Technology for learning: Three blended learning action research projects

by Sophie Hidden, Stephen Kaye, Mathew Lowish at Dulwich College Beijing


From the Guest Editor:

In Three Blended Learning Action Research Projects teachers at Dulwich College Beijing use student attainment and student attitude to learning to evaluate blended and traditional teaching methods. Sophie Hidden uses a biology project to compare a ‘flipped classroom’ model and a traditional teaching approach. Stephen Kaye assesses the performance of IGCSE physics students at DCB and DCSZ to consider blended and traditional teaching methods. Mathew Lowish investigates the impact of directed self-study on the academic progress of Year 9 History students compared to traditional teaching methods.


  1. Biology project: comparing a ‘flipped classroom’ and traditional teaching approach

by Sophie Hidden

Sophie Hidden completed her undergraduate degree at the University of York and her PhD at the University of Birmingham. She is currently Head of Biology at Dulwich College Beijing. She has conducted various research projects in the area of Blended and Inquiry Based Learning over her time in Beijing and has a passion for Ed-tech. Her favourite areas of Biology are Immunology and Parasitology.

An investigation was carried out to test the effectiveness of and student attitudes towards a typical ‘flipped classroom’ in biology. Resources were prepared in advance for students to review (readings and video), ready for teacher-led class-based challenging activities. In class students had the opportunity to apply their knowledge and understanding, address misconceptions and solve difficult problems.


The project was undertaken with two Year 10 classes, one ‘low’ ability double-award science class, and one ‘high’ ability triple-award class. Both classes experienced the same two units taught in the same way, one that was teacher-led and one that used the ‘flipped classroom’ approach. The students were given a pre-test to assess their understanding and then an identical post-research test to assess the progress that each student had made following the two approaches to learning. A survey was then undertaken to gather attitudes towards the two different approaches.


It was found that the students had very little prior knowledge in both cases and that both classes made good progress in both approaches to learning. The flipped classroom approach had a larger impact on progress than the teacher-led approach, and in the case of the ‘low’ ability class, the post-test showed statistically significant gains at the 1% confidence level.

The survey revealed that very few students had ever participated in a flipped classroom either at this school or at another. Despite successful academic outcomes, students reported that they preferred teacher-led lessons. Three times as many ‘low’ ability students preferred the teacher-led approach to the flipped classroom despite evidence suggesting they had learned better. Students also reported they would not be as confident to take a test if they had to rely on themselves to learn what is required, suggesting they still felt learning took place before the class rather than at the class.


The flipped classroom has had a positive influence on the attainment of students though students report preferring traditional methods. This is worthy of further investigation with a larger number of students.


  1. Physics project: comparing blended and traditional teaching methods

by Stephen Kaye

Stephen is the head of science and physics at Dulwich College Beijing. He has taught high school physics since 2006, became and IB examiner and workshop leader in 2009 and joined Dulwich College Beijing in 2011. When he is not teaching, or glued to his laptop he is a passionate film-maker and father of two.

The project involved 46 Year 10 students across two schools (DCB and DCSZ), testing the effectiveness of a blended learning approach to the Edexcel IGCSE topic of solids, liquids and gases. In this case blended learning involved students in the experimental class being directed more towards on-line resources for learning compared to teacher-led activities in a control group.


The curriculum cube proposed by Kingston College was adopted as the best framework for online delivery of traditional pedagogies and methods. These learning resources were hosted on the DCSZ Moodle platform. A pre- and post-project test consisting of eight multiple choice questions was prepared. These tests were delivered through an online survey during lesson time. As a control, colleagues at each school who were not part of the blended learning pilot were enlisted to give the same tests to students who were taught using traditional methods.


Forty-six students participated in the assessment for the blended learning approach and eleven participated in the non-blended learning class. The academic gain of the students was determined and an F-test carried out to determine whether the results were parametric. Following this a T-test was carried out on the data. The mean result for the blended learning scores was higher than those of the non-blended learning group, but no discernable statistically significant difference at the 5% confidence level was found.

An attitudinal survey was conducted to ascertain student perceptions of the approach. The students’ responses suggested there was no leaning in either direction as to whether the blended learning approach was more or less fun, interesting, easy, educational or inspiring. Students felt Moodle was very easy to use but it was not characterized as improving their learning. Students felt strongly that the programme of study was at just the right pace. Confidence in taking a test provoked more positive responses from students.


In conclusion, the blended learning project showed no significant improvement in student attainment. The students were neither for nor against using the method. The relatively small number of students involved was considered to be a major weakness of the methodology.


  1. Humanities project: comparing project-based and traditional learning methods

by Mathew Lowish

Matthew Lowish gained a BA (Hons) degree in War Studies at Kings College London. After graduation he worked for 3 years at a Chinese senior school in Hunan province as a teacher of English as a Second Language and as an I.E.L.T.S. coach. Matthew then moved to Beijing to teach English at a local English language school as well as being employed as a free-lance business English coach at several hotel chains and at the Beijing Equities Exchange. After returning home to the Isle of Wight, Matthew completed the Graduate Teacher Program and then worked at a local high school teaching A-Level, AS Level and GCSE History and supporting EAL students. Matthew is passionate about his current role as Head of Humanities and is keen to promote creativity and collaboration in the classroom. He is in Beijing with his Chinese wife, Jian, who runs an educational travel company, and their two young daughters, Kaili (4) and Tiesha (2). Matthew's interests include playing football, badminton and carom.

An investigation was carried out to determine the impact that directed self-study had on the academic progress of Year 9 History students compared to traditional teaching methods.


Two classes were selected, one as a control and one as an experimental class. Both classes were equal and mixed in ability range, no setting had been undertaken, and both were taught in their form groups as in other subjects. Neither class had prior knowledge of the topic.

The control class was taught in a traditional, teacher-led manner using existing schemes of work and methods appropriate to the subject. The pilot class received a directed programme of self-study. All the materials used in the teacher-led control class, in addition to extra materials, were made available to both classes equally via the school’s VLE (Studywiz). The pilot class undertook an iMovie project that was specifically designed to incorporate all the relevant learning objectives for the unit. The students were directed to work in small groups and then to design and structure their own learning as they wished. The same amount of class time was given to both groups though additional work could be carried out outside class time.


An assessment at the end of the period resulted in very similar mean scores by both classes with no statistically significant difference at the 5% level following a 2-tailed, equal variance t-test.  

An attitudinal survey was carried out to ascertain perceptions about the project. Most students in the pilot class felt that their ICT skills were up to the task. They felt that the assessment criteria given prior to the start of the project and the range of resources that were made available were enough to learn effectively. The students felt their collaboration skills improved and that although the project was fun it was not a method they preferred, and they would only like to do this from time to time. The students reported that they preferred more traditional teacher-led methods in the classroom.


This investigation suggested that project-based work through a VLE and movie-making is not a complete model for blended learning but rather a part of it to be used at intervals during the course. It also has value as a means to approach split-screen learning objectives.