Feature

The evolution of education

The start of a learning revolution is here. Lester Kok traces the 4Gs in this path of education and finds himself at The Hive, the centrepiece of NTU’s flipped classroom learning that was recently featured on CNN


NTU students Lincoln Lim, Aaron Soh and Bertrand Tee, and Assoc Prof Jung Younbo stride into the future.

In just two decades, the classroom as we know it has been transformed – from textbooks and pen-and-paper assignments to multimedia projects and online quizzes today. Assoc Prof Jung Younbo from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information has ridden the waves as a student and now as a professor that teaches the younger generation.

“From primary school till my undergraduate days in Michigan State in the US, I was mainly reading books, taking paper tests and photocopying references in the library. By the time I did my PhD in Southern California, all assignments were done on a computer or laptop. Now, I teach students in classrooms where they use mobile devices like tablets and ultrabooks to do their coursework. I wouldn’t be surprised if in future, I teach a class in multiple places at the same time through a hologram to overcome geographical limitations!”

Just last year, NTU gave a sneak peek at that possibility when Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman from Stanford University delivered his lecture on the Lee Kong Chian Lecture Theatre stage as a hologram.

This evolution is what I call the 4G in education, says NTU President Prof Bertil Andersson. He explains that the first G is Gutenberg, who introduced the printing press that allowed for the mass printing of books. Books and printed materials were the mainstay for knowledge sharing for almost five centuries before Bill Gates and his contemporaries ushered in the era of personal computing in the 20th century.

Now, we have dived into the age of Google and online searches where information can be found at a click. And soon, we will be moving towards being a glocal generation where one can be local and global at the same time.

“The 4th dimension is where concepts of time and space can be abolished with gizmos and gadgets,” Prof Andersson adds, saying it could be possible to learn from the best professors regardless of where we are.

Technologists are excited that holograms and telepresence robots can aid tomorrow’s wired students so they can learn anywhere at their own pace. While that day is still some years away, the departure from traditional learning environments is already here.

NTU is driving flipped classroom learning across the campus and the newly-opened Hive is the centrepiece of this. Students get their lessons on their laptops and iPads where they read up on the day’s lessons beforehand, watch videos and test their knowledge through online tools. Face time in class is put to good use by tackling questions on the topic in groups.


Joycelyn Thiang (left) and Tiffany Lim at The Hive.

Assoc Prof Gan Chee Lip, Director of the Renaissance Engineering Programme, says: “In the flipped model of learning, you don’t just answer questions – you question the answers.”

“There is no spoon-feeding. Instead, we guide students to understand the concepts taught, challenge their understanding with ‘live’ quizzes and debates, and push them to explore related topics and learn from their peers.”

NTU students from the Renaissance Engineering Programme and Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine are most familiar with this, as team-based learning is the central feature of their programme. What educators aim to do is to inspire in students a curiosity and natural hunger for knowledge.

“In the new classroom, there is no right answer. Rather, what is the best answer? Students are compelled to take a proactive approach to learning, since they need to draw on various sources instead of just quoting their textbook.”

“Self-learning and teamwork skills are invaluable, especially when students join the workforce and realise they need to work with others to find innovative solutions to real problems that no one has thought of before,” says Assoc Prof Gan, a pioneer of the flipped classroom in engineering courses.

At the inaugural Nobel Prize Series held at NTU last November, none of the global thought leaders advocated teaching more content, says Prof Andersson. “Much of the discussions focused on how to encourage curiosity, how to ignite passion and the motivation to learn, and how to nurture a big heart for humanity in our students.”

So it seems “noisy” classes full of stimulating ideas are in order, and the good news is, 150 flipped classroom courses are being rolled out at NTU, with 1,500 such courses to be implemented over the next five years. The day may come when one of the tutors greeting you in class could be a hologram or robot!

The changing face of learning...

Social robots
Droids like Star Wars’ golden C-3PO aren’t just the stuff of movies. Scientists at NTU have developed social robots that look almost human, with soft skin, a sense of humour and even good manners. One such humanoid robot at NTU that made international headlines recently is Nadine. She has artificial intelligence software that lets her hold a conversation and reflect her own mood and personality.
See Nadine meeting Prof Nadia Thalmann, her creator.
Telepresence technology
In future, if your professor is at an overseas conference to talk about his latest research paper, he can still teach his class via a robot. One like EDGAR, perhaps. Edgar is a remote telepresence robot that behaves like an avatar or clone. Using a webcam, the professor can control the robot and its limbs, and project his own face onto Edgar’s so you can recognise him. Having a physical presence in a place means the professor can interact with the environment remotely, shake hands and even write or draw.
Watch EDGAR present the latest F&B and retail options at the newly opened mall on campus.
Holograms
This technology makes video-conferencing look old school. With holographic display technologies getting smaller and better, a person’s image can be projected in three dimensions, so they appear as virtually present in the room. The speaker can also easily address audiences in many locations at the same time. Beam me up, Stephen Hawking!
PHOTO OF JOYCELYN AND TIFFANY: LI HAOLUN / OTHER PHOTOS: LESTER KOK