Video, Images and Written Feature by Alex G., Concordia Applied Journalism
Within the walls of Concordia International School Shanghai, there is one unique project that has been consistently breaking the barriers of education norms and project-based learning. Led by Dr. Peter Tong, the Applied Learning Big Data course has evolved year after year, each semester defining a new way of learning and student-led research.
With the project becoming a staple of Concordia learning and culture, it has changed very rapidly even in recent years.
“So, this is our seventh year running this course,” states Dr. Tong. “The biggest change to this year is developing the big data online course.” Each year, Dr. Tong and administration aim to add one new aspect to the course – this year being no exception.
“This idea, which came from Mrs. Lavender, is about service; we want to allow more students to have access to this big data analytics course,” explains Dr. Tong. With his vision of big data being a huge success at Concordia, the special goal for this year was to expand this and provide exposure to other students around the world.
However, not every class has the opportunity to develop their own learning beyond the school. In general, throughout high school level education, the work that is done in the classroom stays in the classroom. Most of the time, when the doors of the classroom close, so do the projects and inquiries of the students.
“Often, we teach a course and assign homework to students, only to have the assignments graded and returned, this being the end of the work,” states Dr. Tong. “What I want to do is to make the work come alive.” The focus of the Applied Learning course at Concordia, like big data, is to push beyond this simplistic vision of a “homework and lecture” based approach. There are no one night assignments, no daily lectures, and no boundaries to what form your project or work can take.
“This year, they analyzed a song called “The Wall” by Pink Floyd and wrote reflection pieces that were posted onto Medium.com,” explains Dr. Tong. With the website now including multiple posts from different students, this has become just another outlet among many in which students can express their ideas on big data independently.
When asked about why more schools haven’t caught on to this independent and free learning idea, Dr. Tong emphasizes that his motivation comes from being able to share his philosophy and create these opportunities elsewhere.
“I’m hoping that more schools adopt this project-based learning curriculum or methodology in delivering courses,” states Dr. Tong. With Concordia as a starting point, the school has definitely become a pioneer in such courses.
“Perhaps these other schools are just more familiar with a traditional class,” remarks Applied Learning Big Data student Alvin Y. With the perspective of other schools in mind, it has been increasingly hard to deviate from traditional teaching methods with more expectations and risks involved.
“From what I remember, PhDs and Master students typically don’t study in their classes, but instead work on their projects,” explains Applied Learning Big Data student Brenden L. “I think Dr. Tong is trying to prepare us for that, letting us work by ourselves and become more independent rather than making us listen in class.” This vision of implementing college style classes and their successes is an integral part of Dr. Tong and the Applied Learning program’s mission – one that they continually improve upon every year.
“I think educators are afraid to explore new ways of delivering courses,” says Dr. Tong. “It should be encouraged for students to do project-based learning – there’s so much that students can contribute create when this happens.” Although the effort that has been put into creating this program at Concordia has been great, it has also been extremely rewarding; Dr. Tong plans to continue to develop this learning approach as he takes on yet another new school year.
The Applied Learning Big Data program at Concordia is only the start of what could be large scaled independent learning and a project-based philosophy. As more schools catch on to this trend, high school learning in general will undergo a huge revolution that can only change it for the better.
Alex G. is a student of Concordia Applied Journalism.