Lynette TAN Yuen Ling
Residential College 4 (RC4)
Lynette takes us through her Learning Community’s activities, where they explored aspects related to relationship-rich education and the co-creation of learning and teaching.
RC4’s RRLC retreat with Professor Peter Felten (photo provided by the author).
Tan, Y. L. L. (2023, May 28). Growing a relationship-rich environment: Reflections on leading a learning community at Residential College 4 (RC4). Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2023/05/28/reflections-on-leading-a-learning-community-on-growing-a-relationship-rich-environment-at-residential-college-4-rc4/.
For the space of a year, colleagues of Residential College 4 (RC4) met as a Learning Community (LC) to discuss and engage with two volumes on relational pedagogy and the co-creation of learning and teaching. These books—Relationship-rich Education (Felten & Lambert, 2020) and Co-creating Learning and Teaching (Bovill, 2020)—critique research on the topics of successful learning outcomes through positive relationships between teacher and students, active learning and partnership in the co-creation of learning and teaching, and examine the importance of institutional culture as well as explain how the creation of a relationship-rich environment where students have frequent opportunities, and a diverse range of access points, to connect with many peers, faculty, and staff.
Our LC, comprising teaching faculty from RC4, looked to improve the student learning experience and environment through students’ interactions with peers, faculty, and staff. Research extending several decades has demonstrated that “peer-to-peer, student-faculty, and student-staff relationships form the basis of learning, belonging and achieving in higher education” (Felten & Lambert, 2020, p. 5). Moreover, co-creation of teaching and learning (where there is shared decision-making and responsibility in the design of the whole curricula or elements of curricula) is becoming more widespread globally with compelling evidence of beneficial outcomes.
What we learnt in that year over a schedule that included eight monthly meetings from April 2021, with participation from students at RC4 and the visiting authors1 , as well as a day retreat, was made explicit in a workshop held at the College on the 25th of March of 2022 (see Appendix). The workshop was oversubscribed and the discussion was very lively, with colleagues from all over NUS sharing their own experiences of what constituted relationship-rich environments in their contexts.
Before applying for a TEG2 for this LC, which I co-led with A/P Chng Huang Hoon, I had been in three other LCs, two of which in an unofficial capacity. What I experienced and observed formed ideas of good practices for running such groups that I applied this year:
- Select a topic of current relevance, addressing an issue deemed critical to teaching and learning, and one that is general enough that every LC member can identify with it, contribute to it and reflect on how to improve the way they teach, and how students learn through discussions of that topic. This can be done in discussion with the co-leader of your LC.
- Select key resources related to the topic, that can provide deep insights and yet not overload members, either faculty, staff or students, with too much information. The LC will be taking time over and above the work that members already do, and bandwidth needs to be taken into consideration.
- Have a schedule that is regular enough to keep the topic fresh in LC members’ minds, however not one that will tax them. I have found that the following works well: eight meetings over eight consecutive months, followed by a break for reflection of what has been learnt, and then a retreat to consolidate, summarise, and share those reflections. The retreat also leads nicely into the workshop conducted on the 25th of March, 2022 (the TEG deliverable), and can be used as preparation for it.
- Include LC members by distributing roles and responsibilities, by giving members the opportunity to lead either ideas, issues, or chapters from the reading. The authors of the books that you are reading can also be invited to visit and share about particular sections of the books that are of particular importance to the group (if possible).
Feedback from our workshop indicated appreciation for the framework of the relationship-rich environment that we shared, as well as the gaps and interventions that were observed and done by RC4 colleagues Dr. Naviyn Balakrishnan and Dr. Navarun Varma (see Appendix). The ensuing active learning part of the workshop, where NUS colleagues engaged with gaps that they observed in their own teaching and learning contexts and also possible interventions to meet those shortfalls, was especially rewarding as the benefits of our LC started to extend beyond our group members. For me, the LC was a valuable resource for how to effectively relate to colleagues and students, and the conversations with members helped me to consolidate my strategies for a more democratic classroom, where the student voice is heard.
Overall I have found that the LC provides a vehicle for professional growth and impact that is quite unique, where learning exists in an informal, non-judgmental setting and challenges can be embraced as opportunities for creativity, improving, and achievement.
- The visiting authors were Professors Peter Felten and Cathy Bovill; they wrote the books that our LC engaged with.
- TEG refers to the Teaching Enhancement Grant. The formation of this LC was made possible due to the generous support of this grant from the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL).
Appendix. WORKSHOP SYNOPSIS
Felten, P., & Lambert, L. M. (2020). Relationship-rich education: How human connections drive success in college. JHU Press.
Bovill, C. (2020). Co-creating learning and teaching. Critical publishing.
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 co-creating module design with students.
Lynette can be reached at email@example.com.