Rethinking Learning Spaces During a Pandemic

Siok Kuan TAMBYAH, NUS Business School and College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT), and
TOH Tai Chong, College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT)

Siok Kuan and Tai Chong chronicle the discussions within the learning community they co-facilitated, particularly how the learning spaces within the NUS residential colleges have informed and enhanced student learning.

Members of the learning community at the final wrap-up meeting in August 2021
Tambyah, S. K., & Toh T. C. (2022, June 24). Rethinking learning spaces during a pandemic. Teaching Connections.

As a Learning Community (LC) about “Student Growth and Development in the New Learning Spaces of Residential Colleges”,1, 3 our goals were to assess and consider the impact of innovative programmes and initiatives that contribute to student learning outcomes in the multidisciplinary context of residential colleges (RCs). How are learning spaces in RCs different from and complement what is offered in the students’ home faculties? We envisioned “learning spaces” as conceptual spaces beyond the confines of physical spaces and formal curricula. These spaces are situated within formal and informal curricula, and involve learning in local and overseas contexts. They incorporate a spectrum of interactions and sharing of responsibilities among students, educators, and other partners.

We started meeting in April 2020, an extremely trying time as Singapore and the rest of the world were grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did we know that most of our meetings would be conducted virtually over Microsoft Teams with only one face-to-face (F2F) meeting during the Recess Week in March 2021, when there was a reprieve on safe distancing measures, and finally at our wrap-up meeting in August 2021. Things were even more surreal because the very topic that we were discussing (student growth and development in the context of multidisciplinary RCs) was being up-ended by a multitude of rules, the most onerous of which were the zoning restrictions which prohibited students of various faculties from intermingling.

The circumstances during the tenure of the LC and our engagement with the literature on hand gave rise to many interesting discussions and reflections. These were primarily about the intentional design of learning spaces for outcomes that were complicated to measure, such as interdisciplinary learning and experiential learning. Our discussions also focused on the role of students as leaders and partners, and the challenges in giving students more autonomy and agency (Jonsson, 2020; Mihans et al., 2008). The educator-student partnership was also evolving during the pandemic (McCreadie, 2020).

There were many tangible outputs2 from the LC—we had three members present at conferences albeit virtually, and three case-studies that benefitted from the discussions of this LC will be featured in an upcoming book publication.

In one case study, Eric Kerr from Tembusu College disentangled some of the links between his teaching in formal and informal spaces through an analysis of a makerspace and a classroom physically transformed by the pandemic (see also Kerr, 2020). Makerspaces, and the implementation of maker cultures within higher education, has reportedly led to mental health as well as educational benefits (Scott, 2022) during a stressful time for many students. Thinking through the technological make-up of learning spaces—chairs, whiteboards, laptops, tools, etc.—he discussed how these markedly different environments, and the different technologies used within them, each shaped how students acquired, produced, and conceptualised knowledge.

In another case study, Tai Chong Toh and Siok Kuan Tambyah examined how the projects for the Capstone Experience academic module at The College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT) created learning spaces where elements of multidisciplinary teaching and collaboration with community partners can be integrated. Even during the pandemic, students persevered with their projects by capitalising on online technologies for data collection and engagement with the communities. The close reading of students’ reflections provided strong evidence of interdisciplinary thinking skills (Spelt et al., 2009) such as the ability to change disciplinary perspectives, an appreciation of diversity in opinions, and the broadening of disciplinary perspectives.

As the discussions and reflections within the LC drew to a close, we concluded that the learning spaces in RCs provided many unique opportunities for synergistic connections between the formal and informal learning platforms in and outside the university. The strong bonds forged among faculty members, staff and students in the RC also enabled the curation of novel learning opportunities and student-teacher partnerships. More importantly, this LC provided a space for us to encourage and support one another at a time when the core of the RC experience was being challenged. As educators, we are often tasked to write impact narratives on what we do in our classrooms and with our students. In this LC, we rediscovered the impact of residential colleges—not just for students but for ourselves.


Siok Tambyah

Siok Kuan TAMBYAH is an Associate Professor in Marketing and a Fellow at the College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT). Her research and teaching interests include consumption and identity, consumer culture, happiness, and cross-cultural consumer behaviour. In addition to disciplinary research, she is involved in pedagogical research on learning outcomes related to residential colleges.

Siok can be reached at


TOH Tai Chong is a Senior Lecturer at the College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT), where he is also the Associate Director of Studies and Academic Director. He believes that learning should be integrated across disciplines and learning activities. Hence, his interests in education include Students-as-Partners (SaP), experiential learning, reflective writing and interdisciplinary education. Tai Chong’s past written contributions to the blog include posts on the benefits of developing and maintaining student partnerships in teaching and learning, and educational tools which support one’s teaching practice.

Tai Chong can be reached at


  1. The LC comprised Fellows, faculty members and staff from:
    1. Tembusu College – Eric KERR
    2. The College of Alice & Peter Tan – Kankana MUKHOPADHYAY, Siok Kuan TAMBYAH, and Tai Chong TOH
    3. Ridge View Residential College – CHUA Siew Chin, NG Jia Yun, and NG Kok Leong
    4. NUS Business School – Susan SEE THO
    5. CDTL – Alan SOONG
  2. Some of the ideas in this blogpost were also shared at a Research Brown Bag at CAPT in November 2021.
  3. The formation of this LC was made possible due to the generous support of a Teaching Enhancement Grant (TEG) from the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL).


Mihans II, R. J., Long, D. T., & Felten, P. (2008). Power and expertise: Student-faculty collaboration in course design and the scholarship of teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(2). Article 16.

Jonsson, M. (2020). Five reasons why working as a student partner is energizing. International Journal for Students as Partners, 4(2), 150-154.

Kerr, E. (2020, September 2). Distraction and attention in a pandemic: Designing a virtual classroom. Teaching Connections. /2020/09/02/distraction-and-attention-in-a-pandemic-designing-a-virtual-classroom/

McCreadie, C. R. (2020). Learner-teacher partnership in times of COVID-19: Community poll review. International Journal for Students as Partners, 4(2), 155-157.

Spelt, E. J., Biemans, H. J., Tobi, H., Luning, P. A., & Mulder, M. (2009). Teaching and learning in interdisciplinary higher education: A systematic review. Educational Psychology Review, 21(4), 365-378.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email