PSB Academy CEO talks about evolving education through tech

The education sector was stretched to its limit during the peak of COVID-19 as lockdowns compelled the shutdown of schools everywhere. But with technology, many were able to switch to online and hybrid learning. Derrick Chang, Chief Executive Officer of PSB Academy, details how the Singapore-based private education institution innovated its pedagogy.

Derrick Chang, Chief Executive Officer, PSB Academy. Image courtesy of PSB Academy.

Now that we’re nearly three years into the pandemic, how is PSB Academy adopting technology for and enhancing online learning?

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the way we work, learn, and play. On top of implementing a series of safety management measures to ensure individuals are protected when they step back out into the community, online and hybrid learning have taken the forefront in shaping the education system today.

At PSB Academy, we have leveraged digital technologies and installed a smart gantry system which lets students and staff return to campus safely. With it in place, the use of student/staff passes has been eliminated as people can now enter the premises via facial recognition. The system also screens body temperatures automatically, and can deny the entry of any individual with a fever.

We have also enhanced our e-learning programs to encourage lifelong learning and help the transition into blended learning and enhance our student’s learning experience. For example, we implemented a learning management system (LMS) to enhance the live synchronous teaching sessions and ‘breakout rooms’ for tutorial discussions.

The lessons are recorded for easy access and class materials are pre-uploaded for students to review and continue learning outside of class, at their convenience. Students are also able to collaborate via the LMS with their peers and gauge their understanding of concepts by taking randomised online tests and question banks prepared by their lecturers.

With today’s stronger emphasis on online learning, how did PSB Academy adapt its approach to teaching, especially given the need for face-to-face interaction when it comes to certain courses and subjects?

Online learning is no longer the “new normal”. In fact, it has evolved today’s teaching methods to take on a blended learning approach, whereby there is a good mix between online and offline classes. For blended learning to occur, students and educators need to be digitally literate and be supported with the right hardware and software. To enable this, we extensively train all our lecturers and program executives on the use of Blackboard, the new LMS, for synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning. The program executives, in turn, support students who face challenges during their online learning.

PSB Academy has also applied an omnichannel learning strategy that lets our students access their courses via a desktop computer or their mobile devices. This has helped us operate at optimal capacity and overcome the constraints affected by the social distancing measures. As a result, PSB Academy has been able to meet the growing demand for online courses where students are able to learn at their own time and on their own targets.

The past two years of online teaching have equipped our lecturers with the requisite knowledge, skills, and capabilities to effectively use new platforms and modes for delivering virtual learning. The enhanced digital literacy of the lecturers has enabled them to modify their teaching methods to capably engage students during in-person lessons, mimicking the traditional teacher-student dynamics of face-to-face classrooms. With user-friendly LMS features and an open flow of multiple communication channels, teachers and students are able to exchange information and plan face-to-face sessions as needed, while adhering to the school’s safe distancing measures.

With an increased number of online learning sessions, students often say that they are digitally fatigued now more than ever. How is PSB Academy addressing such issues?

The rise of e-learning has drastically altered the social dynamic of education. By transforming traditional pedagogy into digital forms, students and teachers have increased their reliance on technology and have diminished opportunities for meaningful face-to-face interactions. As experts in education, it’s important for us to reassess how we harness the partnership between humans and computers to enhance students’ learning experiences. While technology has been a lifesaver during the pandemic, it has also presented us with the opportunity to explore innovative approaches and minimise digital burnout for students and teachers alike.

At PSB Academy, we are dedicated to supporting our students in their online learning journey. To achieve this, we provide them with a range of resources, including mental wellness webinars and access to school counsellors for support. We also gather feedback from students through focus groups to understand any challenges they may be facing, and implement interventions such as academic consultation with lecturers and program leaders. Being equipped with the necessary knowledge has helped our students effectively manage the challenges that come with this new system of learning.

Do you think there would be a hybrid mode of education even after things return to normal in the future?

In late 2020, the then Education Minister, Lawrence Wong, stated that the Ministry of Education had refocused its attention on technology and had launched a pilot program that aimed to provide every student, starting with secondary school students, with their own digital device. With the first batch of schools receiving their devices, students and educators are already seeing positive results, and this adoption of technology across educational institutions has already shown the tremendous potential of online learning.

Our education system has evolved over the past few years, and it will continue to do so in the following months. The use of hybrid learning tools provides the best of both traditional and digital learning experiences, offering personalised and curated opportunities even in unprecedented circumstances. This newfound flexibility will provide institutions the ability to provide the best quality education for their students even after things return to normal in the future.

What sort of IT infrastructure does PSB Academy use? Are you planning to deploy any emerging forms of technology in the near future?

Blackboard, our LMS, features the option for both lecturers and students to turn on their cameras and microphones during class, and assign presenter rights in group presentations that include members in both physical and online classes. This capability enhances our hybrid learning environment and provides lecturers with lasting access to their lecture content, compared to pre-pandemic times.

PSB Academy is also working on providing students with access to universities’ online libraries through its e-Library project. This project aims to offer undergraduate and postgraduate students a wider range of resources to enhance their learning experience at PSB Academy.