Redefining “Learning Experience”
The term “learning experience”, in HK particularly, is often associated with ‘nightmare’ — teachers tend to lecture a lot and students are simply required to sit still in the classroom until the school bell rings. Our approach in this city is usually teacher-centred and students are regarded as individuals who are expected to absorb knowledge from the words on textbooks and teachers for 8 hours a day and produce certain work for another 3–4 hours at home.
Teachers may be influenced of the apparent orientation of the curriculum (academic rationalism). It seems to us that our curriculum tends to focus a whole lot on the ‘academic’ side of a person than to really shape holistic individuals, so that students can take the standardized tests and move on with their lives.
But is it really the only thing that contributes to a young person’s bright or successful future?
Prof. Yeh Ping-cheng from Taiwan University would tell you a students’ exposure to authentic experiences and awareness of ‘why learn’ are more important; Prof. Mark Baildon from the National Institute of Education in Singapore would emphasize the needs of students being aware of global issues and own roles in the global context; Dr. Marty Schmidt from Hong Kong International School would tell us the significance of mindfulness and the social consciousness. There are also other scholars who emphasize the need of entrepreneurship development over learning algebra. All of which aren’t either deliberately emphasised in the curriculum, or apparent in our local day-to-day schooling experience. (More on: 21st century definition of education)
There are local schools promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) or even STEAM (STEM with Arts) education. The result of these attempts is yet to be seen — do students graduate with significantly higher creativity and IT literacy? Or is STEM/STEAM just a small tree being shadowed on by the academic learning?
In English Language education, the Curriculum Development Council (CDC) and Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) stated that there are 9 generic learning outcomes in the subject, namely: 1.) the collaboration skills, 2.) communication skills, 3.) creativity, 4.) critical thinking skills, 5.) IT literacy, 6.) numeracy skills, 7.) problem-solving skills, 8.) self-management skills and 9.) study skills (Curriculum Development Council & Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, 2007, p. 129–146).
There are scholars and educators all over the world being aware of the real needs of students of today (skills) and recognize the fact if ‘teachers’ are supposed to educate for the future, most of us are doing our jobs fatally wrong. If it is future leaders we are nurturing, what we are doing now is very much like training an ant for a dog fight. If we see our future being very much reliant on technology, really advanced technology (Poker game among AI and human is one of the instances where AI outperformed human brain), how should learning in schools be redefined? Does lecturing, or captivating students’ process of learning within the 4 walls, still work? Does banning students from using mobile or technological devices still make sense?
One idea, that is being applied rigorously in the States and Taiwan is “Flipped Classroom”. During a sharing by Prof. Yeh, as he made a visit to HK, he emphasized on the strength of “learning at home” and “working at school”. Not only does this provides individualized learning experience to students, it also improves students’ IT literacy, problem-solving skills and collaborative skills while undergoing self-paced learning. As learning takes place at home, with use of IT device, teachers thus do not have to take time in class dominating the stage. Instead, students would be able to solve problems in groups or individually (Tucker, 2012), fostering the social construction within the classroom.
The challenge with this, however, is the workload a teacher might need to take as to find or create a video that meets the learning objectives. Therefore the idea of collaborative database is an urgent and essential tool for teachers to start developing and using. We often see teachers stressing out on designing learning materials when some of them are already online. Yet the concern I also have is that our students are all different and one size just can’t fit all — that’s why a database is needed as a medium to collect and share information amongst the teachers’ community. The data could be based on learners’ ability etc., so, with some slight individualized amendments, teachers across the city can share similar materials. This applies the same with the essential videos for “flipped classroom”. On the other hand, it is difficult for students, who have no genuine interest in the topic, to proactively watch the videos at home. Prof. Yeh, nonetheless, suggested interactive and engaging activities for students who managed to watch the videos as a positive reinforcement. While the rest, who did not complete the assigned tasks, are meant to complete it during class as others are having fun.
On top of that, Project and Problem-based Learning (PBL) is inevitable. Projects can be small as using Academic Structured Controversies in classroom, in which students are expected to debate on a certain contemporary social topic, (Nathan & Lee, 2004) to a real-world project, like initiating their own minimal start-up. In international schools, Approaches To Learning (ATL) usually revolves around the concept of PBL. The ATL being emphasised are lifelong (“Approaches to learning (ATL) across the IB continuum,” n.d.) and indeed very similar to the 9 generic skills CDC and HKEAA are looking for, as well as the idea behind the ongoing curriculum reformation. Project-based learning involves the use of “Flipped Classroom” (guided learning and discussion) and individual research. The outcome of the projects usually require students to solve sets of problems before coming into a conclusion. Individual research also involves the application of critical thinking to choose the ‘right’ information as information online may be false or distorting (or as they say, online “alternative facts”) (Hargreaves, 2003). Critical thinking is an excellent example to illustrate how education today won’t work, if that’s one of the generic skills, as it cannot be just simply taught through textbooks and through the words of a teacher, but to authentically apply the skill. Through the whole experience, where teachers take the role of ‘facilitator’ of learning, students would be able to immerse in the environment which serves to shape the skills they would need to face the ever-changing future — as Prof. Baildon described in one of his seminars, the global trend is unpredictable. It is the individuals who can deal with these changes we need but those who panic on these issues or ranters. PBL exposes students to the real world and encourages a holistic development, which traditional teaching can no longer, or at least barely, fulfill.
It is important for us teachers to keep an open-mind and aim at mastery on what is significant for students, aka our future. If the world is changing, it is inevitable for us teachers to change with the (global) trend — forgetting about how we were once educated in schools and righteousness of direct knowledge transfer would be the first step. Taking the initiative to experiment approaches that benefits our students would be the next step — and it’s one step that you would never forget. (P.S. amid my current attempt in Form 6 English Language teaching, me and my friend is planning a new curriculum for secondary school freshmen — please do click into the below link and complete a short primary market research, your help is much appreciated!)
Approaches to learning (ATL) across the IB continuum. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://les.psdschools.org/webfm/296
Curriculum Development Council, & Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. (2007). English Language Curriculum and Assessment Guide (Secondary 4–6). Retrieved from https://www.google.com.hk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwidsdrh8tzRAhUEE5QKHXeyB94QFggfMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hkeaa.edu.hk%2FDocLibrary%2FSBA%2FHKDSE%2FEng_DVD%2Fdoc%2FHKEAA_eng_lang_final.pdf&usg=AFQjCNGbafdBpfFfHA9ZRn1V69Nq0SYQtw
Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society: Education in the age of insecurity. Teachers College Press.
Nathan, E., & Lee, C. K. E. (2004). Using structured academic controversies in the social studies classroom. Teaching and Learning, 25(2), 171–188.
Tucker, B. (2012). The flipped classroom. Education next, 12(1).