iBSc (Hons) Bioethics: pandemic pedagogy

The iBSc Bioethics programme team (Zuzana Deans, Richard Huxtable and Jonathan Ives) responded to COVID, flipping the programme to make the best of the teaching modes available. For the ‘Introduction to Bioethics’ unit, the team replaced the old model (2 hour interactive lectures, reading tasks, and research seminars) with 3×20 minute videos, individual tasks, online group tasks, ending with an online weekly plenary, plus a weekly (in-person) journal club. Whilst the changes were a response to circumstance, the iterative approach, informed by student feedback, worked well. The new structure will remain as will some online independent learning components. The collaborative and discursive elements will revert to in-person.

Tools: Blackboard Collaborate with breakout groups, Padlet, file sharing and polling, video recordings.

Full story

The story below is based on interview with Jonathan Ives and the short report by the programme team – Pandemic pedagogy: student evaluations of blended learning in bioethics during the COVID-19 pandemic (available in the resources section).

With changes enforced by COVID, the iBSC programme team proactively and iteratively reconfigured the iBSc, considering what they would ideally want to do across the programme, given the restrictions. They recognised they would have to give baseline knowledge and wouldn’t be able to lecture. They wanted to make use of the limited face-to-face to the best ends. Because of limited lectures, they had to be very strategic with the readings offered to ensure students acquired the baseline knowledge required. They reformulated the programme, making it more interactive, whilst flipping lecture components to make best use of synchronous time.

 In Jonathan’s own module (Introduction to Bioethics) Jonathan wanted to start with an individual task, before a group task building towards a whole group plenary. In addition to students isolating, room availability was a particular challenge. Through a mix of planning, and importantly inviting and responding to student feedback, the team iterated the design successfully.

iBSc (Hons) Bioethics

The iBSc Bioethics is a one-year intercalated degree open to students from medicine, dentistry, veterinary courses. It was first offered in 1998, and typically enrols up to 20 students each year.

The team previously delivered through weekly 2-hour seminars, roughly split into a 40-minute lecture followed by group discussion (often based around case studies), alongside assigned reading. The team wanted to incorporate some hybrid teaching to bring all students together, those on campus and those isolating. The Journal club was chosen for this as it best lent itself to the format (See also Hybrid journal club case study).

Changes made

The new weekly structure is illustrated in the weekly structure figure and is summarised below.

  • Students undertake the weekly reading and view the 20 minute online lectures
  • Students undertake an individual task
  • Mid week face-to-face journal club
  • Students then undertake a group task, based on the videos, reading and individual task.
  • Students come together for the final online tutorial on the Friday afternoon.

Weekly structure

Whilst making these changes, the team took the opportunity to decolonise the curricula, adding breadth and depth to the course reading, with less focus on canonical texts.


Students very much appreciated the approaches taken in response to the pandemic, but things were not always correct at the start. It was vital to actively elicit and respond to feedback. Staff took every opportunity to seek feedback, for example, in personal tutorials and before and after taught sessions. The team inculcated a sharing and feedback culture. Students were hesitant to be critical in the circumstances, but were willing if asked to give feedback. One example is that initially, students were struggling to co-ordinate a time to undertake the group activity (which had been left flexible for them). The teaching team responded, scheduling a time for the group activity to the student-preferred time of immediately before the Friday tutorial.  

The statement below is from a report based on the evaluation of two of the modules on the programme.

Respondents felt positively about blended learning overall. Nonetheless, there was a clear distinction between the elements of units they felt should be delivered in person and those that are suitable for online delivery. Online learning was preferred for more individual activities, with strong favouring of pre-recorded lectures. Elements of the units that required synchronous interaction with other students/staff, however, were considered better when delivered in person.

Parsons et. al. 2021

The shorter video lectures and online independent learning will remain next year. In fact, the team do not need as much face-to-face time as is mandated, so have the luxury of working out constructive ways of using that extra time.

Tips and advice

  • Don’t assume you can deliver what you normally did remotely or in a hybrid format; you have to think about it.
  • Sometimes things works, sometimes not. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
  • Plan enough time for students to compete tasks.
  • Monitor engagement and take every opportunity to get feedback from your students.
  • This was a small course. It would be harder to be as agile with more students.


You can read more in the short evaluation report produced by the centre. You can also view the programme handbook.

Jordan A. Parsons,1 Jonathan Ives,1 and Richard Huxtable1