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Why, When and How do we cultivate external partners in University Education?

By Kamalini Ramdas, Department of Geography and Priya M. Jaradi, Department of History

Reflexive and impactful education are key criteria that have emerged in recent discussions about career advancement for faculty on the Educator Track (for more information, refer to earlier sessions organised by CAFÉ on promotion, and to the special CAFÉ session with UPEC). Drawing from the discussions during the CAFÉ session “Pedagogies of Partnership” on April 13 2021, we discuss how external partnerships, both formal and informal, are ways by which educators can demonstrate impact by creating a conduit of learning between students and community groups and institutions.

Kamalini’s commitment to collaborating with external groups is a key part of her feminist pedagogy. The latter sees collaborative learning as taking place within the classroom and beyond. Impactful learning beyond the classroom invites students and educators to enact social transformation through education. Kamalini’s advocacy research relationship with Sayoni, an LBTQ organisation in Singapore, has allowed her to ‘give back’ to community by sharing and putting into practice what she has learnt as an educator and researcher. She has also been able to incorporate experiences from this partnership to implement a ‘grounded approach’ to learning. This has allowed her to model for students the possibilities and challenges they might encounter in ‘being the change they want to see’.

Priya’s role as Convenor requires her to manage and grow the Art History Minor as part of a collaboration between the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (NUS) and the National Gallery Singapore. Educators from both institutions have steered this partnership critically and meaningfully beyond the legalities of a formal agreement. Existing resources in the form of a diverse pool of domain experts and a significant collection of modern and contemporary regional art have shaped the curriculum’s inclusive design and modes of pedagogy. The Minor continues to build a Southeast Asian core within a global framework. Classes hosted at the museum, alongside an internship module provide students with experiential, skills-based learning. Broadly speaking, this partnership has introduced a consolidated art history curriculum at FASS since 2017. Its collaborative content-development, teaching practices, and shared institutional resources, have enabled students to cultivate visual literacy and cultural knowledge at the dynamic intersection of the classroom and Museum.

Drawing from our combined experiences we offer these points for consideration in the spirit of collaborative learning.

As educators, do why do we need external partners?

IA Discipline-related reasons

  • Is the discipline which you teach nascent in the Singapore/NUS context?
  • Do you need collaboration to clarify or critique epistemological approaches, founding philosophies and pedagogy in your discipline?
  • Is your discipline expanding rapidly to include new topics and current concerns?

IB Pedagogy-related reasons

  • Do you need to augment existing teaching and learning resources?
  • Do you need to move beyond the conventional classroom?
  • Is there a need to widen your pool of experts and educators?

IC Industry-related reasons

  • Is there a need to access industry-related spaces to strengthen learning outcomes?
  • Do you wish to complement classroom-based teaching with a skills-based/hands-on component?
  • Do you wish to develop an internship module with an industry-based partner?

Types of External Partnerships

IIA Formal Partnerships

  • Do you need a formal, contractual agreement which spells out a multi-pronged and extensive collaboration with another institution? As an example, do you need to share the complete writing and teaching of modules, grading of student assignments, and growth of internship modules with your partners?

IIB Informal Partnerships

  • Does the external group have the resources to commit to the partnership? How can you facilitate the process? What are more sustainable ways of cultivating the partnership? As an example, are need-based ad-hoc sessions, guest sessions and field visits, adequate? Can they suffice modular and disciplinary needs?

Steps to establish, manage and sustain partnerships

IIIA Formal Partnerships (A step-by-step guide)

  • FASS-based educators to write a paper/prepare a presentation to establish the need for a formal partnership; identify potential partners
  • Conduct internal discussions with home departments and the deanery to secure consent
  • Approach potential partners with a tentative proposal
  • Write a formal proposal for consideration by University-level committees and the Senate
  • Approach the Office of Legal Affairs to draw out a formal agreement
  • Facilitate signing of agreement
  • Assign a coordinator on both sides to carry on day to tasks as per the terms and conditions stated in the agreement
  • Meet and review the strengths and weaknesses of the partnership regularly; make internal presentations on both sides

IIIB Informal Partnerships (Good practices)

  • Regular exchange and dialogue are key to sustaining partnerships
  • Three-way conversations with feedback between educators, students and partners
  • Refresher courses for partners on student expectations and learning outcomes. This may also provide opportunities for honing learning outcomes and can potentially be a good way to demonstrate reflexivity as an educator.
  • TIPS: Clarity of purpose; advance scheduling of partner educators’ sessions; tell partners if their sessions count towards assessments and how do they complement the overall module


  • Will both students and the external group benefit from this partnership? What are the expectations of the external group for becoming involved and are these aligned with the learning outcome for the module?
  • Clarity of purpose and accountability are key to any partnership
  • Avoid conflict of interest between your home department/faculty/university and partner institution
  • Will you be seen as promoting a certain narrative through this partnership? (As an example, does collaborating with a museum mean promoting artworks of a particular provenance at the risk of becoming exclusive?)
  • Diversity of external partner representations and sustained commitment to an inclusive curriculum can help to address the above-stated (potential) imbalances

Aligning Student Feedback with Educators’ Principles: Dos and Don’ts of Mid-Semester Feedback

By Nina Powell, Department of Psychology (with input from CAFÉ)

Mid-semester feedback presents an opportunity to capture data from current student cohorts that, if used well, can align with educators’ principles in the following ways:


In designing a customised, well-thought-out survey, educators can collect specific, real-time data that can be used to better understand how students are approaching their module in light of overarching educational aims.


In reflecting on their practice, educators can design the survey to capture specific data at two timepoints (mid- to end-of-semester) to evidence change on measures of importance.


In responding to students’ feedback, educators can explain the pedagogical rationale and principles used in the design of their module; students can then learn about the value in your approach.


One thing to note about mid-semester feedback is that, unlike the end-of-semester NUS Student Feedback Exercise, this feedback is bespoke and specific to the module(s) you are teaching. This means that educators can place much less emphasis on student feedback as a means for performance evaluation.


Mid-semester feedback can be used for the purpose of providing students with the rationale behind your teaching practices, and to collect valuable data in targeted areas that align with your overarching educational aims. For example, if an educator’s goal is to increase the quantity and quality of reading students do throughout the semester, they can include specific items in their survey to capture information related to that particular goal. The educator might then deliver an intervention during the second half of the semester and administer an end-of-semester survey to gauge the efficacy of the intervention. This provides a measure of something that speaks directly to your educational principles.


To effectively use this mid-semester evaluation in a way that aligns with reflective education, here are a few dos and don’ts to consider when designing your survey:


  • Ask specific questions that reflect what you are interested in understanding as an educator (e.g., are students watching pre-recorded lectures before attending live discussion sessions?).


  • Ask questions that capture students’ behaviours and motivations rather than students’ preferences. For example, you can measure whether students are reading, engaging in peer learning opportunities, etc. (as opposed to questions measuring students’ likes and dislikes).


  • If you do want to know how students feel about a particular tool or technique that you are implementing, consider asking students if they find value in that specific approach rather than asking if they like or dislike the approach. This is because students may dislike rigorous and challenging aspects of your module, but they may be able to report finding value in the approach in light of your educational principles (e.g., even if you find ___________ challenging, do you feel that there is value in ___________?). Considering adding a follow-up “why?” question so as to better understand the rationale for students’ responses.


  • Use open-ended questions to ask students about what they see as valuable in an aspect of the module (e.g., what do you think the value in ___________ is for your long-term growth and development?). First, this demonstrates that the module is carefully considered and designed in light of pedagogical reflection rather than designed to target the satisfaction of students. Second, while some students may understand the value of your approach (which is evidence of alignment between your educational goals and students’ perceptions), for those students who may not understand the value of your approach, you can take the opportunity to explain the value to students by sharing your knowledge of pedagogy and your educational principles in the second half of the semester.


  • Keep in mind that students are often extremely busy submitting assignments and preparing for, or taking, exams during this period. This is important for considering how you phrase your questions so as not to tap into momentary frustration or the fleeting affective consequences associated with engaging in challenging endeavours. Rather, you want to tap into something more meaningful and useful for your long-term educational aims that go beyond student satisfaction and happiness.


  • Design a survey in light of what you want to better understand or evidence as an educator rather asking students to evaluate you or your practices.


  • Share and address the survey findings and the future plan based on the survey outcome with the students openly.



  • Ask vague and open-ended questions about preferences, likes or dislikes that undermine the educational principles and philosophy that goes into the designing of your module.


  • Ask too many questions. Be objective in designing key questions.


  • Treat the mid-semester feedback exercise as a “customer satisfaction survey” – remember that you are designing an effective module based on principles and pedagogical knowledge rather than the immediate satisfaction of your students who may, in many cases, dislike the rigour and challenge that is beneficial for their long-term growth.


  • Feel pressured to reduce the rigour and challenge of your module in the second half of the semester by asking general questions about what can be improved or changed to meet students’ immediate satisfaction. Construct questions to ask what kind of support can be added, rather than what should be removed.


While student feedback has its limitations, a well-designed mid-semester survey that targets what educators want to understand or evidence in line with their educational principles can demonstrate reflective practice. This is also an opportunity to share that reflection with your students in helping them to see the value in what you do.

Hybrid Teaching & The Hybrid Classroom: Personal Thoughts and Recommended Resources

By Robin Loon, Department of English Language and Literature

If you want to skip straight to the teaching and technical resources that are available to support teaching in the hybrid classroom, click here.  Otherwise, please bear with me as I share some personal thoughts about hybrid teaching and the hybrid classroom.

I just want to start off by making one thing clear – I don’t think anyone will dispute that in-person classes are the best mode of teaching and learning.  Speaking as a Theatre practitioner and educator in Theatre Studies, not only is the live, direct and embodied experience of in-person engagement the foundation of my discipline, it underpins the efficacy other discipline’s pedagogies (including my own).  Lev Vygotsy (1962) famously wrote that learning is a social activity.  While many video-conferencing platforms (VCP) can replicate a similar social environment, it still leaves the individual student isolated in their respective locales, stripped of the corporeal interactivity of being in the same space as their colleagues and the instructor.

Being in the classroom with your peers and instructor is, literally, a fully fleshed-out experience.  As educators, we can intuit student’s body language and make adjustments to our teaching to make the learning experience active and responsive.

Under normal circumstances, I would opt for in-person teaching and learning without a second thought.  It is where I can merge my theatre practice with my pedagogy, and I have received positive feedback from students that it has augmented their learning.

But these are not normal circumstances.

In fact, they are most ‘abnormal’.

These circumstances have forced us to teach using less than ideal platforms and modalities; making us reconsider our notions of assessment and how to achieve learning outcomes or modify learning outcomes (or at the very least, not compromise those learning outcomes).

But as they say in the theatre, the show must go on.

FASS has rolled out e-learning as the default mode of instruction for Semester 1, 20-21.  This was communicated to all teaching faculty months before the start of the semesters and many of us have adapted our teaching to it.  One thing I can safely declare about my FASS colleagues: we have, on the whole, demonstrated a great deal of flexibility and dexterity in this adaptation process and have found a feasible approach to converting our in-person classes to virtual environments.

And to our students’ credit, many of them have embraced the switch and have made encouraging remarks to their instructors expressing their appreciation for the attempts to make e-learning engaging while accepting that these efforts will have limitations.

So now the option has presented itself where smaller classes can revert to in-person classroom teaching which, on the surface, looks like the most natural thing to choose.

After all, I have been extolling the virtues of in-person learning so it seems like a no-brainer, right?

I would ask everyone to think about this carefully.

Consideration 1:  How disruptive will this switch be?
Now that we are into the 4th week of the semester, the teaching has gained some momentum and some of the inter-personal dynamics have already been established.  Will the thrusting of everyone into a new learning environment upset that, and if so, how can we minimise that?  With students still unable to cross designated zones, will some students who are not permitted to be in the classroom with their colleagues feel marginalized, or worse, disadvantaged?  How can module chairs and instructor mitigate that?

Consideration 2: Does this mask-to-mask environment present challenges to learning?
So we’re all in the same space (Hooray?) but instructor must keep a 2m distance from the students and all students must be masked at all times and be kept at least 1m apart.  Will the small-group discussions be as effective? The masked student may face problems with diction, volume and clarity of speech: will this affect audio capture for students using VCP (those who cannot cross zones to attend the class in person)? Will this affect and disrupt flow of communication between students and student AND student and instructor? How can the module instructor deal with this effectively?  How can we read students’ response clearly when everyone is masked?

Consideration 3: Parity in engagement and student learning experience
The hybrid classroom presupposes 2 concurrent modes of teaching and learning – the in-person and the online.  How can the instructor manage or negotiate a consistency in the communication techniques and pedagogy across the two disparate modalities?  Will the student who is on VCP feels that he/she/they is less engaged because of the lag in the immediacy of the in-person experience?  How do we cater to the student on VCP without neglecting or distracting the mask-to-mask student (and vice versa)?  Will this disparity in engagement have any impact on the effectiveness of the assessment (especially when it comes to group projects and group work)?  What measures do instructors have in place if there is a technical fault where the in-person students can continue with the classes and the VCP students’ experience is disrupted?

Many colleagues who are keen to go back to the classrooms with their students are concerned about the technical aspect of the hybrid classroom, and rightly so.  It will involve some adjustment and some new technical know-how in order to provide both in-person and online students a comparable learning environment.

For me, that is a secondary consideration over how to conduct teaching and learning in a hybrid classroom environment.  The tech can be overcome with practice.  The teaching and learning in such an environment needs deeper consideration and strategizing – customising it to the discipline, assessment tools and the learning outcomes while considering the challenges presented in this new dual-mode classroom.

I urge everyone who is thinking about going back to the classroom in Semester 1 of 20-21, and having to operate within the current limitations of the hybrid classroom to think carefully about the three considerations I have listed (which are by no means exhaustive).  I have no quick answers because the solutions should be based on each module’s needs and learning outcomes.

As I have learnt from my colleagues (Dr Nina Powell, in particular), it always pays to be up front and open with your students about expectations and limitations.  At the start my Introduction to Theatre and Performance exposure module which is in an e-learning format, I explained to the students that the practice component of the module will have a dramatically different focus from the in-person version.  By and large, the students have embraced the changes and are fully engaged with the module’s repurposed learning experiences.

Managing students’ expectations and limitations vis-à-vis hybrid classroom and learning is the first step to constructing the learning environment with which you wish to engage your students.

CIT has a few very useful resources regarding the tech in Hybrid Classrooms which you may wish to peruse.

The general portal is: https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/cit/Hybrid+classroom

In this landing page, you will have 2 video recordings of the hybrid classroom briefings conducted on 4th and 6th of August – they provide useful step by step information on how to use classroom tech and platform features

This link has information on operating tech and platforms specifically for tutorials in the seminar rooms.  There is information on equipment, procedure and modifications.  It also has some important information on how to facilitate person-to-person communication: https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/cit/Hybrid+classroom+-+tutorials

This link has information on hybrid classroom recording – you can opt to record the seminar or class so that students can review the lesson:

CDTL has a one page breakdown of the principles behind Hybrid Teaching which is a useful general guide:  http://nus.edu.sg/cdtl/docs/default-source/professional-development-docs/resources/quick-guide-to-hybrid-teaching.pdf

A simple hack from me would be bring your laptop to the classroom, plug it into the display in the classroom, open your VCP session (e.g. Zoom or MS Teams), share screen to your lecture notes and project that onto the screen in the seminar room.  That way, the students in the seminar room and students on the VCP will get to see the lecture notes.  Invest in a tripod so that you can mount your webcam (if it is not fixed on your laptop) and adjust it to your standing view so that you can move freely.  Loan a body mic from the FASS tech unit to make sure your voice can be captured by the webcam and streamed through the VCP.

In my experience, you will achieve clearer diction and speech when you use the disposable medical masks while conducting mask-to-mask teaching.  You can always opt to use the face shield which makes speaking easier but, in my experience, can slightly compromise your visual field.

Thank you for reading.

The 2019-2020 DELL Educator Track Search and Hire Process: Reflections

By Robin Loon, Department of English Language and Literature

The NUS Educator Track is an exciting career path for Higher Education educators.  It allows Educator Track faculty to devote their time and attention not just to teaching, but to making impact on education and student learning. 

A lot of buzz (and confusion, if I may add) have surrounded the promotion pathways for Educator Track (Edu-T) colleagues, especially with the prospects and the security of an open contract for those promoted to Associate Professor and above on Edu-T.  While the promotion processes and expectations are still being defined and finessed, I think it is timely for us to also consider the importance of hiring staff who wish to enter this career path. 

The hiring of Edu-T faculty at the lecturer/entry-level is equally fraught.  The main challenge, in my view, is that HODs and Search Committees have not recalibrated their processes from tenure/research track hires to Edu-T hires. The ritual of search-and-hire has been overwhelmingly dominated by indicators forecasting research impacts and potentials.  These processes and indicators cannot be easy, nor should they be, mapped onto Edu-T hires.  It is frustrating that Edu-T hires may still be assessed by their publication track records which do not articulate the potential these candidates have as excellent educators.  A recent Edu-T hire advertisement from an FASS department states that “to be considered for a senior position, apart from the above, a candidate must demonstrate the potential to be research active.”  This is problematic on many fronts.  Firstly, as articulated by a fellow Edu-T DELL (Department of English Language and Literature) colleague Dr Leslie Lee, applicants may misinterpret this to mean “that research is required/important/relevant for career development on the [Edu-T]’. This may result in the kind of mismatch between expectations and reality that led to previous departures on the [Edu-T].”  Secondly, this misrepresents the Edu-T career progression which the Educator Track document (HR 006/19) states:

“At higher levels of appointment, candidates further need to demonstrate positive impact through either educational leadership, or through the development of expertise in their discipline in relation to pedagogy, or a combination of these.”  (p.1)

As a senior Edu-T faculty, I participated in the recent DELL Edu-T search-and-hire process.  I was invited to observe and comment on candidates’ teaching demonstrations (which is an open invitation to all DELL colleagues).  In addition, I was asked by the search committee (comprising Prof Lionel Wee (chair), A/P Vincent Ooi and Dr Leslie Lee) to meet with the candidates individually to answer the candidates’ queries on Edu-T career prospects and expectations.  This is the first time, in my memory, that an Edu-T search committee has provided such a forum.  Not only did this mean that the department took the hiring process very seriously, it also indicated that the committee wanted the candidates to understand what an Edu-T career at NUS entails and that we send the right messages about what this track has to offer.  I gladly accepted the invitation to promote Edu-T to potential hires. My meetings with all 3 shortlisted candidates were friendly, candid, and focused on the Edu-T.  I was very pleased to hear that all 3 candidates expressed strong interests in developing a career in Education in NUS, and that they had definite ideas and plans to develop student learning and education.  It was invigorating to hear from other enthusiastic educators who share the same fervour and commitment to providing our students with innovative and engaging learning environments.  I believe that this was a direct result of the search committee applying strict Edu-T specifications during the initial interview and shortlisting process.  Any of these candidates are a good fit in the department and in the NUS Edu-T. 

Our new Edu-T hire will join the department in January 2021.  I know the department has selected the strongest candidate who has not only displayed strong teaching capabilities but has also demonstrated potential for leadership and innovation in education at NUS.

The search committee has given me permission to share their account of this hiring process and I have attached it here.

For the Edu-T at NUS to reach its full potential, we must not only focus on career advancement and support, we must also be rigorous at the very start of the process: by searching for strong educators with the potential for educational leadership.

A Tough COVID-19 Semester: Using Negative Feedback to Advance a Critical and Honest Reflection of Teaching Practices

By Nina Powell, Department of Psychology

We must remember that glowing self-evaluations of our teaching inadvertently endorse certain teaching practices – the assumption is that what we’re doing is working. If we think that some things we do in our teaching are not working, or some trends and practices in higher education should be abandoned, we must bring those to light for our own professional growth and development, and for the betterment of higher educational practices.

NUS has put into effect temporary contingencies for our pedagogical and career goals in light of the rapid change to distance e-learning. This includes allowing colleagues to forfeit their teaching feedback from this past semester in the annual review so as to minimize the potential damage to our feedback records when it comes to contract renewal and promotion. While this may be necessary, I would also like to encourage colleagues to approach the annual review and other career development opportunities (e.g., teaching award applications) in an unconventional way that makes use of all of the feedback and valuable information that we have (both positive and negative).

I would urge colleagues to consider the merit in showcasing and highlighting not just what is working, but what is not working, and to construct a solid critical narrative around honest reflections of our teaching practices. I urge this for two reasons: 1) this is an opportunity to bring to light the inadequacies of initiatives like 100% distance e-learning so as to avoid the all too common tendency to acquiesce to a “new normal” in education without sufficient consideration of the drawbacks. And, 2) this is an opportunity to showcase not just your achievements through metrics and praise, but to showcase your insightful pedagogical knowledge and reflections on higher education.

Traditionally, annual review and career development has centered around self-promotion and showcasing of achievements, which encourages an overly positive spin on adopted teaching methods, especially those methods that might be considered innovative. If, for example, we want distance e-learning to depart with the threat from Covid-19 then we must deliver an appraisal of distance e-learning that includes the negative as well as the positive. We must remember that glowing self-evaluations of our teaching inadvertently endorse certain teaching practices – the assumption is that what we’re doing is working. If we think that some things we do in our teaching are not working, or some trends and practices in higher education should be abandoned, we must bring those to light for our own professional growth and development, and for the betterment of higher educational practices.

 I hope to encourage colleagues to be transparently critical, even transparently negative when necessary, about higher education initiatives. While this might sound like a rather curmudgeonly way of approaching reflection, I would like to offer a few important benefits to this approach.

We have an opportunity when we reflect to showcase and highlight our understanding of education and pedagogy by conducting a critical analysis of what has happened – in part to highlight our mastery of educational reflection and immersion with the pedagogical literature, and in part to bring to light the problems that might not have easy solutions and require more attention, discussion and consideration. For example, I have seen a somewhat disturbing, albeit well-intentioned, trend in response to the COVID-19 contingencies for NUS education which is to highlight problems with distance e-learning, and then immediately provide pat and overly-simplistic solutions – “you want more engagement with students? Try Zoom Chat!” While I can appreciate the need for some guidance in the short-term, we must remember that in the long-term, these more systemic problems with distance e-learning might need more consideration and ultimately could result in the discontinuation of such strong e-learning agendas.

The best way to approach this critical analysis and highlighting of problems/challenges is to use the feedback we have and write the narrative as we have experienced it. I would like to encourage colleagues to abandon the need for a glowingly positive appraisal of our own efforts and the tendency to shy away from negative feedback and experiences. Instead, I would encourage colleagues to highlight the negative aspects of this unprecedented situation, and teaching practices in general, in a thoughtful, well-constructed narrative centered around pedagogical insights and our teaching philosophies. I hope that this narrative can make up the bulk of some of our teaching award applications and reflections used in MAP, which collectively could help to raise awareness and encourage discourse around how we move forward without setting a precedent for education that we, as the educators, are not actually behind.

Before designing e-assessments: Reflections on webinar “Re-examining Teaching and Learning in Challenging Times: What are our assessment options?”

By Mihi Park, Centre of Language Studies

The webinar, Re-examining Teaching and Learning in Challenging Times was organised by the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) and the Global Relations Office at the National University of Singapore, on 11, June, 2020.

From the webinar, I learnt and was reminded of few important matters in designing e-assessments.

1) Do not underestimate the non-education related matters while designing e-assessments.

There could be students who may encounter financial burden to afford a decent laptop, internet maintenance at home environment. In other words, a personal computer and the suitable home environment for the e-assessments (esp. synchronous test) may not be guaranteed all the time.

2) Reliability and validity of the test tool and the instructors’ fluency of the test tools are factors that we should re-think about.

We are used to use the test formats such as an MCQ, and an essay without worrying about the reliability and validity of them if those are conducted pen & paper-based. Likewise, while running those pen & paper based tests, the fluency of instructors in using such tools is not the considering matter. Now, however, in virtual environment, we need to consider those factors in the selection of the test tool, particularly to ensure reliability and validity. In line with the consideration, you may want to consider alternative assessment tools, such as collaborative assessment, portfolio-based assessment, and project-based assessment. These alternative assessments allow us to evaluate the students’ learning progress as well as the outcome. For those who hope to find out more, please look out for the workshops by the CDTL.

3) ‘How to’ information should be provided as well as ‘What to do’ to prepare students and academic staffs for e-assessments.

For students, we need to provide good practices of how to study in online environment, e.g. how to be successful in online class, how to manage own learning more independently, and how to prepare for online lessons. This should include ‘how to use the e-assessment tools’. I would conduct a dry-run if I run a synchronous e-assessment. It equally applies to academic staffs to teach ourselves ‘how to’, such as how to conduct online lessons effectively, how to conduct non-face-to-face e-assessments, and where to get resources.

4) In the design of e-assessments, we could be flexible and create opportunities for community conversations, meaning we may want to hear form the students, as active evaluators of their own progress.

My 5 Takeaways from E-Learning Symposium: Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

By Kamalini Ramdas, Department of Geography

The e-Learning Symposium was organised on behalf of the Office of the Senior Deputy President and Provost (SDPPVO) by the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) and Centre for Instructional Technology (CIT).

1) Even as I prepare for online teaching this semester, in the long-term I should also use the opportunity to plan ahead for how I might combine e-learning and face-to-face learning to enhance student learning. Some questions I now want to consider more closely as I plan ahead:

  • How might I better include students as co-creators of content/syllabus through e-learning?
  • How might I better assess e-learning’s impact on student learning?
  • How can I bring together the strengths of face-to-face learning and e-learning to improve student’s overall learning experience?

2) Safe distancing does not mean social distancing. This served as an important reminder to find ways to connect with students and create opportunities for them to also connect with each other. Students may miss the classroom interaction and being in the same physical space with their classmates. There is a sociality to learning face-to-face that I want to recreate online. This may mean better use of breakout rooms, and perhaps even getting teaching assistants to participate in breakout rooms. I could also create online groups via FB or Instagram that allow students to connect with each other to share what they are learning and check-in with each other more regularly.

3) Teaching innovation does not only refer to the use of technology. Instead it is useful to think of innovation in terms of creative problem-solving given my personal limitations. I was reminded that it is okay to find a solution that fits my skill set and abilities and is also in line with my teaching philosophy and learning objectives. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the universe of software, applications and new technologies out there. Innovation is also about trying to figure out what works for me. And innovation does take time, and trial and error. I want to pay close attention to teaching feedback and try to figure out what didn’t work and why in the previous semester.

4) There are physical limitations students face in terms of lack of technological infrastructure (e.g. quality laptops, stable WIFI, or even a room they can work from). Part of my challenge is also to create opportunities for learning offline. Learning whether face-to-face or online is also about what happens after the class. How can I create achievable learning goals each week that will incentivise students to keep asking questions, keep reading and thinking? These are important pedagogical questions whether my module is conducted via e-learning or face-to-face.

5) Today’s symposium reminded me that there is a community of educators out there who are trying out new strategies and there are people and resources I can turn to for help. I sensed that there is a genuine desire to work collectively to overcome our individual struggles and limitations. You can check out the CAFÉ blog but also the CDTL and CIT websites for more ideas/resources.

Teaching Philosophy as Online Guide

By Kamalini Ramdas, Department of Geography

The teaching semester has come to an end, and I welcome the opportunity to reflect on my COVID-19 teaching strategies during the long break and how I might do things differently in the semester ahead.

Looking back, I have to say I was fortunate that my classes were small (under 50). This meant I did not have to switch immediately to online teaching. Instead, I could transition slowly and this was important given my lack of online teaching experience.

Frankly speaking, my use of technology for teaching has been limited to basic functions on LumiNUS and its predecessor, IVLE. The gentler transition meant I could develop some simpler tactics that did not require me to learn anything new. I will be sharing some of these tactics during my CAFÉ session (‘Lower Tech’ Online Strategies) on 24 June so do join me then.

When reflecting on this past semester and my plans for next semester, I have found it useful to revisit my teaching philosophy. As a feminist geographer, I believe that the classroom is a ‘generative space’ (Huang and Ramdas, 2019) where educators and students not only learn about the spatialities of gender-based inequalities but are also encouraged to think about how they can advocate for change.

Feminist pedagogical practices are committed to creating a safe space where educators and students can engage in productive but potentially difficult conversations about inequality by being sensitive to their privilege and positionality.

How can I replicate these classroom conversations online? How would I create a safe space? What sort of principles and rules might I need to put in place?

In Semester 2, these were not questions I had even thought to ask. My main concern was how was I going to deliver the syllabus in time if I had to move everything online? I was concerned that taking the debates online might be challenging as I did not know much about online etiquette and felt that I might not know how to control a chat if the discussion got out of hand.

In the coming semester, I want to think more carefully about how to manage chatroom discussions. And how to develop interesting discussion topics that we can productively engage with in a chat environment.

I believe that some students are likely to be more candid while chatting online than they might be speaking face-to-face in a classroom setting. This may also mean that I will have to do more facilitation and moderation. Does the fact that I am not physically there make a difference to how they might behave?

I am also concerned about students who may not have access to technical support and equipment, good Wi-Fi connections or a safe space at home in which to engage in discussion and debate. How can I ensure that those without resources can also participate?

Perhaps pre-recording lectures rather than streaming them LIVE on Zoom is one solution. Students can download these lectures and watch them at their convenience. I have also decided to write-up summary points of chatroom discussions and pose questions that allow me to better direct the learning after the chat discussion.

My key takeaway from this past semester is that going slow isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is okay to take the time to process and think things though. I hope to take this ‘slow movement’ into my online classroom.



Huang, S. and Ramdas, K. (2019), “Generative Spaces of Gender and Feminist Geography in Singapore: Entanglements of the Personal and Political”, Gender, Place and Culture 26(7-9): 1233-1242.

Online Courses in the New Normal Time

By Mihi Park, Centre for Language Studies

I taught LAK2201 (Korean 2) last semester during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was my (and many colleagues’) first time converting the course into online in the middle of the semester. It was not a simple change from A to B, but it required a new design of the entire procedure of teaching and learning.

My module was a foreign language module, and was originally designed as a flipped course, meaning the students were required to prepare themselves with the e-lecture to participate the in-class lectures. After the conversion, I continues to provide a similar weekly routine; a self-preparation with the e-lecture (recorded and asynchronous), two real-time online lectures, and a self-reflection note to review their own learning. The weekly workload was designed to encourage ownership of learning and autonomy among the students so that they participate the online lectures actively.

In addition, I provided a guide to co-lecturers regarding a tool management skill for effective online lecture delivery, and conducted few demonstrations of online lectures with them via Zoom. Such efforts ensured all the co-lecturers in the module speak the same language in a same manner.

However, assuming my students experienced a fully online language module for the first time at NUS, I expected anxiety to a certain extent among students. The anxiety was, indeed observed time to time: students asking more questions than face-to-face lectures, getting nervous about the assessments, or not wanting to speak up in a target language. Such anxiety will be reflected in the NUS official feedback, particularly due to a short notice of the conversion. Also, the students’ feedback is often influenced by the rapport between the teacher and students, or among the students. Online course made it challenging to build a constructive rapport within the class, and thus the students missed peer support, teacher’s assurance, and timely feedback, that would be impactful in the official feedback.

To address this point, I plan to compare the students’ feedback with the one of the same module from the previous semester, so that I can understand in which aspects the students are impacted, e.g. the mode of learning, assessment, or contents itself. Moving forward, the feedback will allow me to learn how it could be improved and revise the approach in coming semester.

Despite the challenges that we’ve gone through, the four-week online course became a reminder to me that learner’s autonomy and teacher’s facilitation are equally important to achieve the intended learning outcomes, particularly in online learning mode. Based on my observation, the biggest roadblock in conducting online lectures was the unpreparedness of some students and the expectation of the instructor’s full responsibility. In other words, ownership of learning must be addressed to the students. Therefore, in coming semester, I will dedicate one or two lectures at the beginning of semester to enforce the students’ roles and how to manage learning in my LAK4201 (Korean5).

In fact, this kind of training could be done at university-level, because such a skill is considered a general academic skill that the students should be equipped with in higher education. Each module may adopt different approaches to accommodate online teaching, but students’ involvement in learning should be highlighted to achieve a greater learning outcome.

Providing a flipped course would be another way to ease the barriers to online lectures. LAK4201 has been a flipped course for the past few years, and I will continue to provide the e-lecture prior to real-time online lectures, with a hope to encourage students to participate the online lectures actively based on their preparation.

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