Can a blended learning environment enhance teaching and learning in large heterogeneous first-year classes?
: A study in a private higher education institution

  • Angela Lincoln

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


This research was conceptualised to enhance the educational experience of first-year undergraduate students. The massification of higher education has meant that first-year students are often commonly taught with students from different faculties in large lecture theatres. As the drive towards an outcome-based student-centred approach to teaching and learning gathers pace, the challenge for lecturers is how to achieve this when faced with very large student numbers from diverse backgrounds and abilities.

The aim of this research was to explore how the benefits of technology could be harnessed to meet this challenge. A Community of Inquiry theoretical framework guided the design of a new revamped macroeconomics module to develop a blended learning course. A purposeful sample of approximately one hundred first-year full-time students and twenty-five part-time students undertook the course of which ninety-five consented to their data being used in this research. The course was delivered over a thirteen-week semester in a private higher education college.

The research was conducted using a mixed-methods methodology. Quantitative data were collected using The Study Process Questionnaire, student engagement online and student assessment grades. Qualitative data were collected via focus group discussions with the various student cohorts which participated in the research.

The quantitative results suggested that students who actively engaged online did become deeper learners over the semester and their grades were significantly better than students who did not engage online. The findings from the focus group discussions were very illuminating. Four strong themes emerged, representing the aspects of the online dimension to the module which students found the most valuable: the teaching and learning environment; supportive learning environment; reinforcement of learning; and heterogeneity of resources. Students particularly valued the feedback loops which the blended environment provided and the link which this gave them to the lecturer and to fellow students.

A suggested model for developing online courses emerged from the research findings (Table 6-1) which embodies the essence of the Community of Inquiry model. The application of the theory in a classroom setting by the researcher has inspired novice lecturers to embrace technology, and gradually champions of blended learning are emerging on campus. The findings from this research will continue to facilitate the development of blended modules in the college, with additions to the repertoire of activities continuously developing.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorPamela Cowan (Supervisor)

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