Blended learning changes role of teachers, encourages self-directed learning, say JC teachers

Temasek Junior College students having a lesson over Google Meet with a teacher who was serving a stay-home notice in March 2020.
Temasek Junior College students having a lesson over Google Meet with a teacher who was serving a stay-home notice in March 2020.PHOTO: TEMASEK JUNIOR COLLEGE

SINGAPORE - With a mix of online and in-person lessons, Mr Hendri Adriadi Rizal has found more opportunities to get his students engaged in meaningful historical debates.

And more debates of that kind, which are conceptually deeper, are made possible when students have picked up a base level of knowledge at home before class as part of blended learning, said the senior history teacher at Temasek Junior College (TJC) on Tuesday (Dec 29).

"In the past, a student would come to a lecture and hear about what happened in which year, but we feel that shouldn't be the emphasis at the level of face to face teaching," Mr Hendri added.

TJC has experimented with blended learning since 2018, a technique that integrates online and face-to-face teaching.

A key strategy employed at TJC is "flipped" learning - the students first study the lesson content and take simple quizzes on the Education Ministry's Singapore Student Learning Space portal and then attend class where further clarifications on the subject matter can be made.

Lesson time can also be devoted to solving problems or answering questions using what they have learnt from recorded lessons on their own.

This is a reversal from a more traditional model that saw students learn content in school and then apply it after class when completing homework assignments.

For instance, TJC's subject head for Chinese, Ms Cai Jun Jun, said students may watch a recorded lesson on letter writing before attending a class on composition, allowing them to have a clearer picture of what letter writing entails before they embark on it.

"Instead of hearing it just one time from the teachers, they can repeat the lesson if needed, and the bite-sized videos allow them to digest content more easily," she said.

Mr Koh Weining, head of TJC's humanities department, said the 'flipped' model has changed the role teachers play.

"We have to facilitate (learning) a lot more during face to face lessons rather than teach content, so we are no longer 'the sages on the stage', where we just lecture," said Mr Koh.

He added that teachers have had to adapt to new methods by producing recorded classes or curating existing materials for students to peruse.

Students are also encouraged to learn more independently when going about home-based learning, said Mr Koh.

For instance, they are given short quizzes at the end of each segment of e-lessons and can replay them if they get the answers wrong or to clear misunderstandings. They also benefit from teacher's feedback that appears on screen when wrong answers are selected.

Citing an interdisciplinary programme run by the school, World Without Borders, Mr Hendri said he has also seen students become more proactive in their learning.

"We couldn't go to Tiong Bahru to learn about gentrification (because of Covid-19), but instead, the students did their own research, they trawled the net for accounts of people located there, in order to present the different phases of gentrification there," he said.

"And this again shows how the role of the teacher is really facilitation, we just direct them to the right sites or areas and they can find a new world of information that is very rich."

These methods have enhanced students' motivation and also allowed them to master subjects better, said Mr Koh, based on feedback and test scores collated by the school and the quality of students' questions in class.

Ultimately, the teachers hope blended learning will allow students to pick up skills for use beyond school.

Ms Cai said more independent or self-initiated learning will allow students to develop a curiosity for the world around them and encourage lifelong learning, while Mr Koh said freeing up more time to focus on skills like critical thinking "by not placing content on too high a pedestal" allows students time to develop more analytical abilities that will benefit them in the working world.

"For all you know, the content in a certain subject area might change drastically down the road, but it's unlikely that the skills will," he said.

Mr Hendri said he hoped students would take away a sense of accountability and ownership as they get used to blended learning.

"When you reconfigure the role of the teacher to become a facilitator, the onus is on the students to take charge of their learning and become co-creators of knowledge.

"I think it helps to shift the education system away from teachers as the only owners of knowledge. Our job is to imbue them with skills and learning is also theirs to own."