NPP Projects

Enhancing University Retention and Success for First-in-Family, Low SES Students Through a Blended (Flipped Classroom) Learning Model

Lead University: University of Newcastle

Lead Researcher: Johanna Macneil

Research Team: Johanna Macneil, Amy Maguire, Kate Ramzan-Levy, Marcus Rodrigs and Robert Zinko

Year Funded: 2016

Funding Received: $89,800


This project examined whether differences in expectations about university, or in access to technology, affect the learning experience, retention levels, and academic success of first year low SES and First-in-Family students, compared to other students. Informed by a literature review, a survey of commencing first year students, and focus groups data, this project also developed an evidence base on the blended learning (flipped classroom) model.

Project Outline

  • The project compared how expectations about learning at university and access to technology affected the learning experience, retention levels and academic success of first year students, including those from First-in-Family/low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds.
  • An extensive literature review was conducted, bringing together concepts from the first year experience; factors affecting First-in-Family; low SES student experience; approaches to blended learning; and technology-enabled learning.
  • Primary data collected and analysed for the project included:
  • interviews with academics coordinating blended learning courses
    • data from a survey of first semester/first year students (265 respondents, or 37.9 per cent of the population, of whom 54 were First-in-Family and/or low SES)
    • data for six student focus groups.
  • The project developed an evidence base on the benefits and challenges faced by students in the blended learning model.
  • The project informed recommendations to improve the operationalisation of blended learning at The University of Newcastle.

Key Findings

  • When the results were analysed, there were no significant differences between low SES students and other demographic groups in five areas:
    • students’ learning experiences
    • the impact of access to technology
    • course pass rates
    • Grade Point Averages
    • withdrawal rates before and after census.
  • The evidence suggested:
    • Blended learning does not adversely impact Low SES/First-in-Family students relative to their peers.
    • Blended learning may assist First-in-Family/Low SES students by allowing them to draw on their own social and cultural capital during the learning process, rather than requiring them to adapt to a model which favours those more familiar with higher education. Students in equity cohorts may benefit from the flexibility that blended learning can offer. Well-designed blended learning may be more motivating for all students, requiring them to engage in more metacognition.
  • The evidence underpinned the development of an operational definition of blended learning adopted at The University of Newcastle, and incorporating these dimensions:
    • application of the principles of constructive alignment
    • a mix of online learning and face-to-face learning, supported by technology
    • most, or all, lower-order learning occurring outside the classroom, leaving most time in the classroom for active, social, higher-order learning
    • an emphasis on linking concepts/theory to real world examples.
  • Overall highlights of the project included:
    • confirmation that the Faculty’s students are responding well to a move from traditional course delivery to blended learning course delivery
    • positive performance and satisfaction of equity students.
  • The university continues to monitor the effect of blended learning on course performance, retention and satisfaction, particularly for equity groups, and build an evidence base.
  • This evidence base can inform policy and practice in the sector, helping to ensure that the promise of a more student-centred approach to learning, inherent in the blended learning model, is successfully delivered, and improve outcomes for First-in-Family, low SES students.


  • Further research should be conducted on the effect of blended learning in other equity groups, including mature aged special entry students, and students with a disability.

Summary prepared by the NCSEHE.

Posted 9 October 2018