Special issue


This paper is framed by Nick Zepke’s, Vicki Trowler’s, and Paul Trowler’s concept of student engagement being “chaotic”, suffering from “indigestion” and “fuzziness”. This study was conducted at a UK higher education institution that recently moved to a “block and blend” delivery approach. We investigated what students and staff think engagement looks like in an intensive block and blend learning context. Data were gathered from students and staff via an online survey, which consisted of both scaled and open-ended questions. Findings are synthesised in an elemental map, providing a comparison of students and staff perceptions of engagement. Specifically, students and staff thought engagement in an intensive block and blend context entailed participation and active learning; a mindset that included enthusiasm, interest, focus, and enjoyment; timely completion of assessments; relationships with peers and tutors; doing more than required, such as completing extra readings; and accessing help and support. Participants also identified attendance as an indicator of student engagement and determined that the university has a responsibility to create learning environments to foster student engagement. Overall, the study findings point to elements of student engagement that may be designed into intensive block and blend learning environments. These approaches are also relevant to other similar intensive learning contexts.

Practitioner Notes

  1. We argue that the adoption of intensive learning environments results in higher levels of students’ self-reported engagement levels compared to traditional semester modules.
  2. Prioritise fostering a positive mindset among students, as this appears to be significantly more influential to their engagement.
  3. Promote peer interactions and collaborations, as students seem to emphasise peer relationships over tutor relationships for their learning experience.
  4. Consider integrating intensive learning with blended flipped classrooms to meet all elements of student engagement within the course and module design, except “personal factors”, which may not be within the university’s control.
  5. Implement the flipped classroom method, especially in block and blend settings, as this encourages both visible and invisible forms of participation and active learning, which remain a cornerstone of student engagement.