Louis Wong from Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School, Hong Kong shares how technology and blended learning resources are facilitating a shift towards a student-centric approach in the classroom
After six years of teaching, Louis Wong started to notice that while his students had basic research skills, they didn’t always know how to differentiate between credible and non-credible sources, especially online. Used to being spoon-fed factual, cross-checked information from teachers they trusted in school, students didn’t know how to even begin to judge what online sources to trust and what to take with a spoon of salt, how to differentiate between facts and opinions, and really judge the quality of the information they were constantly presented with.
Wong was concerned that they were struggling to take ownership of their own learning. “As a physics teacher”, he says, “I must comment on the evidence.” In his role as a Head of Department for both Physics and STEM (integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, he has experienced first-hand the myriad ways in which blended learning models have raised the bar for both teachers and students in facilitating a more student-centered approach.
21st Century Approach
Wong sees technology as a tool for teachers to facilitate learning more efficiently and effectively, not a replacement for teachers themselves. One example of this is the success of his experiments with the Flipped Classrooms model, a classic Blended Learning approach. Here, students are able to access lectures and learning material online, before class. This leaves more time for the pursuit of higher-order thinking skills and application-focused activities during actual class-time.
This has also emerged as an essential tool for differentiation in that students are able to access and process content at their own pace, allowing for the diversity of student needs in the average classroom. For the teacher, this framing also facilitates more efficient and timely access to student progress reports and encourages innovative curriculum design. Essentially, combining traditional classroom teaching with carefully chosen digital media in strategic ways is what makes blended learning a truly modern approach.
Good for Students, Good for Teachers
As a practicing teacher, Wong notes that it is increasingly challenging for teachers who are “used to the curriculum” to keep innovating and develop the “momentum to keep thinking and improving our learning material”. In the midst of the routine of grading and supervising that eats up most of the day, certain inertia sets in when it comes to reinvigorating learning material and experimenting with creative pedagogical design. Blended learning encourages teachers to get back to customizing the curriculum to meet student needs, while the technological interventions available to teachers today do the job of organizing and analyzing essential feedback data on student understanding and engagement.
Wong notes that “I don’t think [online modules] can replace teachers themselves but make teachers more effective instead”. The new modules have inspired him to rethink how to bring quality education to his students. As a result, he has spent time restructuring his own subject material in order to maximize the benefits of the blended learning system, and the results are self-evident. In addition to being more fun, interactive and 24/7 accessible, the online content has allowed students to demonstrate learning in truly fascinating ways. For example, in a recent class during which students were presenting material on the economic recession, Wong noticed that they were listening to each other more attentively and responding with concise, well-structured arguments that clearly referenced the Callido argument-mapping module. With this module, students could access the basic components of the content online, use an add-on Chrome browser to create their own argument maps and then apply this learning across the curriculum. Wong appreciates the scaffolding that this process facilitates in an area that students have, in the past, struggled to master.
Working with Information Overload
In a world where there is no dearth of information and data, the organization and evaluation of this data become a key differentiating skill across industries and demographics. The blended learning model Wong uses, through devices like the Flipped Classroom, enables students to really practice these skills both before and during their learning journey. What’s essential, notes Wong, is that the material is “well-packaged” and skilfully “scaffolded” to meet concrete learning goals in order to be truly effective. In its best avatar, these frameworks have helped his students “think more critically” and really judge both the validity and applicability of a variety of sources for the purposes of their own research goals.
Learning doesn’t have to be dry and certainly shouldn’t be out of sync with our student’s own reality. As Wong’s experience demonstrates, blended learning models, especially those focused on key critical thinking skills, maximize the best of both worlds to facilitate a more relevant, differentiated approach to learning, applicable across the curriculum. They are both the key, and the path, towards a genuinely student-centered, holistic, 21st-century learning experience.
At Callido, we believe that teaching is not just a job, but it is a life journey. Our series on spotlighting the skills champions captures the journey of various educators from across the world towards skills development in their classrooms. To read more about the journey of other inspiring teachers and educators, log onto https://callidolearning.com/blog/