Adapting to the New Norm Using Collaborative Learning Strategies

Nur’ Radhiyanna Binte Mohammad Khatib
Centre for Development of Teaching & Learning (CDTL)

In the past year, how have Teaching Assistants (TAs) managed the major shift from face-to-face to online and hybrid learning? What strategies did they adopt to engage their students amidst this new norm? Yanna shares their reflections, collated from a series of interviews to find out their teaching and learning experiences amidst this new norm.

Image courtesy of Christina Morillo from Pexels

In the past year, we have seen plenty of changes to the way teaching and learning has been carried out. With the current COVID-19 pandemic hitting us like a never-ending storm, classes have been forced to shift from on-site to online. How have teaching assistants (TAs) coped with this change?

We interviewed 10 TAs to find out how they managed and coped with their teaching experiences in this new online setting. During each 30-minute interview, the TAs shared about the online collaborative strategies used during their lessons. It is evident from what they shared that they implemented a few ways to adapt to this new norm. Based on their collated responses, we identified three main strategies that were incorporated into classroom instruction.

Create a Conducive Learning Environment

In their interviews, the TAs shared the different ways in which they created a conducive learning environment to actively engage their students. Prior to the first lesson, TAs would reach out via email to the students to introduce themselves and provide a brief overview of the module. They made use of this opportunity to find out if their students had any background knowledge related to the course. This proved to be useful when it came to preparing for the lessons.

Similar to an on-site class, at the start of an online session TAs would first get the ball rolling by welcoming and greeting everyone who enters the “room”. They acknowledged the importance of creating a sense of community in the online class as it opens up opportunities to build social cohesion (Hampel & Stickler, 2005). As such, these TAs made a conscious effort to pronounce and recall their students’ names, and also encouraged them to interact with one another. While these may seem like trivial gestures, they actually present a significant step in building rapport with the students.

Offer Alternative Learning Resources

The TAs also discussed using different learning resources to support their students. For example, some TAs utilised familiar, conventional resources such as sharing videos from YouTube. This media platform has been found to be an effective tool in optimising student learning (Buzzetto-More, 2012) as the use of videos allow for content to be easily digested and understood. As an example, one of our TAs shared that he shows his class clips of historical documentaries before they form breakout groups for discussion. He explained that his purpose of sharing those videos was to “provide context” and it helped his students in getting the ball rolling during class discussions.
Another resource the TAs brought up was the use of Google Slides during lessons. Similar to Microsoft’s PowerPoint, presentations can be created on Google Slides and delivered to an audience. On the plus side, Google Slides is easily accessible and can be used in an online environment. This also includes the ability to share the slides with other users. With this function, collaborative work between the TA and their students can be carried out during lessons.

 

Incorporate Tools to Engage Students During an Online Class

Some TAs also shared that in the classes they facilitate, they incorporated some of the online tools they picked up during the Teaching Assistants’ Programme (TAP)1, such as Padlet and PollEverywhere. For instance, PollEverywhere was used as a way to “check-in” on students’ understanding of the content and if they could keep up with the flow of the lesson. PollEverywhere also gave students the option to type in their names when submitting their answers, should they choose to do so. Either way, TAs assured their students that their identities would not be revealed during sharing unless they are comfortable with it. This privacy feature was “greatly appreciated” by students as they do not feel as pressured or afraid to share their responses.

Given how most classes are now conducted online, it is difficult to gauge if the students are engaged with the class content. Thus, PollEverywhere serves as a helpful tool in boosting their levels of participation (Nunamaker et al., 1996).

In conclusion, the new norm has enabled our TAs to display their ability in establishing their presence in an online environment. Amidst such challenging times, they were able to come up with their own ways to keep lessons as engaging as possible. By incorporating their students’ feedback and the knowledge learnt during TAP, our TAs were able to plan and execute their classes without much difficulty.

Endnote

  1. The Teaching Assistants’ Programme (TAP) is a training programme conducted by CDTL for graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs), and aims to enhance TAs’ knowledge and skills in facilitating collaborative learning in the classrooms.

 

Nur’ Radhiyanna is a Student Academic Developer at the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL). She co-creates and conducts online synchronous workshops for NUS faculty members. She also provides administrative support during these programmes. Nur’ Radhiyanna was recruited under the SGUnited Traineeship Programme to support efforts in raising awareness on the importance of Wellbeing amongst NUS students.

Yanna can be reached at ryanna.mk@gmail.com.

References

Buzzetto-More, N. (2012). Social networking in undergraduate education. Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge, and Management, 63-90. https://dx.doi.org/10.28945/1578

Hampel, R., & Stickler, U. (2005). New skills for new classrooms: Training tutors to teach languages online. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 311-326. https://doi.org/10.1080/09588220500335455

Nunamaker, J., Briggs, R., Mittleman, D., Vogel, D., & Balthazard, P. (1996). Lessons from a dozen years of group support systems research: a discussion of lab and field findings. Journal of Management Information Systems, 163-207. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07421222.1996.11518138