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This video from Dr Rachel Maunder, Associate Professor in Psychology, provides some examples of active, blended learning approaches that Rachel has tried in her modules so far. Rachel shares two different models, one which focuses on linking classroom activity to independent study tasks online, and one which includes some teaching in the online environment in addition to face to face sessions. Rachel also shares useful lessons she has learned from her experiences so far.

If you have questions about either of these approaches, Rachel is happy to take these via email.


This post is one in a series of ABL Practitioner Stories, published in the countdown to Waterside. If you’d like us to feature your work, get in touch:

By Samantha Read, Lecturer in Marketing, FBL

Taking an active blended learning approach to the delivery of my Advertising module for the BA Marketing Management Top-Up programme has enabled me to enhance traditional ways of teaching the subject material for students to make constructive links between areas of learning and engage with theory in a fun and collective way.

Traditionally, I presented the students with a lecture-style presentation of the history of advertising, drawing on examples from the past and present to illustrate how advertising practices have changed over time. The subject material by its very nature is fascinating, from uncovering secrets behind Egyptian hieroglyphics to discussing implications of the printing press and debating the impact of the digital environment on advertising. Yet, without the ability to transport students back in time, it felt as if they were not fully able to appreciate the momentous changes that have taken place within advertising over the years.

Example posters on the History of Advertising

Example posters on the History of Advertising

To support the students in learning about the history of advertising this academic year, taking an active blended learning approach, I used a jigsaw classroom technique to facilitate a whole class timeline activity. Before the session, all students were asked to bring in their own device. Following an initial introduction in to the importance of reflecting on the development of advertising over time, I divided the class into seven groups of three or four students. Each group was then given just one piece of the timeline and had 30 minutes to research the implications of that section of history on advertising practice. This included ‘Advertising and Ancient Egypt’, ‘Advertising and the Roman Empire’, ‘The Printing Press was invented’, ‘The development of Billboards’, ‘Radio was invented’, ‘Television was invented’ and ‘The internet was invented’. Students were then given some suggestions of reliable sources where they could go online to research their given time frame and the importance of using these sources and referencing them was stressed.

History of Advertising in the classroom

History of Advertising in the classroom

Whilst the students worked together in their groups to research and construct a one-page A3 poster on flipchart paper outlining their key findings, I circulated the room to check understanding of the research process and the content. This was particularly important as the majority of the students in the class are international students and unfamiliar with UK advertising practices or some terms that they were coming across. I was also able to check the students’ enjoyment of the task and to ensure that everyone in the group was happy to get involved. In contrast to a large lecture style format, the ABL workshop centred on each individual and their specific progression throughout the workshop session.

History of Advertising Timeline

History of Advertising Timeline

Upon completion of their A3 poster, each group was instructed to peg their work to the washing line timeline I had attached to the back wall by fitting their time frame within the correct historical period. This ‘active’ jigsaw part of the session not only served a purpose to physically place each time period within its context, but also kept the students engaged in a whole class activity; the success of the timeline ultimately rested with all groups contributing. Once all of the assigned time slots were attached to the washing line, each group selected a member of their group to come to the back of the class to explain their key research findings in relation to the significance of their given time period to the development of advertising throughout history. Having a physical timeline to work with helped sustain the students’ interest in the task and the students themselves were able to make links between each other’s posters, adding to their own and others’ knowledge and understanding.

To ‘blend’ this session to the online environment and subsequently in to the next week’s workshop focusing on the nature of advertising in society, students were asked to complete a survey on NILE which compared print and TV toothpaste advertisements over time. They were also asked to reflect in their online journal on any similarities and differences between the UK based ads included in the survey and those from their home countries. Tutor support and feedback was given on this exercise to ensure that knowledge was accurately embedded and contextualised. Students were also asked to collect three examples of advertisements that they came across over the course of the week as a starting point for a semiotic exercise at the beginning of the next workshop.

Overall, I found the jigsaw classroom technique worked extremely well as part of an ABL approach to teaching the history of advertising. Rather than passively taking in knowledge as I had previously witnessed when delivering this session in the past, there was a real buzz in the classroom. The students were all invested in working together to complete their part of the timeline and were even taking photographs of their completed work. One important aspect of facilitating learning for me is providing opportunities for creativity both in the classroom and online, and taking an ABL approach certainly allows for that.

This post is the first in a new series of ABL Practitioner Stories, published in the countdown to Waterside. If you’d like us to feature your work, get in touch:

Discussion boards aren’t the latest NILE tool on the block, however FBL lecturer Samantha Read proves it can be an effective tool for extending learning beyond the classroom.


Conversations about discussion boards often reveal how these require ongoing commitment and thoughtful planning. For this post I spoke to marketing lecturer, Samantha Read, and learning designer, Elizabeth Palmer. These are their top tips for successful discussion boards:

  1. Link your discussion board with classroom activities and teach the tool

As a lecturer who uses discussion boards extensively with large cohorts in FBL, Samantha Read explained the way she combines discussion boards with classroom teaching in these simple points:

  • As part of an e-tivity before the workshop session, I encourage students to share their initial ideas and research, with each other and myself, before we discuss them in more detail and apply the theory in the classroom
  • During the classroom session as part of group-work students record what their group has covered during the face-to-face time and use this as feed-forward to the next group session
  • After the classroom session, students are asked to reflect on what they have learnt during our workshop and receive tutor feedback on their understanding of the classroom content

Of her students’ digital literacy she says, “It is easy to assume that our ‘tech-savvy’ students will be able to use the discussion boards but I have found that many find them difficult. I would therefore suggest that time is taken during a face-to-face session to go over the purpose for using discussion boards as well as demonstrating the basics – what is the difference between a forum and a thread, how to add a post, how to reply to a post, how to embed an image or a video, and how posts can be deleted.”

2. How do I set a task that is sufficiently interesting for discussion?

One of the biggest challenges of discussion boards is motivating students to engage with topics. Learning designer Elizabeth Palmer gives some clear advice on how to maximise online discussions:

“Make sure you set the parameters of the discussion to include guidance on both ‘how’ students should complete the task and ‘why’ it is important. Students that are unable to see the purpose of the task (in both the short and the long term) will be unlikely to engage. Actually this is true of any task in whatever format, class or on-line, not just discussion boards. Equally, if they do not have clear instructions for the task this impacts motivation and likely engagement. Instead of ‘respond to at least two of your peers’ try something like ‘select one answer you disagree with and justify your opposing view with evidence’.

Generally, I advise staff to avoid setting a task that only has one or a limited set of answers because whoever gets there first completes the task. So either encourage personal responses or select an area for discussion that has sufficiently contentious issues for debate to make discussion lively, worthwhile and complex.”

3. Set your students’ expectations for feedback and provide rewards

Imagine a motivated student’s reaction when after spending hours writing a post they find no one has taken the time to read it. Flip this and think about the less motivated student’s feelings if they know their efforts are not being monitored or checked. In both cases students will quickly lose interest in online discussion.

Samantha Read’s structured approach to discussion boards involves placing a deadline date for all posts to be posted, with a given date that the tutor will go into the discussion board and provide feedback.

On modelling best practice she says, “Discussion boards need to be seen as a ‘safe space’ in order for students to feel comfortable posting to them. I always begin each thread with an example post so that the students know the kind of information to include, as well as the suggested length. It is also vital that the discussion boards are monitored and responded to.”

For maximum effect careful planning and maintenance is required. However, if you are aware from the outset that you have limited time to invest outside of the classroom, then you may wish to consider thinking creatively about how the students will interact with the task.

Approaches such as splitting the discussion into groups and allocating group leaders to report back at the beginning of the next lesson will ensure that the students’ efforts are rewarded with feedback.

Gilly Salmon (2017) promotes online socialisation as the bedrock of successful online engagement, identifying the ‘e-moderator’ as ‘a host through which students learn the framework of an e-activities, ‘providing bridges between cultural, social and learning environments’.

Samantha Read reflects on how active participation in discussion boards is an easier path to better grades within her face to face time in the classroom, “I usually make a point at the beginning of the session where discussion board feedback was necessary as part of the learning experience, that those who did participate now have less work to do in the session than those who did not and highlight how these students have shown analytical thinking that will earn them good grades once this is applied to their assignment.

I sometimes even ask the students who did not participate across the course of the week, to make their contribution during class so that we can all benefit from their opinion. This only really works however if a great deal of research was not required for the discussion board task. I also reward students through positive feedback to their posts, making suggestions for how their opinion or research could be used in relation to an upcoming assessment or workshop activity.”

In her final thoughts, Samantha says that “It is worth trying discussion boards as part of your blended learning module to try out virtual ways of increasing engagement. I have found some of my groups have really enjoyed interacting on discussion boards, whilst other groups have found them daunting and needed more support. Each student is going to have a different response  but as long as support is available to them, it is definitely worth introducing and seeing that happens.”

What are your experiences?

If you have used discussion boards, what are your thoughts? Be sure to post below and share your experiences and thoughts.

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