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State of the University Address 2012: Of whales and the campus tsunami

12 October 2012

Prof Tan shared about the big shifts that will impact teaching and learning at NUS

The attentive audience at the University Cultural Centre theatre
The IT revolution has had a transformational impact on many businesses, and on how we do countless things around the world. Describing the IT buzz in the education arena as a "digital tsunami", NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan shared his insights on its impact on educational approaches, particularly at universities, at his annual State of the University Address (SoUA). He also announced that a S$5 million fund will be created to support technology-enhanced learning at NUS. Held on 12 October 2012 at the University Cultural Centre, the event saw more than 250 guests in attendance, including NUS Pro-Chancellors, Board of Trustees, senior administrators, staff and students.

Sharing his views on how we can address the influence of IT on educational approaches and desired learning outcomes, Prof Tan highlighted three big shifts that will impact teaching and learning at NUS - the increasing commoditisation of information that makes it readily accessible; connectivity of students through technology; and the complexity of the world that we live in.

"We must redouble our central focus on the 'training of critical minds'," said Prof Tan. A student with a critical mind, he explained, will be able to evaluate and make sense of the information available, think and communicate clearly, and remain curious so as to broaden intellectual horizons and continually learn across a wide range of topics. Such training of critical minds will be carried out in the classroom with the use of technology.

Prof Tan noted that NUS is in good stead, having invested heavily in learning technologies and expertise. Some 85 per cent of NUS modules are on the Integrated Virtual Learning platform which can be accessed by PC, phone and other mobile devices, allowing students to attend virtual classes.

Currently, there are also at least six pilots being conducted in modules across various topics to boost learning through technology, such as "flipped classroom" approaches where online programmes are integrated with face-to-face classes to allow active learning.

The new S$5 million Learning Innovation Fund-Technology, or LIF-T, will support proposals from all Faculties and Schools in NUS; targeted programme redesign of courses with large class sizes; and NUS start-ups with novel educational products.

Prof Tan also spoke about the need for experiential learning. He said: "Experiential learning, through face-to-face interactions and teamwork, is a crucial part of the training of the mind and the development of the whole person, and is part of the unique value of the university experience."

Noting that the IT revolution brings fundamental changes in our societies and social norms, he hence underscored the need for the University to build new peaks in the strategic areas of social sciences and humanities research to complement the globally recognised peaks of research excellence in science, technology, engineering and biomedical research. Through these integrative research programmes, the University will be able to further contribute to solutions to the major challenges facing Singapore, Asia and the world.

NUS, said Prof Tan, is "a very large organisation speeding along on a rapid trajectory." Relating his recent diving experience during a trip to Tonga, Prof Tan described how a whale that was heading towards him managed to swerve gracefully and sweep elegantly under him to join its family. He said: "We are not a whale - but we can and must, like the example of the super-big whale, be nimble and agile. We must be able to make strategic adjustments despite the speed and intensity of our path of travel. Challenging as it may be, I am convinced we can do this successfully, and with grace and some elegance."

More information available on the SOUA webpage.