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Dr Jennifer Chang-Wathall on educational technology

Education consultant Dr Jennifer Chang-Wathall reflects on her passion for teaching and how technology can enhance learning. At the IB Virtual Conference, Jennifer will share her experiences and ideas on how teachers can transform education in a post-COVID-19 (Coronavirus) world. Learn more about her work in the Q&A below.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are now?

I am a part-time instructor at the University of Hong Kong and an education consultant, where I teach at the post-graduate level in the faculty of education. My research focuses on educational technology and how we can use digital tools to enhance learning to aid our students to reach their full potential and deepen their conceptual understanding.

What trends are you seeing in your research on online learning methodologies and how has the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic affected it?

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had a significant impact on learning methodologies and practices in the classroom. Nevertheless, what is exciting during these challenging times is that education and learning practices have been transformed and are focusing on deep learning for students. Concurrently, growth and change have been accelerated in the classroom.

With regards to the trends of effective eLearning practices, noteworthy is the enhancement of the sense of belonging for our students, created by fostering connections.  Many pieces of research indicate that students often become disengaged and demotivated when they don’t have a sense of belonging. Teachers are recognizing this need and are working hard to foster collaboration and social interactions between students.

Why is your work important to students and educators in a classroom setting?

One of the lessons we learned during COVID-19 is that the traditional didactic methods just do not work in the current virtual setting, as they have been shown to demotivate students. Due to the lack of physical presence in the classroom, students had the option not to attend the online class. Hence, we should consider the impact this has on education and how teachers are approaching teaching and learning under these novel circumstances.

The focus today is on eLearning and personalized learning. Students are able to explore and learn in an inquiry-based environment, take ownership of their learning and enhance the learning experience on a higher and deeper level.

Simultaneously, the eLearning environment provides the affordance of multimodal representations which can support deep conceptual understanding. Thus, teachers can fully utilize the multimedia representation and build creative confidence to aid students hone their problem-solving skills. Moreover, technology enables students to deepen their learning and have different representations of different concepts.

What developments to curricula and classroom practices do you see as being needed for the future?

One of the primary benefits of eLearning tools is the ubiquitous nature of digital tools, which enables students to learn at their own pace, independently of their background. During these challenging times, teachers started to adopt a more social constructivist approach which encourages the idea of collaborative intelligence implying that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

In terms of curriculum development, we should start considering what is useful to teach and why. We should think about the relevance and the utility of what we’re teaching for both present and future. The implementation of digital tools cannot replace the teacher, because of the human qualities we bring to our students. Human qualities such as empathy, care and kindness.

Instead, digital tools can be a powerful way to support learning and teaching and to encourage a social constructivist environment. Accordingly, the social constructivist environment empowers students to be engaged in authentic learning experiences, and personalize their learning based on their interest and readiness.

What advice do you have for schools looking to integrate an effective eLearning strategy?

To integrate an effective eLearning strategy of utmost importance is the embracement and acknowledgement of the four stages of eLearning adoption.

The first stage is surviving, which means that you’re in a firefighting stage; where you may be trying to decide on what LMS to use. The next stage is striving, which is the exploration of diverse digital tools and choosing which ones to adopt. Subsequently, comes the third stage thriving, where students are starting to enjoy learning in the online environment and teachers are starting to adopt more effective pedagogical strategies. And then the final stage is the arriving stage, where you have developed the curriculum to fully embed all of the affordances of the eLearning environment.

Why are you excited to present at the IB Virtual Conference?

I have had the great privilege of being an IB teacher myself, and I am familiar with the IB philosophy and IB programmes. Hence, I firmly believe that the IB Virtual Conference is going to be cutting-edge and innovative.

I am thrilled to participate in the IB Virtual Conference, primarily due to the convening of different experts and teachers. As a community, we will be exchanging experiences, collaborating and sharing best practices from what we’ve all learned during this challenging year.

I look forward to sharing my research about educational technology and effective eLearning practices on how we can transform pedagogy in a post COVID-19 world.

Dr Jennifer Chang Wathall is an independent consultant, who supports the development of curriculum and instruction that integrates effective eLearning practices based on teaching for deep conceptual understanding.  Her 25-year tenure in education allowed her to work in several international schools such as South Island School in Hong Kong and The United Nations International School in New York, but nothing excites her more than seeing those lightbulb moments during a lesson.

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