At NUS, much effort has gone into helping teaching staff
to become IT-competent and incorporate IT into their teaching.
But as we move away from the traditional, face-to-face classroom
scenario, perhaps more needs to be done with empowering students
to learn in the new environment.
Since students are often more IT-savvy and better equipped
technologically than their teachers, more help is needed in
enabling them to know how to learn and to accept learner responsibilities.
Although we as teachers may be very clear in what we want
to achieve, nothing may materialise if there is a gap in teacher/student
The past decade has introduced major changes in pedagogical
assumptions. Most notably, the shift from teacher-centred
to student-centred approaches has demanded the re-orientation
in curriculum and course design decisions. With the teacher’s
role becoming a facilitator of learning, not only is expansion/modification
of instructional skills needed, but also training students
to play a prominent role in the teaching/learning transaction.
Coming to us from the schools, our students should be persuaded
that they have to actively participate in and contribute to
their own learning. In today’s rapidly changing world
with its information explosion, they must grasp that real
learning is learning how to learn so that they can become
life-long learners able to refresh the short shelf-life of
knowledge. We should essentially stress that though their
formal education may be completed at the university, their
informal education will never end and will actually become
more significant. ‘Spot on’ learning – an
acronym coined by MINDEF for ‘self-paced on time on need’ learning – is essential
for life-long employability.
Independent learners need certain skills. Arguably the two
most important ones are:
- Self-management: With IT promising any time,
any place learning, the potential for becoming independent
learners is greatly enhanced. As the teacher lessens his/her
control of the learning process, learners need to be more
disciplined and have greater self-management. The abundance
and increasing sophistication of IT-enabled resources bring
growing distraction: video, audio, interactivity, and dizzying
speeds may spoil learners, and what are perceived as boring
tasks – e.g. learning the fundamentals – could
end up being only a mouse-click away from extinction. Self-discipline
and intellectual rigour must thus be inculcated.
- Learning management: Learners must know what
to learn, how to learn, and have the ability to evaluate
their own learning processes, i.e. cognitive as well as
metacognitive skills. Generally, our students are good at
learning information, either by rote or with understanding.
They have learnt strategies such as identifying key ideas,
making notes, organising and integrating new material learnt
to facilitate recall, making connections and using images
and other mnemonic devices. What is needed is a greater
degree of reflexivity, the habit of reflecting upon what
they are learning and monitoring how they are learning.
Knowing something about intelligence and its management
– Robert Sternberg, for instance,
posits a theory of triarchic mental functions 1 – would be useful. One could then check to see if
one has understood what is being learnt, acquire a repertoire
of strategies and understand which strategies work best
to facilitate the learning of different materials and for
different purposes and contexts. One would also know how
to use and manage time to best effect.
- Change mindsets: Take the time to clarify for
students the rationale for the paradigm shift and the concomitant
expectations. Reinforce through the way you teach and examine.
- Build confidence: As in parenting, if we don’t
ease up on control and devolve more responsibility to students,
they’ll never learn. Include them in designing the
curriculum and assignments, consult them on the conduct
of classes and, perhaps, involve them even in the assessment
process. For instance, student-generated examination questions
have been experimented with and research suggests that this
approach helps to improve learning, with the examination
serving to do more than test mastery2 .
- Encourage reflectiveness: Train students to
think for themselves by:
- Habituating them to ask questions and engage with what
is being learnt;
- Assessing them in ways that rewards the reflective habit;
- Setting questions that demand more than recall of information;
- Helping them to recognise barriers to learning;
- Providing opportunities for clarification and negotiations;
- Introducing good practices that will stimulate productive
reflection (e.g. the keeping of a learning journal);
- Ensuring that there is time/opportunity for reflection.
- Develop collaborative skills: IT provides huge
resources as well as the means for learning from and working
with others. Our school system tends to encourage competitive
rather than co-operative learning, but the workforce we
are preparing needs to work as teams. More than ever, knowledge
is a social construct, built through collaborative efforts
and dialogue among persons with different perspectives.
In an IT-connected world, distributed solutions will probably
be the norm. To encourage a collaborative mindset, we could,
- Use team projects with assessment based on team rather
than individual performance;
- Socialise learners into acceptance of and respect for
viewpoints other than their own;
- Be a role model for good interpersonal skills.
“The illiterate of the Year 2000 will
not be the individual who cannot read and write, but the one
who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” (Alvin
Even before the Year 2000 it is evident that
the IT age makes its own demands: it creates new tools with
undoubted potentials as well as problems. We as teachers cannot
go on teaching the way we have always done; nor can learners
continue with doing more of the same. The paradigm shift requires
changes not just of degree but of kind, not just doing things
incrementally better but differently, not only thinking critically
but also creatively. Meeting these demands will not be easy
but it has to be done. And it can be done, with a clear sense
of our mission, substantiated by clear precepts and practice,
driven by conviction and commitment and with institutional
1 Sternberg, Robert (1988). The Triarchic Mind: a New Theory
of Intelligence. NY: Viking Press.
2 Please see, for instance,
- Gillespie, Cindy. ‘Questions about student-generated
questions’. Journal of Reading, 34, Dec 1990,
- Green, Donna H. ‘Student-genereated exams: testing
and learning’. Journal of Marketing Research,
Summer 97, 43-53.
- Maddox, E. Nick. ‘The use of student-generated
examinations: guidelines, benefits and cautions.’.
In Vance, Charles M (ed) (1993). Mastering Management
Education: Innovations in Teaching Effectiveness. Newbury
Park, CA: Sage Publications. 241-247