Leveraging a pandemic to reshape teaching and assessment

As it drives classes and examinations online, the pandemic is offering universities a unique opportunity to re-evaluate teaching and assessment outcomes, said NUS Vice Provost (Teaching Innovation & Quality) Associate Professor Erle Lim.

Educators should look beyond recreating the physical classroom in an online space, towards bringing in new elements to improve learning.

“The learning outcomes are very important,” he stressed. “For anyone who changes to a blended learning format, our pedagogy unit is always brought in to help them think about not just delivering it in an online format, but also reshaping it.” The process is one of working alongside educators to improve learning outcomes, whilst respecting their teaching autonomy.

Assoc Prof Lim was speaking on 26 Oct at the Times Higher Education Leadership & Management Summit.

The event, hosted by Times Higher Education in partnership with the University of Glasgow, discussed new modalities of higher education in the 21st century, as well as the role of digital transformation.

In this vein, Assoc Prof Lim noted that the pandemic has “let the digital genie out of the bottle” by forcing every module to go online. There is rapidly increasing uptake for NUS initiatives like technology-enhanced learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

“Think of a traditional lecture as a time-locked lecture,” Assoc Prof Lim suggested. “Once you teach, that session is lost in time forever. You can’t go back to review it.”

But with blended learning, educators can reuse and improve on the recorded materials for future classes, and students can re-access learning resources at their own paces. NUS has made sure that students can search for written and spoken words within the lessons, and is working to use Artificial Intelligence for more accurate word recognition.

Teachers can also use Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, including bringing these into students’ mobile phones so they can experience the lessons in their own homes, Assoc Prof Lim added.

“This is not about the tech. It’s not tech for the sake of getting something cool and hot. It’s because there are real advantages.”

Re-examining examinations

Another major element of a pandemic-affected university education is in conducting tests and examinations online.

To minimise the risk of cheating, NUS has adopted proctoring via the Zoom software. Candidates have to run Zoom on a second device such as a mobile phone, and have a video call running throughout the examination. This way, they can be remotely monitored even as they attempt the paper.

Beyond that, educators should also take the opportunity to re-examine their assessment methods and push the envelope in assessment methodology and philosophy.

“This was a chance to tell people: think about setting a higher-order exam. Think about setting questions that require extrapolation and justification, rather than recall-type questions,” said Assoc Prof Lim.

“Assessments really need to be re-defined.”

The importance of hybrid learning

While the digitalisation of education is progressing inexorably, human interactions are still key. The solution is a hybrid model, with face-to-face classes complementing online teaching.

Highlighting the value of real-life interactions in providing opportunities for serendipitous interactions and discussions at the back of the class, Assoc Prof Lim underscored the importance of such interactions in allowing students to build lasting relationships. These are also key in developing skills such as socialisation and collaboration, all pertinent in the workplace of the 21st century.

“Through it all, the timeless values of education remain unchanged,” noted fellow panellist Mr Rob Curtin from Microsoft.

“Learning is a set of human-based outcomes… That’s the value that higher education has had for years, it’s this display of competence that people can display to others and show that they are good in this field.”