The third session of the FLD was a student panel discussion in which UniSIM students shared their experiences at UniSIM and how their instructors engaged them. This discussion gave a different dimension, providing insights on what matters to students.
Prof Gopinathan Saravanan, Academic Adviser to TLC (UniSIM) hosted this discussion and started out by defining student engagement likened it to holding fast. The students took their turns to share their experiences which then triggered off a meaningful discussion. So here is the quick summary.
To engage students…
1) Be empathetic and relate to students
It was evident that students appreciated and felt appreciated when instructors are empathetic and understanding. This does not mean that the students wanted instructors to be lenient /giving away answers notes etc. They just wanted the instructors to be approachable and they appreciated instructors who went out of their way to guide the students in the learning journey.
Aminah, currently a third year student from HDSS, recounted how her first-year instructor inspired her to continue her studies despite the challenges of managing a full-time job, family and part-time studies. Her instructor had guided her to explore the available alternatives/ choices instead of advising or telling what to do. And this “practical lesson” helped Aminah understand the true meaning of counseling, beyond what she books can inform.
2) Help students relate what they are learning to real-world
There was a general consensus amongst the students and audience that the use of case-studies/ examples and the instructor’s narratives/ sharing of personal experiences (related to the content) made a lasting impression. Such sharing gave the students an opportunity to understand the practical realities of what it is in the real-world, rather than the idealistic/ theoretical situations in the text-books. In fact, the students felt that this was more engaging and useful than the wordy explanations in the presentation slides.
Teck Sing (SST) pointed out that content is often not the limiting factor as there are plenty of online resources to read from. However, applying the content to relevant situations is the missing link.
3) Why not try using social media tools in teaching
The discussion also reiterated the fact UniSIM students are diverse in age, experience, e-readiness and self-directedness. While Ashlyn (SBIZ) uses social media tools for other aspects of life such as shopping and browsing, she acknowledges that she has not thought about/used the very tools for academic work and this idea of using social tools for academic work may involve some getting used to.
This suggests the e-readiness is not just about being able to use the tools but it takes getting used to as well. Perhaps starting to use the tools is the way to be ready after all.
4) Know what social media tools to use for what purpose
When students were asked what social media tools they would recommend for academic purposes, their response was suggestive that the use of the tools need to be purposeful. There are existing tools such as Discussion Board in our Learning Management System (Blackboard) which allows class interactions. Joey (SASS) suggested that tools like Twitter can be used for making announcements. Students can choose to check their smart phones without a need to respond (but still know where to get the information if they need to). This indicated that selecting the tools for purpose is important.
The points raised in the student panel discussion were generally aligned with what Prof John Boyer defined as student engagement and what Mr. Peh Wee Leng shared as teaching practices for engaging students (see earlier posts). And by the end of the session, my own conception of student engagement was getting refined.
The take home message to me is that student engagement is fundamentally similar in face-to-face, blended or online. And it is about getting students to think about their learning anytime, and anywhere; beyond the lecture/lesson period and physical location.