Embracing technology-enhanced learning

The Singapore campus of James Cook University’s blended learning approach equips students with digital literacy skills to stay connected and keep up with curriculum in a virtual space

JCU’s blended learning approach, which includes a combination of face-to-face and online activities, is developed by specialists from the ICT and Academic Planning departments, Learning Centre and faculty members like (from left to right) Mr Patrick Logan, Mr Vijay Shreenivos, Ms Karpagavalli (Priya) Gururaj, Ms Esther Fink, Ms Neesha Shinde and Dr Caroline Wong. PHOTO: TED CHEN

Today marks the start of a new trimester, but most of the 4,000 students at the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) will begin their lessons via the university's virtual learning platform, LearnJCU, at home.

The university has decided to conduct the first two weeks of the trimester online, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak

Ms Esther Fink, a learning technologies specialist at JCU, says students returning to school are used to accessing learning materials, and submitting assessments online as JCU already has a blended learning approach in place and they have already been using online learning tools for their modules. What is new is that staff-student and peer-to-peer interactions are now conducted online in virtual lectures and tutorials.

She adds: "Students receive support for academic learning, technologies and careers via links to appropriate services and materials, and where appropriate, subject-specific resources."

Continued learning without disruption

JCU's blended learning approach, which includes a combination of face-to-face and online activities, has been incorporated into most courses since 2014. This helps the Singapore campus with its temporary move to hold classes and coursework online for two weeks.

For example, students who are taking the 'Introduction to Management Concepts and Application' module at JCU's Business School are able to use a personal learning space called PebblePad in Blackboard Ultra to complete their assessments in an interactive workbook.

Dr Caroline Wong, the lecturer in charge on this class, says that the workbook being embedded in the student learning system (LearnJCU) ensures easy accessibility for students and also regular access as they would be retrieving their learning materials on a regular basis via the Blackboard Ultra site. It allows students to work through their assessment and also own their work. These personal works completed by the students function as a portfolio and can be shared with prospective employers.

"This helps students build a comprehensive online learning package and take it with them to retrieve learning materials on a regular basis," she adds.

Dr Wong also uses blended learning approach in a final year subject, 'Managing a Global Workforce', which offers students an online quiz via every week. They are expected to attempt six to eight questions at the end of the lecture based on a topic that is being covered during the lecture.

Dr Wong says that this method is a good way to ensure students focus on the relevant topics taught during class and motivate them to apply their learning to the application questions being asked.

"It provides timely feedback with regards to students' understanding of the content via their responses to the quiz questions. These can be addressed at the end of the quiz time or the next lecture," she explains.

Blended learning also enables students to access course materials for revision when they are not on the campus.

"The approach may vary depending on the learning activities and requirements of the subjects. For instance, lecture recordings enable flexible access which is important when students are dispersed across time zones," Ms Fink explains. "Students can re-watch them to clarify concepts they struggle with, which is particularly helpful for those with English as a second language."

English Language teacher, Mr Patrick Logan, uses the e-learning platform to reach students who are not in class. He does this by uploading the textbook on the platform, writing on a virtual whiteboard and projecting video clips and asking students to comment on what they have seen in real time.

He says that even though it takes more time to upload materials to the e-learning platform, the teaching method is the same. "Online learning resembles the normal classroom, so the learning process is similar," he adds.

Attendance will be taken once students log in to the platform LearnJCU to access the materials and join discussions. Guidance will be offered by the Learning Centre's learning advisors and tutors face-to-face and online.

Ms Fink, a learning technologies specialist at JCU, says that equipping students with digital literacy will enable them to confidently, effectively and appropriately use technology in the workplace. PHOTO: TED CHEN

Digital literacy for the future

Other than being a teaching method that creates an engaging learning journey, blended learning equips students with digital literacy so that they can apply the skills in the workplace.

"To be successful, students must be able to confidently, effectively and appropriately use digital technologies within the context of their disciplines to plan, solve problems, communicate, analyse data and develop content," says Ms Fink.

"It makes sense to embrace technology-enhanced learning where appropriate to assist our students with achieving their learning outcomes."

Equipping students with the skills to thrive in the new digital economy is even more crucial as more jobs across industries from finance and logistics to tourism and retail use data analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence and other digital tools in their daily operations.

Students at JCU get to collaborate online in classrooms that share a network, and access specialist labs so that they can get familiarised with online platforms to share information.

JCU's e-learning platform also links first-year students with second- and third-year students through the EMAS Peer Tutor Programme. Such programmes are a cross collaboration between various departments within JCU, including the Information and Communications Technology department, Academic Planning team and the Learning Centre to facilitate peer-to-peer student support and sharing.

Ms Fink emphasises that the student experience is much broader than providing curated online content.

She explains: "As part of their teaching in the physical classroom, lecturers facilitate a range of opportunities for students to interact with one another, with teaching staff and with professional networks.

"These instances spark curiosity, motivate students to struggle with difficult concepts, and challenge them to get organised as individuals or in groups to achieve their goals. It's important to make sure that this doesn't get lost in a fully online environment."

Visit for more information about blended learning at JCU.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.