In a visit to Ngee Ann Secondary School yesterday (22 July), FutureGov found students deeply engaged in learning. Students were strolling down corridors of 3D virtual art galleries or were chatting away with William Shakespeare. These were two of many other initiatives aimed at making the school a pace setter and leader for the innovative use of technology in teaching and learning.
“We are focused on leveraging emerging technologies to help engage students,” said Head of Department (ICT) Steven Wong. “The 3D virtual world of Second Life was used to create an online art gallery with works contributed by partner schools in other countries.” Wong, with the help of an ‘ICT Think Tank’ committee (pictured), champions innovation among 85 teachers and 1500 students. Ngee Ann is recognised as a trailblazer among 90 schools in the east of Singapore.
The pilot project in 2008 with three Secondary Two classes proved to be very successful. Using avatars, students could appreciate art pieces at their own pace, post comments, and even walk into 3D art pieces.
“We can decide what our individual avatars wear, and fly around the gallery! It is not as intimidating to express what we think of the pieces, which makes it much easier for our classmates who are shy,” said Francoise Ying and Isabel Tan, both Secondary Three students.
Teacher Gloria Tan was not expecting to bring up students’ grades when she started this project. She has however observed qualitative improvement in the interest of her class. “Students, who previously had problems giving just one or two lines of response when asked to comment on a piece, are now more engaged and expressive. Most of them have never been to a gallery and the Second Life virtual gallery has sparked interest in many students to visit one in the real world,” she added. Secondary Three student Natasha Emir is one such student who convinced her parents to take her to the Singapore Art Museum after taking Tan’s class.
Bandwidth was a challenge when the project first started, according to Alvin Tan, Senior Teacher, Educational Technology. “Two students had to share a computer initially as we only had the bandwidth for 20 computers to run Second Life at one time. Once we saw how successful the virtual world was in getting the interest of students, we did not hesitate to invest in faster internet connection,” he commented.
Since the completion of the 2008 pilot run, the initiative was expanded to all Secondary Two classes. In order to set up a private island on Second Life, Ngee Ann invested a one-time set up fee of US$800 and recurring fee of US$750 every six months. This project received the Bronze Award in the Research and Development category of the IMS Global Learning Impact Awards this year.
“Another project which made big improvement in helping students learn is a self-directed learning tool on Microsoft’s MSN Messenger platform,” Wong continued. William Shakespeare is brought back to life through a virtual character, with whom students interact.
Rachel Poh, Teacher (English Language), observed that many students found it difficult to identify with and relate to the Elizabethan world. “In the first two lessons, we gently introduce this new culture and language through the virtual character who chats on the modern and familiar MSN platform. Students now think that Shakespeare is ‘cool’ and agree that English Literature is becoming easier,” she added. Students even posted on Facebook that they went to the library to borrow more books on Shakespeare.
“We believe in a ‘High Tech, High Touch’ approach – teachers must be supported if they need to use IT. Any new technology project must be pedagogically sound. If students can learn something perfectly well without the use of IT, you do not need to change anything. So we are finding opportunity gaps where IT can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of teaching,” concluded Wong, who manages an annual IT budget of over S$200,000 (US$ 145,708).
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