Lynette TAN Yuen Ling, CHUNG Ruei Chieh Rachel, Keith LOW Jun,
Kundala Gayathri SHANKAR, and MUN Qin Yi Glen
Residential College 4 (RC4)
Lynette discusses the process of collaborating with students to improve aspects of her module, and how these conversations have led to enhancements in the module’s content, assessment modes, and technologies.
The idea of engaging students as partners in teaching and learning is attributed to Cook-Sather, Bovill, and Felten (2014), who provide the theoretical foundation and guidelines for the endeavour. However, there is resistance to the idea, perhaps due to the anticipated effort in meeting the terms of what that partnership entails (Matthews, 2019). More recently, Bovill (2020) has charted student participation along a continuum:
Inspired by the clear strategy of sharing module design outlined by Bunnell and Bernstein (2014), and within the phase of “co-creation” identified by Bovill (2020), I sought to modify how I delivered the module UTC2706 “Committed to Changing their World: The Systems Pioneers” to more satisfactorily meet learning outcomes. This is what I learnt from, and how I plan to adjust my module based on my discussions with RC4 undergraduate residents Gayathri, Glen, Keith, and Rachel.
Module Content: Themes and Topics
For module content, I aimed to enhance student connections with the topics introduced as authentic case studies for applications of Systems Thinking philosophy and diagnostic tools1.
All four students found the existing topics worked well in facilitating that application. However, they offered suggestions that would help them connect better with the content. They signalled their interest in social issues, such as inequality (Rachel and Gayathri), and to amplify the resources of present case studies for a better grasp of these issues (Keith and Glen).
The addition of readings is an easy fix. Adding an extra topic, considering module delivery time constraints, makes for a more drastic change. The cessation of STEER2 trips for the immediate future due to the COVID-19 pandemic justified my plans to replace the Himalaya case study (an RC4 STEER) with the topic of social inequality. This is especially pertinent with recent discourses on how the pandemic is deepening social and other inequalities on a global scale.
Module Assessment: Clarity and Connections
Students complete six assignments for UTC2706, and being in a curricular programme where there are usually three has led to fairly constant student feedback that there are too many assignments. I wanted to discover which assignments students found effective in enabling them to apply the knowledge of concepts and skills they were acquiring, and which were not.
All four students pointed to the assignment that replicated what another was testing. Rachel and Gayathri also suggested improvements so students are prevented from mere regurgitation and encouraged to reflect more on what they are learning–I plan to tweak assignment guidelines (so engagement with prior knowledge becomes a requirement) and increase the word count (to replace the redundant assignment). Glen asked for greater clarity on the final paper, and Keith noted that while there was progression between assignments, the relationship between them could be spelt out further, suggesting a class activity where connections are made by the students themselves. These again are not difficult module adjustments.
Module Technologies: LinkedIn Groups and LumiNUS Forum
The discussion on class technologies yielded the most interesting results. The pandemic has raised the stakes of our facility with asynchronous learning spaces, as face-to-face collaborations in the physical classroom become less accessible. Moreover, in this digital age, these platforms are increasingly the way that knowledge is being built, and we need to modernise and school our students in, and by, adapting to the 21st-century context.
Gayathri saw tremendous engagement on an NUS business entrepreneurship module, and shared how it functioned on LumiNUS Forum: each student pitches an idea that others vote for, and the top four topics are chosen as team projects. She emphasised that the instructor should not contribute in either discussions or the voting for authentic student engagement. I plan to use this “pitch” idea to catalyse student debate and peer learning in LinkedIn Groups as students select their topics for my White Paper assignment. Keith highlighted the usefulness of Piazza3 which functions as a Helpdesk and where anonymity is beneficial–this distinguishes it from other channels (e.g. email) which identify the sender.
In the past, I had many immensely helpful conversations with colleagues on improvements to teaching. Teaching Connections functions as an abundant repository of such conversations. This is my first attempt at engaging with co-creation of module design with students, and what I discovered is that as individuals who have actually experienced the entire module from start to finish, their suggestions are not only customised to the module’s learning process, they are also able to explain, from their perspectives as learners, how to enable a better connection to those processes. As we continue moving towards more learner-centred strategies in our teaching, such collaboration with students to enhance module design can only improve the outcomes we hope to achieve.
¹A central tenet of Systems Thinking philosophy is that through the holistic understanding of a system and the interactions between connected elements in that system, constructive change can be wrought at specific points of leverage. In order to map out that system, diagnostic tools such as Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) are employed. The original module design mapped out the CLDS of four studies, namely the melting Himalaya (students at RC4 had the opportunity to join a STEER programme to the Himalaya), desalination for water security in Singapore, homelessness in Singapore (following from the inaugural report on this issue, which was used as compulsory reading, in 2019), and food wastage at the RC4 dining hall.
²STEER stands for “Student Trips for Engagement and EnRichment”, a programme designed to familiarise students with the diverse socio-cultural-economic environments of new and fast-evolving regions through a mix of classroom-based learning and experiential site visits.
³Piazza is an intuitive platform for instructors to efficiently manage class Q&A. Students can post questions and collaborate to edit responses to these questions. Instructors can also answer questions, endorse student answers, and edit or delete any posted content.
Lynette TAN is the Director of Studies, Associate Director of Student Life and Senior Lecturer at Residential College 4 (RC4), NUS. At RC4, her teaching on Systems Thinking explores the philosophies and work of the Systems Pioneers and empowers students to be humane change agents as they navigate global issues that are critical in the 21st Century. She has a strong interest in technology-enhanced learning. Lynette previously contributed a post on the effectiveness of online platforms for engaging learners.
Lynette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel CHUNG is an undergraduate pursuing her Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering in the National University of Singapore (NUS). She is interested in robotics, automation, the Internet of Things and classical music, and has often combined these interests in her own pet projects.
Rachel can be reached at email@example.com.
Keith LOW is a second-year undergraduate studying Computer Science at NUS, and is also a resident of RC4. He has interests in aviation, tourism, and languages. He speaks fluent German, and is now learning French. He is also a member of NUS Symphony Orchestra, where he plays the cello.
Keith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glen MUN is currently an undergraduate Pharmacy student in NUS and the Vice-Director of Events under the College Students’ Committee in RC4. He is passionate about clinical pharmacy and improving medication safety among patients. Besides his academic interests, he enjoys learning about graphic design and how this skill can be applied in effective communication as well as teaching and education.
Glen can be reached at email@example.com.
Kundala Gayathri SHANKAR is a second-year undergraduate pursuing an Electrical Engineering degree and Entrepreneurship minor, and a senior in the University Town College Programme. As a resident in Residential College 4, she has served as Director of Events on the 6th College Students’ Committee, heading a committee to plan and organise various college-wide events. She is also serving as President of OrcaTech, a student-run cognition pod that organises workshops and seminars on technology and innovation.
Gayathri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acai, A., Mercer-Mapstone, L., & Guitman, R. (2019). Mind the (gender) gap: Engaging students as partners to promote gender equity in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2019.1696296
Bovill, C. (2020). Co-creating learning and teaching: Towards relational pedagogy in higher education. Critical Publishing.
Bunnell, S., & Bernstein, D. (2014). Improving engagement and learning through sharing course design with students: A multi-level case. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education (13), 1-5. https://repository.brynmawr.edu/tlthe/vol1/iss13/2/
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty (First ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Matthews, K. (2019). Rethinking the Problem of Faculty Resistance to Engaging with Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(2), Article 2. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2019.130202