Classroom Activity Design Using Authentic Tasks

KUAN Yee Han
Tembusu College

Yee Han shares how he integrated experiential learning and authentic learning activities into his module to enable his students to develop empathy towards the elderly.

Figure 1. Students experiencing age-related impairments.
Photo courtesy of KUAN Yee Han

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”
– John Dewey (1993, p. 78).

In UTS2114 “Technologies and Ageing in Singapore”, I integrate both experiential and authentic learning approaches to engage students and maximise their learning.

One challenge that I face in class is to encourage empathy development in my students towards the elderly. This is not an easy task, since the students may not have regular and meaningful engagement with the elderly. Moreover, my students are from different disciplinary backgrounds (11 different Departments from 6 Faculties) within a seminar classroom of 15 students.

I have found that a good way to allow students to step into the shoes of an elderly, even for just one day, is through authentic tasks using an ageing body suit. The body suit aims to recreate age-related impairments, such as joint stiffness, mobility restrictions, loss of physical strength, hearing loss, and narrowed visual field. There are existing body suits out there such as GERT (http://www.age-simulation-suit.com/) or the Sakamoto Aged Simulation Suit (https://www.sakamoto-model.com/product/simulation/m176/) but these suits are expensive. I want all my students enrolled in UTS2114 to try the suit so I worked with my teaching assistant, Jiongrui to design and develop our very own body suit, ELSA: The Elderly Life Simulation Attire.

Figure 2. A student in ELSA navigating the mock 2-room HDB apartment.
Photo courtesy of the KUAN Yee Han.

In UTS2114, we design classroom activities to demonstrate how the elderly would live in Singapore. For example, in one of the classroom activities, students experienced living in a mock-up of a 2-room HDB apartment and attempted Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). By experiencing the ADLs through the body of an elderly person, students can perspective-take1 and develop empathy for the elderly.

This semester, my teaching assistant and I added another perspective to the classroom activities where besides the HDB simulation, students also experienced what living in the community would entail for the elderly. They had to navigate an outdoor course which involved crossing the road, taking the bus, and buying groceries at the NTUC supermarket, all while wearing ELSA.

Figure 3. Students in ELSA attempting to read bus routes.
Photo courtesy of the KUAN Yee Han.

We have received encouraging feedback from the students.  Here is one who talked about the learning experience gained from using the simulator suit.

 “We have taken many things for granted and assumed that everyone can continue leading their lives outdoor even after ageing. In fact, the simulation has induced a sense of helplessness. This might cause them to give up on going out and coop themselves up at home, further exacerbating their social isolation and contributing to boredom and loneliness.” – Semester 2 AY2019/20

In summary, the activities in UTS2114 have been able to develop empathy in students. However, more needs to be done to ensure that when students reflect on their experiences, they also learn and build on the knowledge gained from these activities. My next challenge would be re-designing authentic assessments for the module to accommodate this aspect.

KUAN Yee Han is a Senior Lecturer at Tembusu College and Assistant Dean of Students at Office of Student Affairs. His research focuses on using authentic learning in higher education and living-learning communities. He teaches modules on negotiation and ageing. Yee Han also facilitates negotiation workshops and trains student coaches to promote out-of-classroom learning. He is a certified Lego® Serious Play® facilitator.

Yee Han can be reached at yeehan@nus.edu.sg.

Endnote

  1. To be able to perspective-take refers to the ability to look beyond your own point of view, so that you can consider how someone else may think or feel about something. (Source: https://sociallyskilledkids.com/perspective-taking/)

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