Making the switch to online learning

Universiti Malaysia Pahang’s Faculty of Industrial Management head of programme (entrepreneurship) Dr Diyana Kamaruddin Research Methodology conducting a Zoom session with students.
Universiti Malaysia Pahang’s Faculty of Industrial Management head of programme (entrepreneurship) Dr Diyana Kamaruddin Research Methodology conducting a Zoom session with students.

Alternative teaching and learning methods are being put in place by universities to ensure continuity in academic activities should there be a prolonged interruption to the current semester due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For institutions that have adopted the blended learning approach, a style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media alongside traditional face-to-face teaching, this means fine-tuning and extending the electronic and online elements more extensively and at a bigger scale.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), for example, had all courses accessible online on its learning management system, e-Learn@USM, to complement the face-to-face class.

But now, with the pandemic, the system has become the main platform to conduct courses fully online.

Professor Abd Karim AliasProfessor Abd Karim Alias

USM Centre for Development of Academic Excellence director Professor Abd Karim Alias said students could access learning resources, such as PowerPoint presentation, notes and recorded videos. To substitute face-to-face classes, a video conferencing application, Webex, is used to conduct live online sessions.

“Student engagement is the challenging part of online learning. We encourage lecturers to create interactive learning activities using applications to enhance and promote student engagement,” he said.

“As for assessments, many applications are available to help lecturers create different types of formative assessments (continuous assessments). A teacher has to adopt the mind set of being a learning designer to design an immersive learning experience for online courses.”

Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) School of Education and Modern Languages dean Associate Professor Fauziah Abdul Rahim said whether face-to-face, blended or full online delivery, the key is for learning to take place.

This involves focusing on the learning outcomes set for the course, and thinking of possible exciting activities that might activate learning to take place so that one can assess whether the outcomes were met, she said.

“In view of the current situation where there is a need to change to online mode in the middle of the semester, the most feasible way is to design topics based on the learning outcomes in a modular-based manner. A modular-based approach is done so that students can receive the information earlier, prepare the activities required offline and have discussions online whenever needed,” Fauziah said.

At the Faculty of Communication, Arts and Media (FCAM) of the International University of Malaya-Wales, where online tools have been used in the teaching-learning process, the prospect of running fully online compelled lecturers to look at using digital educational platforms to up their game with more engaging online teaching content and ensure contact with students continues to be healthy.

“In fact, I foresee that it will only increase student participation and interactivity with lecturers,” said faculty head Dr Nurul Nisa Omar.

As an example, one of the assessments for the Event Management and Communication Campaign module was for students to run a digital campaign.

“In April, FCAM is going to launch 21 digital campaigns that will cover lifestyle (chill and lighter contents), society issues (more serious contents) and digital education (running an online class),” she said.

“All FCAM lecturers will take part in these campaigns and they will monitor the students in executing it. It is almost like the lecturers are really there.” she said.

Two-way interaction and retaining student attention was Dr Diyana Kamaruddin’s strategy for the full online teaching-learning mode.

Diyana, the head of programme (entrepreneurship) at Universiti Malaysia Pahang’s Faculty of Industrial Management, had been using Zoom for her online courses in the university’s blended learning initiatives.

“This method is similar to Skype, but it has a lot of fun features, like screen sharing, background changes, breakout rooms and many more. The cool thing about this feature is that I can control how many students go into each room, I can randomly mix students or pick students to enter the rooms/group, and I can also ‘pop’ in and out of each room to listen in on their discussions,” she said.

Diyana had also used Zoom when overseas, hosting guest speakers from overseas and conducting night replacement classes.

“I intend to mix my instruction methods with Kalam which is the university’s e-learning platform, where I can integrate forums, quizzes, assignments and other instructions there. I can also upload videos and have students discuss the content of the videos in the forums,” she said, adding that it would cover the whole aspect of teaching and learning.

Dr Amiza Amir, a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP) School of Computer and Communication Engineering, uses three applications when teaching Introduction to Data Analytics for Computer Engineering and Computer Network Engineering.

These are WhatsApp group chats for direct communication with students, Google Meet for online lecture and UniMAP’s eLearning Lab to upload all lecture notes, references, and exercises.

“The students submit their assignments to this portal. Everything is in digital format, and it is very convenient for me to mark their assignments and check their homework at any time and anywhere,” she said.

What will be added on for the full online teaching-learning experience is the assessment portion, Amiza said.

“We are working to redesign our examination questions for online examinations. I believe that this is possible while ensuring the fulfillment of the requirement of the Engineering Accreditation Council.”

On challenges in implementing a full online teaching-learning experience, the consensus seems to be Internet connectivity and technical support for both lecturers and students.

“Yes, challenges abound — readiness, skills, Internet connectivity and devices, among others — but these should not be a stumbling block. Both students and lecturers should take the challenges in stride. It’s a great opportunity to embark on the wonderful world of online teaching and learning. Now or never,” said Karim.

By Rozana Sani.

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