptick of students who achieved high distinctions at 25% compared with 24.7% last year, while those who received distinctions were at 26.3% this year compared with 2019’s 27.8%.

Passing and attendance rates were also slightly higher with only 9.8% of students who enroled this year failed or withdrew. In 2019, the figure was 11.6%.

About 19% of students achieved a credit and 8% achieved a pass this year, compared with 21% and 11%, respectively, in 2019.

Shift to virtual learning

VU is the first Australian university to adopt the model, which is considered to be one of the most effective student-centred and community-integrated programs in the higher education sector.

With class sizes typically ranging from 15 to 30 students, teachers have also reported increased engagement and attendance in the new online environment.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Dawkins said that the results were a testament to VU’s revolutionary Block Model, which offered one subject at a time in small classes over four weeks. This meant students were not distracted by the demands of multiple subjects and assessments in their new virtual learning environment.

“Students at VU are continuing to perform well both on and off-campus and have adapted successfully to the transition to flexible and remote learning, which is shown through this testing period,” he said.

Most VU students have completed one subject in the online environment during the pandemic and have moved on to their next subject in Block 3, which commenced at the start of the month.

“The results also reflect the commitment of our teaching staff who have undergone rapid and significant professional development to ensure teaching quality as well as successful student engagement and outcomes through innovative learning strategies,” Professor Dawkins said.

“VU had the foresight to reimagine university curriculum with the Block Model three years ago and now its single-subject study focus has truly come into its own, and we are experiencing positive results no matter the environment.”

High praise

Students and staff have heaped praise on how the University has effectively shifted the model to the digital platform.

"VU has approached remote learning beautifully and quickly. The Block Model has made it better as there’s not the pressure of learning several subjects at once,” said Toolsika Rawoah, second year Criminal Justice/Psychology student.

“I’m not worried about exams as I only have assignments and small tests.”

Bachelor of Education freshman Grace Farrant also felt at ease on how the online classes were conducted.

"VU has made remote learning stress-free. That’s a huge relief for those of us in our first year of university. I genuinely believe I’m learning more deeply than I could in a traditional university structure,” she said. 

Professor Andrew Smallridge, VU’s Dean of First Year College, expressed on pride on how quick the University has made the transition.

“As the only university in Australia using the Block Model, I am proud our staff and students have been able to undertake such an immense transformation with such focus, resourcefulness and professionalism. That truly shows we’re on the right track,” he said.

This year’s Block 3 has received a sharp rise in enrolments of new students, increasing 20% (133 additional students) from 2019.

VU’s success was also reflected in the results of the Australian Government 2019 Student Experience Survey, where it got an 82.2% rating for Overall Experience, exceeding the national average.