Teaching & Curriculum - SMU-X courses
From Ms CHANG Ching Chen _ on October 11th, 2019
As the world evolves, so too has SMU, and Arnoud has been the brains behind the SMU-X initiative which I have now put in the next category—aside from the collaborative and interactive learning—experiential learning. It is about getting out in the real world and experiencing the real challenges out there and learning how to navigate that. And SMU-X for those who are not so familiar, it is about students working in multidisciplinary groups with a faculty supervisor/mentor and a mentor from whichever organization it is they’re working with. And within the space of a semester, they are working with the client, and delivering an outcome to them. It could be a business, it could be a government agency, it could be an NGO. And the beauty of it is that we have had repeat partners who have come back to say, “The last group did something for us that was really useful. Do you have any other groups that are interested?” And I think that speaks well for what the students have been able to do. We have students who said to us that, “Gosh, that’s really stressful, that’s really tough.” And I have just kind of given them as motherly a look as I can muster, and to say to them that I understand, but we are not going to make it easier, but we are going to help you learn how to cope, because that is what is going to confront you in the world after university.
Interactive and collaborative learning which we have had from the beginning, experiential learning, and the third is something that I would like to try and get still more participation from our colleagues and that is personalized learning. That is recognizing students as individuals with different learning needs, recognizing individuals who have different interests, different ways of learning and responding to that. So more about that in a moment. From that one piece of small group teaching and learning which is about interactive approaches, we now have a tripod of key pedagogical philosophies, if you will, and approaches. The underlying philosophy is this, we see the student as an individual human being. Therefore, we need to respond to the individual, the student as an individual—personalized learning. But we also see that students are social beings who will interact, and they learn through that interaction. Hence the commitment, the continued commitment, to interactive and collaborative learning. But we also see students as citizens of a community, and that community could be the immediate local community, or they could be citizens of the nation or citizens of the world. And in all of that, speaking to our sense of ethics and social responsibility, they have a responsibility back to the community. So, to the extent that they are engaged in experiential learning, what they do could give back to the community. The projects that they do could be helpful to the community.
One of the favourite projects that I have encountered is the project where students work with the small retailers in Bras Basah Complex across the street, who are confronted by the world of e-retail and multi-channel retail, multi-channel marketing and all those sorts of things. And this is Uncle who is in his 60s, sitting at his shop thinking, “Do I close shop? Nobody’s coming to buy my second-hand books” or whatever it is. And so our students have worked with them and helped them think about continuity. That is what I mean by giving back to the community, and, of course, they are doing many other things, other kinds of projects.
And you, Pat, shared with me a project which predated SMU-X, but is very much in the ilk of SMU-X, which is our students from SIS working with the Acehnese orphans and NGOs and tracking the education and so forth, post tsunami in 2004, I believe it was. And I would love to see more of our students doing more of all of these kinds of projects.
So just to summarize, the philosophy behind how we conceive of our students and the pedagogies that reflect that. And just two days ago in The Straits Times, a writer commented on how technology will take over the world of learning. And I have resisted and cajoled my colleagues to resist doing what some universities do, which is to say our target is to put 70% of our courses online or 80% or 50% or whatever it is. And I have resisted doing that because I don’t think it’s just about how many courses we have online, but what do we do with the technology, and what learning outcomes are we trying to achieve, and how does it speak to our pedagogical framework and beliefs? And so I’ve encouraged my colleagues to think about how technology enhances the personalized learning rather than detracts from it. I have encouraged them to think about how technology contributes to the interactive and collaborative rather than to take away from it, and how does technology help the community projects that our students are doing that they can deliver something still more effectively to the community.
Just as an example with personalized learning, it is about using technology that can track a student’s learning and the areas where the student’s learning needs beefing up. And technology can help you with that and help the instructor identify the needs still better, and maybe even identify the resources to help the students still better. With the games, the gaming culture amongst young people, some of our colleagues are devising apps and games for the students to enhance their learning. And I have said to them, well, why won’t you do games that enhance the interaction and the collaboration rather than take away from it. It is not just about sitting in front of a TV screen or a computer screen and watching a talking head. So, use the technology to enhance the interaction and collaboration. And likewise, if a student or group of students were doing a project on say food poverty in Singapore, and trying to identify where the needs are, well, geospatial mapping helps with that. Why wouldn’t our colleagues in Social Sciences and SIS work together with students to devise apps and so forth that can contribute back to the community and by identifying where the needs are and finding technologies that will help the delivery of that will help to address the needs. So that is the technology that my colleagues in the Centre for Teaching Excellence have embraced.