Innovative learning technologies and learning spaces the hallmarks of ‘Learning for Tomorrow’

By Professor Beena Giridharan

One of the most compelling reasons spurring universities to transform learning spaces, is the fact that there are increasing levels in multi-site transnational education, coupled with major shifts taking place in education pedagogies.

This is particularly the case for transnational education (TNE) and offshore branch campuses. However, one of the reasons why learning spaces must apply technology-enriched approaches to transform learning and teaching is because students have migrated to that space much earlier than institutions.

Virtual learning environments are once again becoming a focus in many higher education institutions largely due to the fact that social media applications are advancing rapidly in that direction.

For most universities, outfitting learning spaces with new technology means increased expenditure with no significant differences in outcomes. Nevertheless, many studies now point to increased success in student learning with redesigned instruction using technology, and report on quality enhancements as well as cost savings. In addition, most institutions report better student satisfaction rates and improved retention rates as well.

At Curtin University Malaysia (Curtin Malaysia), there is a strong commitment to ‘transforming learning’, aligned to Curtin University’s Transforming Learning @ Curtin strategies, which includes equipping the campus with distributed learning technologies and redesigning learning spaces.

Aligned to Curtin’s vision of ‘Learning for Tomorrow’, Curtin Malaysia has introduced a number of innovative learning technologies and learning spaces since 2015. These vibrant new spaces were designed to increase student engagement, foster collaboration between staff and students, and provide flexible, technology-rich environments that support active student learning.

Kozlowski and Bell (2006) tell us that distributed learning represents a multi-media method of instructional delivery that includes a mix of web-based instruction, streaming video conferencing, face-to-face classroom time, distance learning through television or video, and other combinations of electronic and traditional educational models.

A distributed learning system (DLS), meanwhile, allows delivery of teaching by instructors to learners in multiple geographical locations and permits learner-instructor interaction in synchronous or asynchronous modes.

With the availability of this technology, students and staff at Curtin Malaysia are able to engage in discussions and interact with their counterparts at the main campus Perth in real time. A number of units are taught in this mode, which empowers joint facilitation of sessions from both the Miri and Perth campuses.

This is both an educational and cultural enrichment gain, as students listen to academic and scholarly solutions from both locations to focused disciplinary/ topic challenges, allowing for interactive sharing of global perspectives.

Innovating learning for Curtin places emphasis upon building a highly media rich, interactive and personalised learning experience for learners. The flexible collaborative learning classroom allows for extensive audio-visual presentation where displays are provided in practical directions according to seating layouts. In our collaborative learning spaces, students are able to work in groups, access online resources, and share views and presentations with their peers, with each group having access to personalised monitors.

For instructional strategies to be effective, ideally facilitators and instructional designers must assimilate learning models with instructional design practices. If targeted knowledge and skills involve working in groups and collaborating with others, DLS that enable active participation from members are said to be effective.

Many units at Curtin are using a flipped mode of delivery, so collaborative rooms are ideal for including a combination of face-to-face and online teaching, and actively engaging students. In a flipped mode, instructors engage with students prior to class through learning management systems. Class time focuses on hands-on learning, collaborating with peers and evaluating their progress.

This article was published in HERDSA CONNECT, Vol 41 (3) 2019, the magazine of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia.

Professor Beena Giridharan is the Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of Curtin Malaysia and Dean of Faculty of Humanities. Professor Giridharan is a fellow of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) since 2006. She mentors aspiring HERDSA fellows, and is a panel assessor for HERDSA fellowship portfolios. Professor Giridharan is an associate editor for the IAFOR Journal of Education, USA, and a reviewer for a number of international journals in higher education. Her publications include a book on Vocabulary Acquisition Patterns in Adult Tertiary (ESL) Learners (2013), an international handbook on Transnational Education: Leadership in transnational education and internationalisation of curriculum (2012), several book chapters, publications in journals, and refereed conferences. She is often invited as keynote speaker and plenary speaker at a number of higher education conferences regionally, and internationally.