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NTU partners Johns Hopkins on neuroscience- and technology-based research to optimise learning ​

Published on: 14-Apr-2016


How does being bilingual affect your brain? Should bilingual students be taught differently to overcome reading difficulties in their vernacular languages? As technology enabled learning becomes widely adopted in schools and universities, how can technology be used to facilitate more effective learning?​

To answer these and other important questions, two of the world’s top universities in education – Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) – have joined forces to support leading scientists from Singapore and the United States in their multidisciplinary research into the science of learning.

Under the direction of NTU’s Centre for Research and Development in Learning (CRADLE@NTU) and JHU’s Science of Learning Institute, the projects will bring together scientists from diverse disciplines, language neuroscience researchers and neuroimaging experts from both NTU and JHU to work with children and young adult learners in Singapore.

$3 million in competitive funding has been made available in a bid to stoke frontline research into this area over the next two to three years. Both universities hope that this new seed funding programme will uncover innovative and fresh ideas to refine existing teaching strategies and pedagogies to help students learn more optimally.

Professor Lee Sing Kong, NTU’s Vice President (Education Strategies) said, “This exciting collaboration combines the expertise of two major technologically-advanced research universities with dedicated institutes to address new and emerging challenges in education. NTU is already a leader in this area, having pioneered the new flipped classroom model of learning, and being home to the National Institute of Education, a renowned teacher education institute in Asia.”

The results of our joint collaboration will enable educators and policymakers to devise better learning and teaching strategies, best practices and resources for practical use in schools, making a positive impact in the classroom and raising attainment for learners of all ages,” said Prof Lee, who is leading the development of NTU's strategies and innovations in teaching and learning.

Professor Barbara Landau, Director of JHU’s Science of Learning Institute, said, "Our growing collaboration with CRADLE@NTU is an exciting part of our strategic plan, which includes partnering with other scientists and institutions to stimulate innovative and highly interdisciplinary basic science that helps us to understand the brain and cognitive bases of learning and uses those findings to improve learning.  The collaborative projects that we have begun to develop with NTU scientists reflect our complementary goals and expertise that we can leverage to carry out some very unique research on learning."


Deepening insights into brain’s role in learning

For a start, NTU and JHU are embarking on three joint research projects focussing on bilingual language acquisition, bilingual reading and technology enabled learning.

Associate Professor Annabel Chen, who is co-leading a project on bilingual reading and literacy said, “Singapore has a unique and complex linguistic environment with learners from different language backgrounds learning together in the same classroom. This offers many opportunities for us to deepen our understanding about bilingual learning and acquisition by leveraging on the latest advances in neuroscience, psychology, education and technology.”

For example, are the brains of children who first learn English as their mother tongue, significantly different from those who first learn another language? How can we more effectively help Chinese-English bilinguals with dyslexia overcome their difficulties when reading Chinese?” Assoc Prof Chen said.

Another research project is looking into the use of technologies in higher education, and the effectiveness of team-based learning. The team, led by neuro-engineering expert Associate Professor Justin Dauwels, will adopt state-of-the-art speech and video processing technologies and conduct trials in real-life classrooms. The study aims to discover how technology can be more effectively used to motivate students at different stages of social interactions during the team-based learning process. This has potential applications within and outside the classroom, particularly for adult and online learners.

The research study also comes at an important time as NTU ramps up its implementation of the flipped classroom model for half of its courses within the next five years.

To support this new way of teaching and learning, NTU last year opened a new learning hub named The Hive, which houses 56 smart classrooms equipped with flexible clustered seating, multiple LCD screens and wireless communication tools to facilitate team-based learning and small group discussions. NTU has also converted all tutorial rooms across its 200-hectare campus into new generation smart classrooms. 


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