Leveraging the best technology for blended learning and hybrid work

This article is sponsored by Adobe.

The sudden shift to online classes had been a shock for a lot of teachers and students alike. Lesson plans had to be re-evaluated, teaching styles had to be adjusted, and certain things had to be learned and unlearned.

Given that several academic institutions around the globe had already been practising blended learning, the pandemic still posed numerous challenges, especially in the areas of classroom dynamics and learning feedback.

In a recent webinar entitled “Creativity in the Age of Blended Learning and Hybrid Work,” organised by Jicara Media and sponsored by Adobe, academicians gathered to discuss issues relative to the educational paradigm shift, and offer possible solutions going forward.

The new normal of education

For Jillian Sapalleda, Assistant Professor at Western Mindanao State University, certain teaching methods had to be tweaked in order to align with existing technologies.

“First of all, online teaching methods are really different from in-person instruction. Like in my field of specialisation, which is engineering, we need to find ways to teach mathematical problems given by sets to students. With in-person instruction, we can directly communicate to the students in an actual class, compared to an online class, (wherein) we need to communicate through a small screen. And either we share an app where we can freehand draw, or do a live session of how to compute the right formulas and sample a problem set,” she said.

“So the main drawback is how updated will the technology be on which we deliver the class, in such a way that we can help the students understand these topics or lessons involving mathematical problems,” she added.

The stability of internet connection, as well as the technological competency of both learners and teachers were also key issues prevalent during the pandemic, noted Dr. Chen Zan, Principal Researcher at the Institute for Adult Learning, Singapore University of Social Sciences.

“About 90% of training organisations, because of the social restrictions— they have to move all the classroom-based training to online during the lockdown period. So of course, there will be issues like connectivity, and the reliability of technological advice and tools. And also, some of the educators may have insufficient digital skills to go (with) that (online learning). And similarly for the learners, we also hear them saying that there are issues related to dramatic loss in social interaction,” Dr. Chen said.

Meanwhile, George Han, Project Lead for the National University of Singapore, observed a shift in educational focus as a result of online classes.

“I think every crisis presents opportunities, and the pandemic here actually allowed us to change the way we communicate knowledge. In the past, we tended to be theory-heavy. But given the fact that we have now conducted our training online, and I work with a lot of young entrepreneurs, you realise that we have to focus a lot on practical problems, and gauging their success (on) how they come up with solutions to those problems,” Han explained.

Despite the age gap between educators and their students, Dr. Tim Kitchen, Senior Education Specialist for Adobe Digital Media, Asia Pacific, remarked that there is a huge opportunity for a two-way dynamic learning set against the backdrop of the latest technological tools.

“We can really help each other out, because even though the younger people might have digital literacy skills, they don’t necessarily have the discernment skills that are required for the future job market, the persuasion skills, problem-solving skills, the collaboration skills in lots of ways that are fundamental to the future of work. There are things that us older folk can actually help students with,” Dr. Kitchen said.

“It’s really important that we meet each other and support each other, and develop what I would call a learning environment, a learning culture, where it’s not about the teacher teaching. It’s about the students and the teachers learning from each other, and developing that,” he added.

Overcoming hurdles

For teachers, it is very vital to gauge whether their students have understood the lessons presented, and in an online classroom setting, several challenges exist.

“It is by far different when you see the actual expression of your students on these lessons learned. There is an immediate validation when it comes to (an) in-person set-up rather than online. So we most definitely need something, or a tool that will help bring a clear message on these drawbacks. And, yes, we can probably address the gap,” Sapalleda said.

One of the quickest adjustments to this predicament, Dr. Kitchen noted, is for both teachers and students to open their cameras during class.

“Often I’m hearing about teachers and the students when they’re online, and the students instantly turn the cameras off straightaway. So there isn’t that instant feedback that you get from the students when you are online. And there might be good reasons for that. But when I hear that every student in the whole cohort not having their cameras on, and then sometimes the teacher (does) not even (have the) camera on, that puts a huge barrier between you— there’s already enough of a barrier there anyway. That’s just a little thing that I suggest that would help the situation. There’s a real sense of isolation when you’re teaching online, and when you’re a student and you’re learning online. We need to try and bridge that gap of isolation,” he said.

Dr. Kitchen also stressed that it is easier now to foster collaboration and feedback, given the availability of online tools.

“I would argue that it’s actually easier in an online environment to do that (evaluation) — it’s always been an issue, you’ve always had issues assessing teamwork, it’s not a new thing. It’s a constant issue we’ve had for many, many years. But I would argue that these days, we have so many different technologies that allow teams to not just collaborate together online, but to also justify what each other has been doing. And, and you can look back to see who’s been contributing,” he said.

Meanwhile, online fatigue is another issue that educators and trainers need to address, in order to sustain the attention of their students and/or participants.

“I think that educators in Singapore and in some other parts of the world have adapted to this change, and have been making efforts to adjust to this new normal. I hear participants saying (that) engaging learners can be challenging, but with the help of technology, for instance, (they) engage them through games, through emojis through chatbox, And also using some gamification apps like Kahoot, and quizzes to keep them (learners) engaged and gather responses,” Dr. Chen said.

According to Dr. Kitchen, the problem lay with the adjustment period that came with online learning.

“One of the big mistakes I saw in a lot of schools, when they went totally online, was they tried to replicate the timetable to be exactly the same, because it was more convenient. So when I normally would be teaching the subject at this particular time, this is when I will have my online lesson, and it will go for 90 minutes. It just didn’t work,” Dr. Kitchen said.

“Part of the concept of being creative is to be flexible. And to realise when things aren’t going well, to be persistent, but to also be flexible, and to realise you have a goal in mind. And the goal is to educate. The goal is to achieve learning. But if we are so focused on just content delivery, rather than the process of learning, that’s a big issue,” he added.

To save time and maximise learning, Dr. Kitchen suggested several asynchronous activities for students.

“This is when you encourage your students to watch videos, to do the reading, to try and get that sort of content delivery done in their own time— literally in their own time at their leisure. So that when you do meet together as a class, you’re not going over that content, again. You’re not regurgitating what the students could have just read or watched. But instead, you’re actually going through some really important collaboration activities, creative activities to turn that information into understanding,” he explained.

Tools of the trade

To address these issues in education, Adobe has come up with a suite of online tools to creatively foster learning and collaboration, especially that instructors and learners are still geographically apart amid the pandemic.

Nelson John, Senior Solutions Consultant for Adobe Digital Media, Southeast Asia, demonstrated how online learning can be more inclusive.

“Adobe Creative Cloud has a bunch of tools like Creative Cloud Libraries, Cloud Document, Review and Comment, there’s a whole bunch of Fonts, and Team Projects for videos, and Adobe Asset Link and Third Party Extensions that you can use to make sure that you are interacting with the students on a daily basis,” he said.

“One of the major ways of doing (collaboration) is through Libraries. So Libraries can be like Photoshop files, Illustrator files, small bits of images, and vector-based graphics, and the students, if there’s a team, they’ll be able to collaborate with each one of them by sharing that library,” John explained.

Through Adobe Creative Cloud, a feedback mechanism is also incorporated to allow seamless communication of edits and improvements on various projects.

“If you do a design, and at any moment of time you want reviews and comments from other parties, all you need to do is send them a link. Anybody who has a browser will be able to open it up and do a live review very easily. It’s another way of making sure you are able to comment on the artwork, what the students do. And there is a single place where you can actually monitor all of those, that is through the Creative Cloud assets,” John said.

“If students are not paying attention, (what you need) to do (is) cut short the class and give them more work to do on the creative part,” he concluded.