The final talk at the 2nd Asian Materials Education Symposium, delivered by Mr Gilbert Teo of Singapore Polytechnic, centred on the benefits of peer-based learning and, more specifically, re-designing a course to encourage students to learn from each other. This method of learning moves away from the conventional student vs teacher stereotype and explores the role of a facilitator and how we can incorporate technology. Not only was this a reflective way to end the highly successful Symposium, but it sparked a great deal of discussion. With students acting more like consumers and wanting the best learning experiences from their education, engaging them is more important than ever.
Peer-based learning encourages students to teach each other and to explore the content matter through a problem-solving approach. Teaching staff are present to act as interactive guides, rather than traditional lecturers. Flipped classrooms are slightly different: the students should view the content of that day’s session before hand via mediums such as videos. They then come to the class room ready to discuss the content as a group and take part in exercises. Finally, we have problem-based learning, which is another student-centred teaching method where the students learn through solving open ended problems. For engineering, this is a challenge, as the required course materials must be very structured and have well-defined problems. As Albert Einstein said: “the formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill.”
Technology can help, as explained in Computer Support for Knowledge-Building Communities. It has the potential to enhance and restructure the learning environment. But, too often, the traditional content of lectures and exams is just transposed into a new format. This is something that needs to evolve with advancing technology. For example, we might see virtual reality learning outside the classroom, with students experiencing ‘real-world engineering’ such as building vast structures, experiencing phase changes in metals, and experiencing how materials interact with each other. This theory is supported by observations made by educators that technology not only increases engagement but boosts achievement. A report from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education concludes, technology can be beneficial in increasing academic gain “particularly among students most at risk” but only when implemented properly.
Although conventional teaching methods have proven successful for thousands of years, the advantages of problem-solving and group learning, along with developing technologies, can make learning more engaging and, dare we say, fun in the right setting! The future of learning will stretch students to think outside the traditional box, encourage entrepreneurship, and increase social awareness as they work together. The trend is moving towards student-centred teaching rather than the tradition lecturers teaching from the front of the class room and technology is playing an increasingly large role in this. Goodbye to the days of student vs teacher, and a sea of vacant looking faces as the teacher dictates a subject to their class… hello to classes where students feel more engaged with not only the content but the learning experience.
 “Technology can close achievement gaps, improve learning”, September 10, 2014, Stanford Graduate School of Education, Retrieved from https://ed.stanford.edu/news/