A boost for online learning

Learning opportunities: Prof Awang Bulgiba says that the courses are developed not with the intention of making money but to enhance knowledge.

LEARNING is life-long, but in recent years it has become borderless as well.

For that, much credit goes to the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), a Malaysian initiative launched in 2014.

Typically short online courses that can be provided without charge, MOOC have been well-received among the tech-savvy generation here, with about 20 public universities offering various online courses.

Universiti Malaya (UM) is one of them, and it has launched courses that include Essentials in Public Health, Malaysian Taxation, and Introduction to Research for Healthcare Professionals on OpenLearning, Malaysia’s national MOOC platform provider.

The university is stepping up the pace, and is currently developing two more courses.

Developed by its Academy of Malay Studies, the new programmes are Islamic Calligraphy and Introduction to Malay Language, which are expected to go live on FutureLearn, another MOOC platform provider, by the end of the year.

UM deputy vice-chancellor (academic and international) Prof Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said the institution is supportive of the MOOC movement, and has been putting in effort to enhance it not only for local students, but to the rest of the world as well.

“The courses we develop are not for the purpose of making money, but to help enhance knowledge.

“For example, those intending to visit Malaysia can take the Introd-uction to Malay Language course (between two to four weeks), to learn enough words to get by.

“Foreigners who are able to speak even a smattering of the national language would surprise and please many here,” he added.

While online learning is the “in-thing” at the moment, the importance of face-to-face learning will not be neglected.

Apart from MOOC, UM is also promoting the “blended-learning concept” – a combination of face-to-face and e-learning – to faculty staff and students.

UM recently implemented E-Learning Week, where classes were conducted purely online for the entire week, leading to a total shutdown of “physical classes” at the varsity.

The concept which was held in four faculties – Computer Science, Sports, Languages, and Education – cancelled out the need for lecturers and students to be present in a same location, thus enabling flexible teaching and learning.

Prof Awang Bulgiba argued that the E-Learning Week helped with the institution’s “business continuity planning”.

“In time to come, this concept can be expanded from the educational world to the working world as well,” he said, citing situations where people are unfit to go to work or class, but are still able to continue with interactions online.

Prof Awang Bulgiba said UM will be conducting another E-learning Week again with twice the number of faculties next year, expressing hope that faculties which are more technical in nature such as Engineering and Medicine will be able to adopt the blended-learning concept as well.

However, Prof Awang Bulgiba pointed out that students from these programmes cannot rely completely on online learning as they must also have the practical training component.

“It’s like learning to swim. You can’t possibly watch a video online and expect to know how to swim,” he said, adding that the interactive aspects of online learning will also be highlighted.

For this, the UM Development Office is attempting to move towards a fun environment by transforming the usual classroom into an interactive space dubbed the “cube”.

Prof Awang Bulgiba said that so far, 20 “cube” classrooms are already “up and running” after being renovated at a cost of RM300,000 to make them conducive for learning, teaching and communication among students and staff. It is also to keep learners inspired.

Instead of immoveable furniture, the undergraduates have movable tables, bean bags, and equipment giving them a more meaningful learning experience that will keep them motivated.

“Every faculty in UM has at least one Cube because we believe this is the way forward – the usual classroom and theatre-style classes are quite clinical and boring,” he said, adding that the varsity will be building 10 more Cubes this year at RM50,000 each.

In a bid to boost reading, the university is also converting its vast collection of books into e-books.

Prof Awang Bulgiba said the books will be scanned into an application that are currently being created to enable students to “borrow” without going to the library.

“If we have only one copy of a certain book, only one student can borrow it at any one time. With e-books, multiple students can have access to it without having to fight for it.”

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