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This issue of CDTL Brief is all about Cultivating Active Learners: Applying Scenario-Based Learning and Other Teaching Strategies to Enrich Classroom Learning. Whether it is utilising “real-life“ or non-analogous scenarios to stimulate students’ interest in complex life science concepts such as metabolism or the human immune system, or using role-play to build students’ confidence in tackling commercial real estate issues, the colleagues who have generously shared their teaching experiences here are united in their common goal of equipping their students with the skills to become active learners.

October/November 2011, Vol. 14 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
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Contextualised Teaching Towards Active Learning
Dr Yew Wen Shan
Department of Biochemistry


I taught LSM2101 “Metabolism and Regulation”, a core module in the Life Sciences curriculum, in Semester 1 of Academic Year 2009/2010. The module comprised twice-weekly two-hour lectures and the class consisted of 252 students. This module involved helping students learn the biochemistry concepts of metabolism, and the regulation and integration of the major biochemical pathways that constitute Life. Students tend to have a preconceived idea that biochemistry is a difficult subject to learn, and this is exacerbated when metabolism is involved in the curriculum; this translates into a detached learning experience resulting in a dearth of learning. Prior to this teaching experiment, I had already taught the same module in the previous first semester of AY2008/2009, and the feedback from the majority of that 315-strong class led me to propose the use of contextualised teaching methods to enhance the learning experience of Life Sciences students. This is so that they may proceed on with active learning in their course and in doing so, go toward fulfilling the intended learning objectives of the integrated Life Sciences curriculum. This article relates my teaching experiment that was part of my Teaching Practicum in the Professional Development Programme (Teaching).

Contextualised teaching theories

Since LSM2101 involved a considerably large class, and the delivery of content was solely through lectures and mass tutorials (i.e. tutorials held during lectures), I felt that the pedagogical tool to be used during these sessions should motivate students to learn in an active fashion. The common questions posed by students in this class range from “Why do I need to know this?” to “When am I going to use this information?”, and ultimately, to “Will this be on the exam?”. If these fair and commonly encountered questions can be addressed during the course of teaching the module, students should be motivated to want to learn and actively participate in the learning process.

Contextualised teaching is a concept of relating subject matter content to meaningful situations that are relevant to students’ lives. Proponents of contextualised teaching feel that “students who learn in a contextual environment are simultaneously introduced to the relevance of the learning content, which commensurately improves motivation” (Baker, Hope & Karandjeff, 2009). As such, “contextual learning has the potential to motivate and effectively engage students who view school as boring or non-essential, or who have struggled to make the connections between the demands of the classroom and their own personal goals and aspirations” (p.10).

The contextualised approach

A translation of the prior quotes would mean that contextualised teaching should, in essence, enhance the overall learning experience of students with preconceived “negative” views of the lecture content; as such, I set forth to try to engage students taking LSM2101 to gravitate towards “liking” biochemistry and its metabolic pathways by using the following contextualised methods:

  1. Using “real-life” scenarios to encourage students to ref lect on various metabolic events that occur in the body.

  2. Using well-timed quizzes to allow students to relate to lecture content.

  3. Using “pre-tutorial” questions to prepare for future lectures.

An example of a contextualised teaching method

To enhance the relevance of the learning content, especially with regards to the various metabolic pathways such as the glycolytic pathways, the glucose-alanine cycle, and the Cori cycle etc., I tried to present events or “real-life” scenarios that students would encounter, so that they can appreciate how these pathways work in the human body to allow them to perform tasks that they can relate to. Two such examples are: 1) a power-shopping trip along Orchard Road during the Great Singapore Sale, and 2) a fitness run round the track covering a distance of 2.4km. Both of these scenarios can be classified as aerobic exercises, and this provided an association with the impact of various metabolic pathways (such as lipolysis, glycogenolysis and glycolysis) that were covered in LSM2101. Recognising that certain gender preferences and stereotypes still hold, the shopping trip was meant for the female students to reflect upon, whilst the 2.4km run was a physical activity that the male students (especially the local Singapore guys who have served National Service) could relate to. The use of these scenarios required the students to understand the relevance of certain individual metabolic pathways taught in LSM2101 and how these pathways are integrated to satisfy the metabolic needs of the body during events as common as a shopping trip or a fitness run.

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Inside this issue
Contextualised Teaching Towards Active Learning
Using Role Play to Enhance Classroom Learning: A Case Study in Real Estate
Effective Cancer Pharmacology Teaching Through Guided Self-learning and Students’ Short Presentations in Small Group Tutorials
Application of a Novel Non-analogous Scenario for Introducing Human Immunology
Embedding Graduate Attributes Into Four Discipline Areas Using Scenario-based Learning