Education High: Professor Andrew Walker

The President and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Monash University Malaysia is passionate about educational innovation and the changing landscape of learning.

Photo: Monash University Malaysia

A Career in Education

After I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I worked for about 10 years in the government as a consultant. I wanted something a little bit more intellectually challenging.

So I decided to go back to university to do my PhD, without a clear idea of where that would lead me. And I just carried on after I finished and became an academic. It wasn’t a plan. It just happened.

Changing Methods of Learning

I think in the past, we learned mainly by listening to teachers and through reading. Now we learn and obtain information very significantly online; for many young people, predominantly, if not completely, online. That means people now have access to much more information from many more different sources of varied qualities.

People now have to learn how to process, filter, and evaluate information much more than we did in the past, where we could trust our teachers and our books. Now we have to be out there exploring the big wide world of Internet. There are many new pathways for consuming information, but I think that consuming information is the easy part.

The challenge for us is to ensure that students have a balanced diet of information, and are equipped with the ability to assess information received before integrating and placing it within conceptual frameworks. Content is easy – there is just so much content out there. Our role is to help our students become critical and informed content consumers.

Photo: Monash University Malaysia

Transformation Over Time

When I was young, if I had to do research on a topic, I would walk up to the library, look up the encyclopedia or borrow a book. Now I can Google and have 10,000 different sources in a few seconds. It’s a proliferation of information.

However, it’s also a fragmentation of information. You get a little bit of information from many different sources. It’s a bit like how we’ve changed the way we listen to music; we used to play a whole LP (long play) and listen to all the songs. Now young people listen to music with iTunes or Google Play and take one track from here, another track from there.

I think this can be challenging for students and researchers because we have to now assemble, process and integrate it ourselves. We can’t rely anymore on a book, encyclopedia or a nice neat summary.

Recent Educational Advances

We are starting to move very quickly to using our classrooms differently. Classrooms are no longer rows of desks where students sit and listen to the teacher – they are now places where students and teachers collaborate and learn together.

This means our classrooms will be designed differently: students will work at tables together while the teacher will be able to move around the classroom and interact with students. There won’t just be one blackboard or screen at the front, but multiple screens to share information and collaborate.

Technology has really democratised the production of content. When I was young, we had project books; we stuck pictures in and wrote some paragraphs to create content. It was very hard to share and collaborate.  

Now we have all sorts of platforms where students can compile information, paste images, create videos, provide comments, receive feedback, and evaluate each other’s work. This, to me, is the most exciting thing happening now at Monash: creating active, collaborative learning spaces.

Photo: Monash University Malaysia

Acceptance of Educational Innovation

I think people in their day-to-day lives are learning in new ways on mobile phones and computers, using apps and getting information from Facebook. In that sense, people are open to and expect to learn and receive information in new ways.

At the same time, there is still the old tendency of just wanting to be given answers and the correct information. It is still our role in university to encourage and, sometimes, put a little pressure onto our students to exercise judgment and analytical skills, and be active learners instead of just passive recipients.

If education doesn’t transform with the times, someone else will. We are in an era of rapid technology-driven disruption and we can’t, in universities, think we will be immune from this disruption. We also need to be aware that there are other players emerging as brokers of knowledge.

Who knows what will happen in the future, but we have to be ready to respond to the expectations and needs of our students, who will be learning in the different ways we have talked about.

Different Teaching Approaches

Gone are the days when you could just get your old lecture notes and deliver them again and again. Teachers should be true to their own approach while at the same time, be open to new learning. They have to be able to stretch themselves, move out of their comfort zone, and try new approaches and new technologies, constantly reinventing themselves.

Teachers have to be aware that students have different learning styles. We have to use classrooms, lesson design, and curriculum design that cater to the different interests, skills, and learning styles of our students. We have to be flexible and adapt to the evolving study environment.

Looking into the Future

One big challenge will be micro-qualifications. Employers won’t necessarily be looking for students who have completed full degrees at a single institution. They will be looking for very specific micro-qualifications that address very specific industry needs. A package of such micro-qualifications may become more useful than a conventional degree for some students seeking jobs.

Tags: Features, Profiles, MUM
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