An EJ-RI Opinion: Is Blended Learning Helpful?

This was written in collaboration with EJC Press as part of Issue 2 of Cross Island Impressions, an inter-JC Press collaboration. You can read Issue 2 here.

By Sara Chia (21S03G; RI), Koo ii (21S05A; RI), Soh Iwin (20-E5; EJC), Ng Teck Zhong (20-E5; EJC) 

If you told us last year that Home Based Learning would become the norm, we would not have taken you seriously.

Alas, now that we have gotten all too familiar with online learning provisions, what do Eunoians and Rafflesians think about the new arrangements for 2021? 

An Introduction to HBL and Blended Learning

During the Circuit Breaker period in Singapore, schools were forced to adapt to home-based learning (HBL) for most students from primary, secondary, and institutes of higher learning. Exceptions for full HBL instruction were few and far between, and offered in special circumstances.

Even though most educational institutions carry out annual HBL simulations, as well as the four days’ notice (Circuit Breaker measures were announced on April 3 2020) that went into effect on April 7, the sudden shift to HBL still caught many of us off guard. Students struggled to adapt to learning from home, while teachers and school leaders also faced difficulties in ensuring a continuity in learning for students. Technical issues, especially those related to the use of online meeting platforms, impaled the effectiveness of HBL instruction further. 

Despite this, HBL also has some positives. HBL allows the use of recorded resources, teaches us to be more independent and disciplined, and to learn at our own pace without feeling pressured by others in traditional classroom settings.

With the above in mind, Singapore’s Minister of Education Lawrence Wong has announced that all secondary schools and Junior Colleges, including Millennia Institute, will start to implement blended learning for certain levels from Term 3 of 2021. Subsequently, blended learning will be rolled out for all students in these schools by Term 4 of 2022.

Eunoia Junior College and Raffles Institution have both implemented plans to support blended learning. Read on to find out more about how students from both colleges responded to these changes. 

Students’ Perspective: Partial HBL 

From the survey that we have conducted, more than half of the students were in favour of HBL being included into their timetable.

Out of the students in agreement with partial HBL, a large majority cited their main reasons as having greater flexibility and freedom to work at their own time, as well as the convenience of having classes at home and being able to save a significant amount of travelling time. One student commented dryly, “What’s the point of travelling 10 hours a week to school just to view pre-recorded lectures?” Those 10 hours could instead be used for other purposes, such as to supplement one’s learning.

Other reasons included being able to sleep in more and having more time to pursue their hobbies on days where they can attend class from home.

Of course, there is never a perfect solution for anything. The surveyees also admitted to a number of disadvantages of partial HBL, ranging from being more easily distracted at home to eye strain due to having spent too much time looking at the screen.

Despite the overall preference for partial HBL, a number of students expressed concerns about the relatively new way of going about class. Some were worried about the balance between HBL and attending face-to-face lessons, with one stating that they would rather HBL last for more than just one day a week. Conversely, other respondents were apprehensive about learning from home. They pointed out that certain classes are significantly better when taught physically,  and cited the negative effects on mental health that HBL could potentially bring.

In Raffles Institution, the school has attempted to strike a balance between physical school and HBL by implementing a GAP Day, whereby students will not need to attend school on Wednesdays. With no online classes being conducted that day, students are free to either watch their recorded lectures or use the time to consolidate their studies, effectively providing the students with a mid-week respite from physical school and allowing them the freedom to better control their own schedule. 

While some students prefer having more than one day to study at home and others prefer having only one day dedicated to HBL, a positive step has been taken towards achieving a mix of physical school and HBL.

Students’ Perspective: Full Physical School

With asynchronous lectures and partial home-based learning kicking in in Eunoia Junior College and Raffles Institution, how much will the students miss physical school? We polled our schoolmates from both schools, and 26.1% of them preferred full physical school over partial and full home-based learning, a rather significant proportion whose concerns should not be overlooked. When asked about the reason for their choice, many of them brought up benefits of face-to-face lessons such as the ease of clearing doubts with teachers after class, and higher engagement levels without distractions like the phone. 

“I tend to use my phone a lot at home, so I am more disciplined in school,” one surveyee shared. If this sounds familiar, the following merits and shortcomings of full physical lessons listed by our surveyees may resonate with you as well!  

Undeniably, Full Physical School is our familiar ground and the status quo. It comes as no surprise that it is a more conducive learning environment for the majority of our respondents. Beyond that, being able to see schoolmates is another key advantage of physical school—most of us want to interact face-to-face with our friends, rather than virtually. Interestingly, PE was listed as an advantage too (not shown in the above graph)—who would’ve thought!

Conversely, we also seem to have grown fond of alternative school arrangements—so much so that the disadvantages of physical school lessons are also apparent. A whopping 73.9% of respondents shared that daily commutes are tiring. Long school days are also frowned upon, with one respondent stating that “it’s a waste of time to be in school during free periods that can last as long as 4 hours”. 

How did the schools and their students manage the shortcomings of full physical school, then? Of course, common things done by students include watching lectures on public transport and taking brain breaks in between classes to alleviate the lethargic nature of school. For Eunoia Junior College, the school tackled their stressful schedule by organising events such as Inter-House Games, Deep Dive Day and Spartan Race, for students to have fun and take a breather. As for Raffles Institution, events such as Team Raffles Games and Homecoming have given Rafflesians opportunities to have fun with their friends both online and in school.

Writers’ Views

Iwin

Having experienced partial HBL during post–Circuit Breaker and JC2, I would feel that HBL demands a certain degree of discipline from a student. This is because during partial HBL, students will be expected to watch their lectures on their own by a certain date, essentially creating more deadlines for students to adhere to. If this already sounds stressful to you, the stress will only cumulate when you are given more free time in school to watch the lectures. This puts you in a position where it is tempting to relax and spend more time with your friends instead of watching the lectures. Thus, I prefer having full physical school. 

Koo ii

The two HBL days a month for secondary schools and Junior Colleges announced by MOE are here to stay, Covid-19 or not. For RI, we have the weekly GAP Day. It may sound gimmicky or idealistic, but just think of it as a mid-week break, or a bonus weekend, if you will. Two days of school at a time is a suitable dose of full physical school, and every Wednesday is both (or… either?) a timely breather and an opportune day to reorganise and get work done. 

Sara

Although I’ve only experienced one GAP Day in the first week of school so far, I can safely say that I prefer this arrangement over having full physical school. While it does require some discipline to get tasks completed or lectures watched in time, it saves a decent amount of travelling time and allows us the flexibility to work at our own pace. With lecture videos being released at the start of the week, students can choose to watch them when they are in the right headspace instead of being forced to watch them at the end of a school day when most are already too tired to properly focus. Moreover, as someone who prefers studying or doing work alone, being given more time to do so from home comes as a great relief to me.

Teck Zhong

Personally, the HBL experience during the Circuit Breaker period has allowed me to have a fresh perspective of what learning can be like. Without such extended HBL, I would not have fully understood the benefits of physical instruction, which cannot be substituted with online lessons. At the same time, I can also see  benefits of HBL, such as having more control over one’s time (especially for lectures that can be viewed at one’s own time) and saving transportation time. The blended learning approach will certainly allow me to enjoy the benefits of both HBL and physical learning. However, I would appreciate it if my tutorials were scheduled within 3 days every week so that I can have more HBL days, which will free up more time for me.

Conclusion

HBL is certainly a daunting idea for most of us, if not all, especially when it is implemented in such a short notice for a prolonged period of time. Although HBL has its limitations, it is still a great tool to allow students to learn, if used appropriately. We hope that this article can help you gain a better understanding of the pros and cons of offline and online instruction, and allow you to study more effectively.


References and Citations
  1. Baharudin, H. (2020, April 09). Coronavirus: No more Zoom for home-based learning after hackers show obscene photos to Singapore students. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/hackers-hijack-home-based-lessons-on-zoom-to-allegedly-show-obscene-photos-to-children
  2. Mohan, M., & Ang, H. M. (2020, April 05). COVID-19: Singapore makes ‘decisive move’ to close most workplaces and impose full home-based learning for schools, says PM Lee. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid19-decisive-move-workplaces-closed-lee-hsien-loong-12606614
  3. Ng, K. G., & Ng, W. K. (2021, January 02). Home-based learning days from 2021: What is blended learning and how can I help my child? Retrieved 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/askst-what-is-blended-learning-and-how-does-it-differ-from-home-based-learning
  4. Teng, A., & Ang, J. (2020, May 04). Coronavirus: Parents and students see good and bad of remote learning. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/parents-and-students-see-good-and-bad-of-remote-learning

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