The Edutech Asia 2021 was once again a virtual festival. Educators and tech vendors gathered to share insights and experiences on how their institutions and organisations have managed and coped with changes in the delivery of lessons during the height of the pandemic.
One of the key features that we were looking forward to was the Masterclass sessions. However, it wasn’t part of the 2021 virtual festival and we hope it will be reinstated for the 2022 conference. On the bright side, there was the Fireside Chat, where professionals who may not necessarily know each other would discuss and interview one another. These chats were helpful for us to gain insight into what their organisation or institution had done to prepare for and overcome the challenges that came with online learning/teaching.
In this year’s conference, there was an emphasis on blended learning being the future of education. With many schools and educational institutions resuming on-site lessons, a few speakers highlighted the importance of integrating technology in a meaningful way.
So what is Blended Learning?
It is learning that occurs partly online and partly away from home (e.g: in schools). It was mentioned that blended learning should be more student-centric. Student-centric means that learning is driven by students’ needs, wants and passion. There are many blended learning models. Below is an example of 12 of them (see Image 1). During the conference we heard of the Flipped Classroom and Hybrid blended learning models, which have been adopted by some institutions.
Image 1: 12 Types of Blended Learning – from teachthought.com
It was evident from the speakers’ opinions that in order to implement blended learning successfully there are 3 aspects which have to be re-examined; the school’s vision, role of technology and role of teachers.
Diane Tavenner, the Co-Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, spoke about the need for a change in schools’ vision in her inspirational keynote entitled ‘Creating the schools our children deserve: Designing learning experiences that champion equity, access and well-being’. She established the context through a clear description of what school looked like when most of the teaching and learning took place online at home. Most schools were not prepared for delivering lessons online. As such, the traditional teacher-centric classroom delivery was just replicated online and this was found to be the reason why students were bored or disengaged. Although 2 years have passed, where online lessons have been prevalent, this ineffective mode of delivery has not changed for some schools.
Ms. Tavenner categorised schools as having 2 types of visions, which she coined the ‘sorting’ and the ‘preparing’. She defined ‘sorting’ schools as those which prepare students for high stakes examinations and its main purpose is to sort students based on their skills and performances. This means that the better performing students get into promising future tracks while the underperformers are sorted out of the system.
She defined ‘preparing’ schools as those which prepare every single student for the opportunity to live a good life. These schools not only prepare students for purposeful work but also prepare them to be a contributing member to the community and to build relationships.
She then went on to detail how ‘preparing’ schools achieve this. Firstly, these schools nurture and develop a child’s curiosity through inquiry-based learning and build on their strengths i.e. a more student-centric approach. Next, these schools actively support each specific child to develop their identity or purpose. Instead of competing for the top spots, students learn to identify each other’s strengths and develop collaborative skills. Lastly, these schools aim to create self-directed learners. Students learn to work independently and know where and how to look for information.
These ‘preparing’ schools also tap on digital platforms to make learning accessible to their students. Hence, schools designed with this vision were found to be better prepared to handle the change in mode of teaching, and engage their students online during the pandemic.
Ms. Tavenner stressed the necessity for traditional schools to transform into modern schools, which adopt technology and blended learning models, to engage students more effectively. For such transformation to take place, it requires a change in the school’s vision from ‘sorting’ to ‘preparing’.
This was reiterated by Dr Sonny Magana, an award-winning teacher and author, who is a fellow believer in student-centric learning and contributing to each other’s learning capacity. He is also a proponent of schooling not having to be place-based and examination driven. Problems such as the traditional teacher-centric classroom delivery and student disengagement have existed even prior to the pandemic. However, it has become more apparent over the past 2 years. In his keynote presentation entitled ‘Cyber Schooling That Works: The Future Is Now!’, he highlighted a quote mentioned 100 years ago by an American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer, John Dewey. The quote reads, “ If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow”. Similar to Ms. Tavenner, Dr Magana believes that the way we teach has to deviate from the old education systems and geared towards preparing students for their futures. Dr Magana went on to specify that the integration of technology cannot be superficial and has to be backed by scientific methodology and peer review. Despite moving towards a digital age system, he noted that only the modality of teaching has changed. Instead of using pen and paper, we are now using a laptop or interactive platform.
To drive his point home, Dr Magana cited Professor John Hattie’s 2017 meta-analysis of over 10 000 studies on the effect size of technology on student learning. In which, the finding was that the average effect size was below the zone of desired effects. This low effect size has not changed in 50 years despite remarkable advancements in technology. Seeing as Prof Hattie contends that effect size is the most reliable way to determine what is going to have an impact on student achievement, Dr Magana concluded that technology has actually had a deleterious effect on average with regard to student learning.
It is apparent that Ms. Tavenner and Dr Magana are in concurrence that developers and educators should build tech systems with new vision in mind. If the technology adopted does not drive a change in teaching and learning, it will just be serving the old vision of ‘sorting’ when the idea is to forge ahead towards the new vision of ‘preparing’.
During the panel ‘Digital pedagogy: producing outstanding learning experiences and reimagining engaged learning’. Mr Yuekun Li, a representative from ClassIn, essentially elaborated on what Ms Tavenner and Dr Magana referred to as reenvisioning the roles of teachers.
He opined that teachers should not be expected to know everything and do not have to know everything. Instead of being the go-to person, a teacher’s role should shift to be a coach and shift away from teacher-centric classroom delivery. He highlighted that the pressure on teachers to be competent in using technology whilst being subject matter experts is unnecessarily stressful and unhelpful in enhancing the students’ learning. In order to make learning conducive he stated that the ethos of teaching should be helping the teachers help students. To achieve this professional development is important, as teachers would need to be guided on the new ways in which to help their students.
In conclusion, the speakers and panelists seem to agree that it is fruitful to change teaching culture towards being student-centric, and that the way to achieve it is via blended learning and efficacious use of technology in teaching. However, for large scale change to happen, shifts in school visions and expectations of teachers’ roles would have to change as well. This would necessitate engaging and authentic learning, resulting in the experience being more meaningful and relevant to the students.
Senior Educational Therapist
RETA Associate Fellow
Learn more about Rebecca!
Senior Educational Therapist
RETA Associate Fellow
Learn more about Vidya!