By Dennis Ang and Rohini Samtani, Year 2 NM Majors
Playing online games as part of attending classes. Watch videos as part of picking up new content. Being part of a class where the teacher is also considered a student. Dream school? Actually, an everyday reality for many students at the Department of Communications & New Media where some of its instructors have adopted innovative learning modes involving online tutorials, flipped classroom and peer teaching in their classes.
“I noticed both quiet concentration and unabashed laughter”, said Dr Anne-Marie Schleiner referring to the days that she experimented with augmenting classroom learning with exercises on Minecraft.edu – powerful software that gives educators more control over a popular sandbox game environment known as Minecraft - in the NM3227 Critical Game Design module.
Making learning engaging and fun is not the only reason this CNM professor is exploring a different pedagogical approach though. “With Minecraft.edu, the person in the instructor role can teleport students from one location to another in the game. She can augment or subtract a student’s capabilities. These instructor powers allow for crafting assignments with carefully controlled parameters. Yet Minecraft is still an open enough of a game to afford plenty of room for student agency and creativity”.
In the end, it is “more work all round, but it is also exciting. We have to try know things but also remain critical about what ultimately is worth the effort.”
Associate Professor Lim Sun Sun uses flipped classroom practices in the NM2209 Social Psychology of New Media module to make the precious face-to-face time at lectures more productive. “It is difficult to interact directly with many students whilst giving a lecture. The large class sizes in some of our modules also means that lecturers will not be able to teach all tutorials and thus, will not be able to have that important direct interaction with students,” she explains.
“Flipping my class allows me to connect with students like never before,” she notes, mentioning that the concept of a flipped classroom allows the limited face-to-face time in lectures to be used more productively since students now come to class already having looked through and learnt new content when they viewed recorded lectures online. “My students felt that recorded lectures were very useful for self-paced learning. They felt greater ownership of their learning when they were given the choice to view the recorded online lectures at a time when they were most alert”.
Assistant Professor Denisa Kera experiments with other teaching models because the conventional one is “boring and creates false hierarchies”.
She had found so many things that are wrong with the way we have been used to learning things. “It starts at the basic level – from suspending who you really are in the classroom, and taking on the role of an empty vessel that needs to be managed, to reducing yourself to a small part of a system. These are things which need to be addressed and changed. I want to break the mould of one professor-to-many students and replace it with a format of many-to-many interactions and a culture that we can all learn from each other”.
A strong believer of “cultivating our ability to learn from every situation and person”, Dr Kera adopted a pedagogy in the NM3213 Digital Humanities module which puts the educator into the shoes of the educatee. “The module picks up from the idea of peer education, where the learner utilizes the available knowledge, online and offline. I crowdsourced the whole learning process so students and teachers learn not only skills and share information but in the process, we understand the various perspectives and views of different people about the subject”.
Inspired by the spirit of hackerspaces – community-operated workspaces where people with common interests come together regardless of expertise to learn, experiment and create – her classes are designed so that everyone taps into and learns from the expertise of one another. “There is no big authority, but many processes of tinkering, sharing and learning from each other, which also open some unexpected views and encounters and make the whole process more authentic and meaningful for everyone.” she said.
Students in her module have the opportunity of conducting a class that equips peers with the knowledge needed to experiment with a visualization tool and then giving an assignment which everyone – including the educator – needs to complete. “Everyone was equal, since everyone is an expert for that one week during the semester and he/she is motivated to share knowledge and prepare some creative and fun tutorial, but then also assess our performance individually and as a class. That way we share the load of work with preparation and assessment and we all learn more from each other”
“I wish I had been more active as a student. I guess I would get C, but still I will make more effort to finish the tutorials next time. I was a lousy student, I guess that was the only bad thing. Next time, the other students should be stricter with me”, she said reflecting on her performance as a student in the module. “We were all terrified at the start. But every week, we learnt something new in terms of how to prepare the tutorials and presentation. We were able to learn from our mistakes and to address them immediately rather than wait for some forms and stuff. Then, there was this great moment when the students felt an ownership of the module and my role became more of an occasional moderator. I was not needed at all and that was the best moment in my pedagogical career so far”.
Though there may never be an education tailored for specific individuals, the approaches taken by these educators here have made it possible for students to take increased ownership of what they learn, as well as their class, be it in digital or physical space.