Combining blended learning with role play in an online simulation of the Bletchley Park Enigma codebreakers in WWII

Case study authors: Jeff Neat and Dr Adam Wootton

Foundation Year Centre

CDF Framework: Authentic Assessment, Inclusive Learning, Technology Enhanced Learning

Project Summary

Foundation Year Mathematics and Computer Science students study mathematical logic, set theory, permutations and cryptography in the module Logic, Codes and Cryptography.

By using discrete online videos, research notes, national archive records, and online applications, they apply their knowledge to follow the path of an WWII Enigma machine encoded message from the point of its creation through to the application of cryptographical techniques at Bletchley Park and ultimate analysis of the decipher into ULTRA Intelligence. These resources are linked together with online formative and summative assessment using the Learning pool e-learning platform and MS Forms to provide a learning experience that combines blended learning with role play.

As the module progresses, skills are developed by placing the students in the position of operators at various stages of the decryption process, such as interceptors, traffic analysts and hut 8 crib identifiers. This puts the students into situations that will require them to actively develop their skills, rather than passively receive information.

The emphasis on self-direction ensures that students can work through resources at their own pace, giving the opportunity for non-judgemental repetition outside of the classroom. For students who have not worked within an academic setting for some time, or who struggle with traditional University methods, this provides the opportunity to learn without being overwhelmed. For those students whose disabilities cause them to struggle to access traditional lectures, such as those who require note-takers or regular breaks, the blended learning approach relieves some of the pressure from a course where the material is principally delivered through lectures. In doing so, this eases progression for lower participation background, mature and disabled students by giving them a more gradual introduction to Higher Education, while also facilitating higher attainment.

This project addressed the need to provide Foundation Year Computer Scientists and Mathematicians a grounding in topics such as logic and set theory in a way that called upon principles of inclusive learning and authentic assessment, moving beyond the traditional exam-based modes of assessment and lecture-based teaching delivery. This is particularly important when considering that the Foundation Year has significant representation from some of the student groups identified by the Access and Participation Plan, such as mature students, BAME students, POLAR Q1 students and disabled students. By building the material around the concept of the Bletchley Park codebreakers and combining together pre-existing and new materials using Learning Pool, it has been possible to implement self-directed roleplay learning as a means of delivering this core knowledge in a more accessible way.

Upon completing this module, a student should not only have developed their knowledge of mathematical logic, set theory, permutations and cryptography, but should also have honed their independent learning skills, which will provide them with a solid foundation for their subsequent years of study. By placing the materials in an online environment, the onus is placed on the students to develop their understanding with the support of scaffolded learning.

This self-direction is encouraged by the blended learning approach. A core principle of the project is that Learning Pool will be used to produce a synthesis of new content with existing online resources, such as enigma simulators and living history. As such, students will be encouraged to explore beyond this starting point and discover more complex resources for themselves. In this way, the project will foster deeper learning and help students to hone the study skills that they will use throughout their studies and beyond.

Similarly, the creation of formative assessment within Learning Pool will give the students the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge outside of the immediate classroom environment. By receiving instant feedback, the students will be able to immediately calibrate and focus their studies, which will, again, encourage self-guided learning.

Externally, this work has been developed with the cooperation of both Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing. Internally, it was the subject of a successful TIPS application.

Key to the success of this project is the use of the Learning Pool platform to integrate all of the learning materials into one cohesive course. It was also intended at the outset of the project that there would be a focus on resources that exist elsewhere, such as Enigma simulators, built into this. All of this means that the finished system is highly responsive and adaptable. A similar model applied in other disciplines could provide significant benefits.