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This issue of CDTL Brief discusses various issues and aspects of Independent Learning, incorporating views from NUS faculty and a student.
January 2008, Vol. 11 No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Self-learning is Self-reliance
Dr J Sivaraman
Department of Biological Sciences

Self or independent-learning requires students to take responsibility for their own learning. In the process, students acquire the knowledge and skills needed to make responsible decisions for their own learning. Independent learning can be fostered by opportunities and experiences which encourage student's intellectual development and his/her capacity for independent and reflective judgment. All these are based on students' awareness of their own interests and talents and an appreciation of learning for learning's sake.

Independent learning involves interaction between the educator and students. The lecturer plays the role of a facilitator and shows students how to learn independently. For example, the lecturer can motivate students to learn independently through well-organised and interesting lectures or encourage students to learn through trial and error. The lecturer should also provide adequate feedback on students' learning and encourage them in their efforts. Further, students should be allowed to learn at their own pace and feel in control of their learning.

Students learn independently when they reflect on the lecture and follow up with an independent study or from other students, tutors and lecturers around them when they engage in practical work. Students also learn independently when they search for information on the Internet and in the libraries.

With the concept of self-learning in mind, I attempted to promote self-learning in a crossfaculty graduate level module, BL5201 "Structural Biology and Proteomics". The objective of this module was to provide students with a strong foundation on basic concepts on structural biology and proteomics with a special emphasis on recent developments. I believe that at the post-graduate level, students should be given opportunities to explore and discover information by themselves. Thus we used a series of lectures related to fundamental concepts and recent advancements to stimulate students' interest in the subject.

Tutorial sessions aimed to cover all bioinformatics aspects of students' structural biology projects. In addition to lectures, tutorials and oral presentations, students were required to write critical reviews on recent research papers from top-level journals. Students could choose from four major areas within structural biology and proteomics but their oral presentations and critical reviews had to come from two different research areas. The oral presentations helped boost student's confidence while the writing exercise encouraged students to be creative.

Further, all students were given unique assignments to solve real world practical problems/queries on multiple aspects in structural biology. I provided unique protein sequences to each student who was then required to elaborate on 15 fundamental structural biology questions pertaining to the assigned protein sequences. Such practical problems helped students learn how to handle real world problems. During tutorial sessions, students were asked similar questions to make sure that students could solve the problems successfully and independently.

In summary, the activities in the module enabled individual learners to take responsibility for their own learning and develop skills essential for lifelong learning.

 First Look articles

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Inside this issue
The Art of Not Learning: Two Versions
The Bookends of USP Learning: From WCT to ISM
Using Wiki to Write Lectures Notes Independently and Collaboratively
A Self-directed Learning Experience
Flashcards and the Leitner Cardfile System: A Useful Tool for Learning Human Anatomy Independently
Self-learning is Self-reliance
Service Learning: Where the World is Your Classroom