Designing for learning in block or compressed mode delivery

With this increase in summer offerings in mind, a group of educational design staff (and by this we refer to staff who have a role and/or an interest in good curriculum design principles) from across UTS met to share ideas and practice around designing for the compressed mode.

We worked on three areas of interest: content delivery, assessment and feedback, and collaboration. Here are some of the ideas we came up with to help you if you are planning your curriculum. These are just starting points from which you can adapt to your own context.

Reframing content delivery

Block mode delivery provides an opportunity to rethink how students engage with the subject content and concepts.

  • Pose a “big” question or complex real world problem and have students work in groups through a cycle of inquiry and reflection
  • Create building blocks or modules around a key threshold concept
  • Keep everyone on task and engaged with polling tools


  • Design project based activities that students work and build on together during the block mode. This can also form part of the assessment as a final report or presentation on process and/or findings
  • Use technology to build collaboration in real time e.g. wiki, Google docs, ask students to generate and share their own questions

Weekly quizzes 

If you usually run a weekly or regular quiz across the session you may need to rethink how this could work, especially if you are meeting with students every day for a few weeks.

  • Take scores from the best 4 out of 10 quizzes or best 3 out of 4 depending on time period
  • Make some quizzes formative during face-to-face (f2f) time e.g. use scratch cards or online polling tools, and keep some summative e.g. every second day assessment. These will also provide just-in-time and ongoing feedback to students on their learning.
  • Focus more on threshold concepts rather than all content
  • Use open book assessment practices – see below for more information


Many subjects have a high stakes final exam at the end of the session but there are alternative assessments you could use that still draw on most of the content and concepts.

  • Use an open book exam with questions that focus on applying and relating concepts (higher order thinking) rather than relying on recall
  • Present a case study and ask questions around the case that draw on analytical and problem solving skills
  • Assess (scientific) processes rather than content
  • Consider a “One question” final exam e.g. ask the students to rewrite the subject description for future students who have not taken this subject yet. Students need to outline the big ideas and questions in the subject and summarise why they are important, relevant to practice, possibly controversial, etc.
  • Consider replacing the final exam with a project-based final assessment that is completed during the block mode

Reports and Presentations

  • Populate UTSOnline with information introducing the topic or question, background material, guidelines and rubrics so that students can start their reports and presentations before the f2f block. Use the f2f classes to give students feedback on their drafts and progress
  • If students usually conduct a study and collect data over several weeks, consider using pre-collected data to save time, and focus on assessing the analysis and interpretation of the results


Given the fast track nature of the block mode, it is critical to give timely feedback and check-in with your students to see how they are progressing. This can easily be incorporated into your daily activities.

  • Start each day or module with a clear overview (questions, scenario set)  
  • Break up the content with active and collaborative activities
  • Move through a cycle of inquiry (see above) and provide feedback
  • At the end of the day get feedback on how your students are tracking e.g. use a minute paper, exit polling, etc.

What we found during our discussions was that these ideas are useful even in regular delivery mode across a session. We would love to hear from you if you have more ideas to share.

This post was written by Dr Yvonne Davila and Elaine Huber, learning designers in the faculty of Science.

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