About the Authors
Trish McCluskey is Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning and Teaching (Interim) at Victoria University where she is responsible for shaping and leading the university’s education strategy to provide high quality, comprehensive and flexible tertiary education to any student from any background. She also leads the Connected Learning team, a talented group of learning designers who create innovative curriculum resources and support academic staff to develop contemporary learning and teaching practices. In addition, Trish has responsibility for the design of physical and virtual learning spaces, including the learning management system and other digital and mobile applications.
An award-winning educator and leader, Trish was awarded the 2019 Outstanding Achiever award by the Association of Tertiary Education Managers (ATEM). She has worked across the full spectrum of tertiary education providers and has previously served as Chair of VU’s Academic Board and member of VU Council.
Trish was instrumental in the design and implementation of the VU Block Model, a radical reconceptualisation of the traditional university curriculum.
Dr David Day
Dr David Day is the Program Director for the First Year and Beyond team, that since May 2017, is revolutionising the tertiary education sector in Australia with the design, development and implementation of the Australian first block model, The VU Way.
Leading a cross-functional team of up to 8 subject matter experts, Dr Day ensures fit-for-purpose program management; governance and oversight; risk, resource, financial and change management; communications; and planning, scheduling, monitoring and reporting unit design and development for block mode delivery. Critical to the success of this initiative is the teamwork and collaboration of key stakeholders that Dr Day brings together to solve problems and overcome obstacles.
David is a 21-year veteran of the US Air Force where he was a pilot, Project and Program Manager and Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. Since arriving in Australia in 2016, he has been working in the tertiary education sector.
Victoria University (VU) changed the landscape of Higher Education in Australia in 2018 when they introduced a revolutionary new model of student learning, known as The VU Way.
Other universities require students to undertake four subjects at once over a 12 week semester followed by a period of exams and then an agonising wait for results. However, at VU, students complete just one subject at a time over four weeks and receive their results before moving on to the next subject. They still complete four subjects each semester; however, they attain a more in-depth focus and immersive learning experience by studying one subject at a time.
Each period of study is called a Block, and the learning environment and curriculum is intentionally designed to increase learning gain and promote student success. (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Gibbs, 2010).
Rather than large impersonal lectures, students undertake each four week Block in small class groups of 15 to 30 students. Each class is facilitated by one academic teacher who gets to know the students by name and supports them to achieve the set learning outcomes. Inquiry-based and active learning strategies are utilised to increase student engagement and provide opportunities to interact with peers, teachers and the broader university. This creates a positive environment of trust and connection, builds support networks and fosters a sense of belonging to a learning community which also prepares students well for their future careers.
Students complete a broad range of assessment activities across the duration of each Block and these include a variety of individual and group tasks. Each student receives regular and constructive feedback on their performance which informs their learning progress.
VU recognises that students have complex and busy lives, so the timetable is carefully structured to accommodate this. Classes are available in multiple combinations of days and times (morning, mid-morning, afternoon and evening), allowing students to select the study pattern that best suits their personal circumstances. Each Block typically has three face-to-face teaching sessions per week, scheduled over three days (never more than two days in a row). Each session lasts three hours and this is supported by a comprehensive and dynamic digital learning platform where students can interact with all their learning resources and supplementary activities. For Blocks with laboratory and practical classes, students attend those on the same day as their classroom-based sessions.
This reimagined and transformative learning and teaching model has resulted in a more positive student experience, and this is evident from the significantly improved results for all VU students.
While initially introduced as an innovative model for first-year students, the student success and demand for this unique way of learning has led VU to implement it across all years of sub-bachelor and bachelor courses offered at our campuses in Melbourne and Sydney.
2019 RESULTS SUMMARY
- The graphs below show grades and results for all students who studied in Block mode in 2019. A breakout of just International students is also provided.
- International students perform particularly well under the Block Model, with a pass rate of 93% and 54% of results being a distinction or above.
The undergraduate block model was guided by an overarching commitment and philosophy of:
- providing the best learning experience possible for our students;
- studying one subject at a time;
- facilitating deep, engaged, active learning; and
- facilitating a sense of belonging.
The impact on student performance has been evident for all cohorts of students in all year levels, especially those students that come from low Socio-economic status, non-English speaking background or Aboriginal and Torres Strait background.
In addition to the student performance data, latest results from the Australian Student Experience Survey show improving scores across all focus areas for cohorts that have studied under the Block Model, providing further evidence of the positive impact of the Block Model on both student performance and student experience.
The VU Way has adapted seamlessly to the COVID-19 crisis by moving all courses to digitally supported remote learning. Students were grateful to be able to focus on just one unit at a time, and classroom sessions were replaced with virtual classrooms using a video conferencing platform, augmented by the well structured digital learning platform. Academic staff report the same or even higher engagement by students and results mirroring those seen in fully face-to-face delivery.
- Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education The Wingspread Journal, 9, 1-10.
- Gibbs, G. (2010). Dimensions of quality. York, UK. Retrieved from: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/dimensions_of_quality.pdf
- McCluskey, T., Smallridge, A., Weldon, J., Loton, D., Samarawickrema, G., & Cleary, K. (2020). Building on the VU Block foundations: Results from the inaugural first-year cohort. Research and Development in Higher Education, 42. 61-72. https://www.herdsa.org.au/publications/conference-proceedings/research-and-development-higher-education-next-generation-6
- McCluskey, T., Weldon, J., & Smallridge, A. (2019). Rebuilding the first-year experience, one Block at a time. Student Success, 10(1), 1-15. doi: 10.5204/ssj.v10i1.1048