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New research — Research opens the “black box” of the university Block Model

The university Block Model structure improves retention and outcomes for first year students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Victoria University (VU) research has found.

The project, led by Dr Jen Jackson and funded by the NCSEHE, evaluated the Block Model at VU, with a focus on first year science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

The Block Model is well established at VU, allowing students to complete one subject at a time in intensive courses.

“Through interviews and focus groups with students, academics and university leaders, we sought to identify why the Block Model had such a great impact,” Dr Jackson said.

“Students and academics agreed that focusing on one subject at a time makes learning more manageable and reduces students’ anxiety about study. Many students reported receiving better grades than they had believed was possible for them.”

Collaborative relationship between the university, academics and students were a demonstrated feature of the Block Model. Smaller classes allowed a more concentrated engagement between all parties.

A key driver of success for the Block Model at VU was shown to be prioritisation of quality teaching in the new First Year College ­­— a group of academic staff focused on the first year student experience.

“The First Year College has facilitated stronger relationships between staff and students, which was a defining factor for many students who needed additional help,” Dr Jackson said.

The VU Block Model was built on international evidence and local consultation and was part of a major organisational redesign.

“We suggest other universities needing to innovate post-COVID-19 can learn from the Block Model at VU to achieve major reforms in improving student equity,” Dr Jackson said.

NCSEHE director, Professor Sarah O’Shea acknowledged the potential for this model to provide more flexibility in course delivery, which is vital for students facing complex challenges and competing commitments.

“There is much to learn from VU’s established Block Model, and the benefits it affords a diverse student cohort,” Professor O’Shea said.

“Learnings from this research could usefully be applied by other universities in refining course structures to best accommodate all students.”

Read the final report, Equity through complexity: Inside the “black box” of the Block Model.  

Media Contact:

Nina-Marie Thomas
NCSEHE Media and Communications Officer
Tel | +61 8 9266 3721 / 0488 436 235
Email |

Posted 7 February 2022 Posted in General